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Othello popped up on my friends list twice today, elmyra just saw the RSC production and someone else in a locked post saw the Northern Broadsides version with Lenny Henry. I have just finished the Arkangel version (travelling last week in noisy aeroplanes didn't help me speed through it).

I knew next to nothing about Othello before this, and the single point that jumped out at me, given my peculiar interests, is that apart from the first act the whole thing is set on Cyprus, a place where interethnic fault lines remain sufficiently sharply drawn to keep me in business. Of course, this is a fairly fantastical Cyprus, whose geography consists of a single port town with a castle, and which is close enough to Venice that the Venetians hear of a planned Turkish invasion in time to stop it. It is also a Cyprus with almost no indigenous population, the Venetian garrison supplying the bulk of the dramatis personæ. But I was struck by the coincidence.

elmyra's take is that she doesn't think this is a play about racism, and while I think it's fair to say that the main theme of the play is psychological - Iago's jealousy of Othello's status, Othello's manufactured jealousy of the fictional affair between Cassio and Desdemona - Iago is clearly a racist, and that is clearly part of what makes him evil. Shakespeare's depiction in Othello of racism as fundamentally wrong is a far cry from his treatment of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, let alone Aaron in Titus Andronicus.

Apart from the dubious Cypriot geography, the basic plot of Othello is almost the most believable so far. Iago has to be pretty smart to avoid detection, but even so his wife spots what he is up to in the end. Desdemona's remarkable, if temporary, recovery from asphyxiation is the most counterfactual thing in the play. In good hands this should be an excellent character study of people behaving, and misbehaving, under stress.

Arkangel largely rise to the occasion, with Don Warrington excelling in the title role, and David Threlfall also excellent as Iago. (Tracy-Anne Obermann, who like Don Warrington has been killed by Cybermen in Doctor Who, plays Bianca.) The music is particularly well chosen - a rather fifteenth-century feel to it, with Desdemona's song especially memorable. One of the good ones.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
shsilver
Feb. 24th, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
If you want to think of Othello in really mind blowing terms, back in college, I wrote a paper with the thesis that Iago was really the good guy and Desdemona was trying to destroy Othello. I managed to successfully defend the thesis in the essay (and went on to write another one for the same professor explaining why T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" should be a read as a comforting poem).
inuitmonster
Feb. 28th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
I studied this in school and liked it then, but I feel now that it does not really work so well. The big problem is that Othello is far less interesting a character than Iago, with Othello seeming like a bit of a cipher in his oqwn story.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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