Archive for January 20, 2012

#CBR4 Cannonball 6: Othello by William Shakespeare

OthelloOthello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A word to the wise: reading on the Kindle is great: you can take your book with you on the go and read without having to physically hold your book open.

But if you’re going to read Othello on Kindle, do your very best not to read the last act in public, and especially not while doing cardio at the gym. Reading it in public will rob you of the comfort of tears, and reading it on the elliptical machine will turn your workout into an ugly spectacle of snot, sweat, tears, and gasping.

I saw Othello before I ever read it. I studied abroad in England in the last semester of my senior year, and part of the program was to take weekly excursions all over England. One week, we visited Stratford-upon-Avon, and had the privilege of watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello.

I remember being profoundly moved by the last act, and I experienced that same emotion today on the elliptical machine at 24-Hour Fitness.

Othello is a Moor. He’s the 16th century equivalent of a Huxtable: he’s black, but respected. He’s the general of an army, and the play opens with his elopement with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. Roderigo, another wealthy nobleman, is sulky because he wanted Desdemona for himself. This presents a golden opportunity for Iago, Othello’s right-hand man, who pretends to be loyal to Othello, but is actually eaten up with envy of the Moor. Iago and Roderigo conspire to deceive Othello and bring him to ruin.

othello and iago

Othello (Laurence Fishburne) and Iago (Kenneth Branagh) in the 1995 film version,

If you’ve ever been tempted to do something underhanded because you were jealous of someone else, you can understand Othello. But it’s also a cautionary tale, showing the dire consequences of jealousy. Iago himself ironically warns Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on…” (III.iii.165-167)

(Basically, he’s saying, “Don’t be jelly, cuz it’ll eat you up.”)

o and i

Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett) and Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) in O, the crappy 2001 bastardization of the play.

We see the poisoned fruit that jealousy bears: Iago’s jealousy leads him to set the plot against Othello in motion. Roderigo’s jealousy leads him to get involved, which (SPOILER ALERT!!) eadslay otay ishay untimelyyay eathday. Othello’s jealousy, once sparked by Iago’s insinuations, leads him to destroy everything he has, including that which he loved most in life.

It’s Shakespearean tragedy at its best. The audience is helplessly pulled into the action unfolding before them, watching as Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona, nudged off-balance by Iago’s machinations, slowly but inexorably destroys everything in its path — and all in language that will make your soul shudder at its terrible beauty.

If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend that you try to see a staged production. Bring the Kleenex. Leave the elliptical machine.

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