Introducing The Othello Project created by actors in the current RSC company. This new writing endeavour seeks to highlight the life and work of five incredible Black and Asian forgotten figures from history. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, as a study of the outsider, they are using art to challenge racism by creating a platform to champion the life and work of their ancestors, whose voices have been largely erased from history.
When asked why I decided to write about Sambo the above quote came to mind. I have always been curious about the black history that I never had access to and characters whose stories were merely footnotes in the history that I did.
In England, during the 18th century, it was extremely fashionable to have a young black servant in your household. It was a symbol of your status and your opulence so much so that you would often see young ornately dressed black servants in the periphery of Georgian paintings. Their darkness was the perfect backdrop for the desired “purity” their masters displayed.
Part of our brief was to voice black characters in history who had otherwise been voiceless and these boys sprung to mind. I then discovered that when these boys reached adolescence some of them were sent back to plantation slavery as they had out grown their post as a young palatable ornaments, or for displaying what their masters described as “bad behavior”.
This was the fate of Sambo, an 18th century servant who after serving Elizabeth Chudleigh since the age of six was sent back to plantation slavery. I found it tragic that for years boys like Sambo were ripped from their homes, to be used as a commodity for years and then when they weren’t desirable they were discarded. When they dared to seek some sort of agency they were branded as ungratefully restless and packed away. I wanted to try and voice what that experience would be like and to question what black people have been made to feel grateful for.