An Anecdote on Shakespeare, the Mexican-American War, and the Male Psyche
In 1845 the US President James Polk ordered about half of the United States army to enter Texas, then an independent country the US had just annexed, and set up camp north of the new Mexican border. Polk wanted to provoke Mexico into attacking and starting a war. The army was basically told to mass just close enough to Mexican border to be worrisome, then stay put and do nothing. As you can imagine the men started drinking, fighting, and generally behaving like bored young men. Their officers decided to curb the rowdy behavior by…building a theater and staging Shakespeare plays! Only logical solution, really.
The first play planned was Othello. They found an officer, Porter, to play the lead role, but then there was a problem: who could play Desdemona? The officers eventually discovered a slim, girlish officer who everyone acknowledged looked great in a dress. His name was Ulysses S Grant. So this is the story of how the man who would become the general that led the Union Army in the American Civil War, then led the country as president through the start of Reconstruction after slavery was abolished, spent time rehearsing what it would be like to be a white woman in love with a black man.
In the end Porter could not handle playing Othello opposite Grant as Desdemona, and they brought in an actress from New Orleans. Makes you think about American society’s willingness to accommodate male fragility around their sexuality.