What used to be one-off occurrences are now coming along frequently and with growing momentum, and this is happening not just in Canada but in the country of Shakespeare’s birth. A trilogy of Shakespeare plays (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) directed by Phyllida Lloyd and performed by an all-female ensemble at London’s Donmar Warehouse last winter was named “one of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years” by the Observer’s critic, Susannah Clapp. This evolution in the approach to casting Shakespeare — across ability and ethnicity as well as gender — is surely connected to the rise of contemporary feminism, and heightened awareness and action around diversity and inclusion.
There have been no major productions with female Othellos in recent times, but they were not unknown in the 19th Century. At the Queen's Theatre in London in 1833, a Mrs Selby "enacted the part of the valiant Moor to the satisfaction of a numerous audience", according to the London Courier and Evening Gazette. And in 1856, Miss Percy Knowles "won golden opinions from all sorts of people" for her performance in the title role at the Royal Soho Theatre, The Times reported.