The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

English teacher Michael Morrison publishes book on Paul Robeson’s groundbreaking performance of Shakespeare’s Othello

English+teacher+Michael+Morrison+publishes+a+book.
Judy Kim
English teacher Michael Morrison publishes a book.
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English teacher Michael Morrison was recently offered a contract with Oxford University Press (OUP) to publish his book, Paul Robeson’s Othello. The book tells the story of Robeson, an American actor, athlete, and activist. It focuses on Robeson’s time performing one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters.  

For years, Dr. Morrison has studied and written about the works of William Shakespeare. “One of my chief interests as a writer has always been the stage–particularly Shakespeare in performance and the ways in which his plays have taken on new meaning to succeeding generations,” Dr. Morrison said. Before writing Paul Robeson’s Othello, Dr. Morrison published a book about actor John Barrymore and his work performing Shakespearean roles. After researching for his book on Barrymore, Dr. Morrison became interested in doing a similar project on Robeson.

“I became fascinated by Robeson and his Othello. Robeson’s portrayals were among the most noteworthy performances given by a twentieth-century English-speaking actor,” Dr. Morrison said.

He said he was also fascinated by Robeson’s “multifaceted and meaningful” life, which he said encompassed “the complicated history of race in Britain and America.”

Despite Othello being a Black character, Black actors were not commonly cast as Othello in major productions of the play until relatively recently. In the twentieth century, Robeson was one of the first Black actors to play the role both in Britain and America. Robeson called Othello “a tragedy of racial conflict” and said that the issues Shakespeare depicted in the play mirrored issues relating to race in his lifetime.

While conducting his research, Dr. Morrison devoted summers, weekends, and vacations toward gathering sufficient content to write on Robeson. 

He said he visited “more than thirty archives in the United States and Great Britain, and conducted interviews and correspondence with a number of actors who had performed with Paul Robeson in Othello, as well as with theater artists and others who had witnessed his performances.” 

After gathering all the necessary information about Robeson, and completing a full draft, he reached out to the OUP who soon after contacted him, showing interest in publishing his book.

Students said they were impressed to learn that a Townsend Harris teacher was publishing a book. Sophomore Michael Amuyev said, “The accomplishment of Dr. Morrison writing a book is quite amazing.”

“I’m happy to see he got this opportunity,” junior Kamyt Casanova said.

“I think one of the things that makes [THHS] special is that we have teachers who are experts in their fields and wish to contribute when they can,” said English teacher Brian Sweeney. “Having a teacher who has published a book on any topic associated with Shakespeare is truly impressive, and our students are lucky to be able to learn from Dr. Morrison.”

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