Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shakesblogging: Othello

What I love about this play: This is another eminently teachable one. I think it’s partly the fact that it isn’t taught in high schools much, so students don’t come to it with as many preconceptions, and partly the fact that it’s about emotions that are pretty well universal, and not so much about kingship.

I really like the relationship between Desdemona and Emilia – it reminds me a bit of Hero and Beatrice. In fact, this whole tragedy feels so much like a comedy that has missed its way, particularly where the women’s parts are concerned. The Desdemona of Acts 1-3 is a comedy heroine – self-assured enough to defy her father and claim a husband of her own choosing, determined to follow Othello wherever he goes, able to banter with Iago and counter his misogynistic jokes. The pity of it is that she’s not in a comedy. I’m not sure Desdemona ever realizes this, although Emilia certainly does. (I think she’s led a hell of a life with Iago, and she gives him the handkerchief because she is afraid of him, consciously or not. There is a lot of bitterness that breaks out in the “I do think it is their husbands’ fault / If wives do fall” speech, and even more in “‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man: / They are all but stomachs, and we but food; / They eat us hungerly, and when they are full / They belch us.” And then, at last, it turns into outright defiance: “I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak.” That is SUCH a tense, taut, terrifying scene. Love it.)

I also can’t help sympathizing with Othello, as horrible a person as he ends up becoming. I think I’m drawn to him because he’s a natural storyteller with an utterly bewitching way with words (I love “antres vast and deserts idle,” as well as the “‘Tis true, there’s magic in the web of it” speech about the handkerchief). But nevertheless he’s hyper-aware that he’s a foreigner, and convinced that the Venetians can run rings around him with their subtlety. And Iago recognizes that insecurity, and exploits it. (I like the fact that Othello goes out telling a story – even if it’s a story in which he’s casting himself as the malignant Turk, the demon to be exorcised. And it’s a powerful, compelling story, one that captivates and disarms the men who are about to arrest him.)

Favorite moment: The scene between Desdemona and Emilia at the end of Act 4. It’s like the calm before the storm – they both know something is very, very wrong, and are doing their best to distract themselves from it. And so the conversation circles around and around all of the things they’re trying to avoid talking about – the story of Barbary, chatter about Lodovico being a proper man, Barbary’s song again; Emilia trying to make a joke of Desdemona’s question, and finally revealing the depth of her anger and bitterness.

1 comment:

Bardiac said...

I love the Emilia/Desdemona interactions, too :)