Shakespeare’s collection of work is a vast and riveting one; however amongst the plays, I’d have to say that Othello is my favourite. It has all the makings of a modern soap opera: the possibility of adultery, an impossibly attractive cast, the potential for racial abuse… it’s hard to know where to begin to count the ways in which I love this play.
I think my favourite element however would have to be the antithesis of the heroic protagonist; the unlikely military general, who emerges from royal obscurity, likely to be from southern Spain or northern Africa, who is well-known for his linguistic proficiency and the delightful nature of his metaphors. The plot is somewhat drastically altered however when the protagonist’s supposed friend (and haven’t we all got a “fr-enemy”?) seeks to usurp him from his position to become general himself. The ways in which he goes about doing this could alarm even the most devoted Hollyoaks fan, from deception of everyone in the royal court, to the assault of Cassio, the flirtatious nobleman, and finally, the ultimate refusal to confess:
“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word.” – Iago’s final words
There are few ways more stubborn to exit a play; the complete lack of remorse, and the ability to manipulate everyone in the vicinity of himself is worthy of applause. I consider Iago my favourite villain, purely because he is perfectly timed, in terms of placing tiny hints and clues across the landscape of what ultimately becomes destruction, despite its aesthetic beauty, in Cyprus. The juxtapositions found across Shakespearean literature remind the audience of the decadence of the Elizabethan period, and the rather beautiful paradoxes of circumstance that are symbolic of the nature of revenge tragedy.
Desdemona, in comparison with Othello, can be considered from a feminist perspective. Is she a passive character, playing more of a symbolic role than anything else, a possession to be passed about? Or is she a character who is completely instrumental in her own downfall? Personally, I find it to be the latter. The naivety of her character infuriates me, because looking back from a modern perspective, I feel as though she should have tried a little harder to understand why Othello was behaving in such a repulsive and cagey manner. She applies herself in no particular way, and so from my very modern viewpoint, I wanted her to look a little further, and put the jigsaw puzzle together, before she became a victim of her own circumstances. She is smothered, in a perversely kind way, by her husband. His unwillingness to break her skin or violate her in any way is symbolic of her purity and subsequent lack of progression into the adult world.
Tragedy tends to emerge from outside circumstance, sometimes not even in conjunction with internal factors. (Courtesy of Professor Nick Groom)
I hope you get to watch the adaptation and read the play, because it’s a brilliant example of the classic revenge tragedy.