Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2022
Among the countless events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016 was a remarkable staged reading at Emory University of the two-act drama Fortunes of the Moor, which was written and directed by the late Barbara Molette (1940–2017) and her husband Carlton Molette (born 1939), whose collaborations have earned them many accolades, including the National Black Theatre Festival’s ‘Living Legend’ Award. Fortunes takes its title from the last speech in Othello when Desdemona’s cousin Lodovico urges their uncle Graziano to lay claim to Othello’s worldly possessions, to ‘seize upon the fortunes of the Moor’ (5.2.376).2 However, the Molettes’ play proposes that the ‘fortunes’ sought by Desdemona’s relatives belong to someone else: a son to whom Desdemona had secretly given birth before travelling to Cyprus, and who is being cared for in a Venetian convent. Key to the narrative is a scheme fabricated by Gratiano and for which he employs Lodovico to dispatch the infant secretly to Africa so as to claim his inheritance as their own. The play depicts the events of a single day when Brabantio (here, imagined as alive) learns that he has a grandson; the baby’s African relatives – Othello’s uncle Hassan, aunt Elissa and sister Somaia – arrive in Venice; and Gratiano, realizing that his plans are going awry, becomes increasingly murderous. As Fortunes pointedly explores questions of race and kinship, it invites playgoers to consider to whom the infant and the fortunes rightly belong: Brabantio who seeks ‘continuation of [his] blood’, or Somaia who speaks of her ‘duty and pleasure to raise [her] brother’s child as though he were [her] own’.