Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Othello, The Moor Of Venice

This is the third year of my Shakespeare study. I read one play each month, and then watch as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and read as many books about the play as I'm able. April, 2012 was The Tragedy Of Othello, The Moor Of Venice. This blog entry has reviews of the films, and little blurbs about the books. (Scroll down for the film reviews.)

Related Books

- William Shakespeare's Othello edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom - This is a volume in the Modern Critical Interpretations series, and includes criticism by Stanley Cavell, Susan Snyder, Stephen Greenblatt, Mark Rose and others. In the introduction, Bloom writes, "A.C. Bradley's charming notion is still true: exchange Othello and Hamlet in one another's plays, and there would be no plays. Othello would chop Claudius down as soon as the ghost had convinced him, and Hamlet would have needed only a few moments to see through Iago, and to begin destroying him by overt parody" (pages 1-2). Anthony Hecht writes about how Othello is not just a Moor, but also a Christian. He writes, "There would, I venture to suppose, be something slightly galling to an Elizabethan audience in having a Moor lecture his gentile associates and subordinates on Christian behavior. If 'turn Turk' means 'turn renegade,' one wonders what this might have meant, coming from the mouth of a Moor, since the Moor himself must have turned renegade to become a Christian. He is, in all probability, a Morisco, or New Christian, a breed regarded without must trust by the Christian community at that time" (page 125). Published in 1987.

- Othello Character Studies by Nicholas Potter - This book begins with an overview of the play, then focuses on the characters of Othello, Iago and Desdemona. Only in a short chapter on "the minor characters" is Emilia really considered. In the chapter on Desdemona, Potter writes, "In the final scene Desdemona argues her case until she realizes that hope is lost when Othello tells her that Cassio is dead: 'Alas, he is betrayed, and I undone' (5.2.75). Does she realize that there is a plot against her? It would seem so. Her words, 'betrayed' of Cassio and 'undone' of herself, suggest that she sees that someone (does she realize that it is Iago? Her words are in response to Othello's 'his mouth is stopped. Honest Iago/Hath ta'en order for't' (5.2.71-72)) has plotted against them both, and suggest that she realizes also that Othello has been hoodwinked, because she never blames him" (page 105). Published in 2008.

- William Shakespeare's Othello adapted by Vincent Goodwin; illustrated by Chris Allen - This is a graphic novel adaptation of Othello. At fewer than fifty pages, it is but a bare outline of the play. In this version, Cassio slays Rodrigo in self-defense; Iago doesn't kill him. That's just wrong. And cut completely is the wonderful scene between Desdemona and Emilia - the "Willow song" scene. Published in 2009.

- Othello: A Contextual History by Virginia Mason Vaughan - Divided into two main sections, this book discusses first the social and political elements present at the time of the play's first performances - the Venetians and Turks, knights and mercenaries, the racial issue, and the relations between husbands and wives. In the introduction, Vaughan writes, "like England under Elizabeth and James, Venice needed military prowess but feared its subversive potential, disbanding its armies at each war's end. This ambivalence resulted in the Venetian practice of employing 'strangers,' condottiere, as a professional, standing army. The status of non-Venetian captains was necessarily ambiguous - vital to the state's safety, but seldom a fully accepted part of it. Othello is caught between the old ideals and the new professionalism; his adherence to a chivalric code of honor defintes his sense of 'occuptaiton' and makes him more vulnerable to the wiles of Iago, a perversion of the new military man" (page 5). In the chapter on knights and mercenaries, she writes, "Readers of Othello have long noted how the verbal irony in the phrase 'honest Iago' reverberates throughout the play. The phrase entails more than verbal irony, however. The Ensign, Elizabethan military treatises agree, must be selected for his honest, upright character. As the bearer of the company's standard, he must be a man the soldiers will trust and follow into battle" (page 43). In the chapter on husbands and wives, Vaughan writes, "Othello's passionate love, expressed on the Cyprus quay, is initially kept in check by Desdemona's matter-of-fact response and by the military business at hand. But the strength of his passion makes him vulnerable to Iago's insinuations; having invested so much of himself in this woman - 'My life upon her faith' - he is unraveled by the mere possibility of adultery" (pages 82-83). The second main section of the book focuses on the history of the play from the Restoration up through Trevor Nunn's 1989 production. In that section, an entire chapter is dedicated to the Orson Welles film. Published in 1994.

- The First Quarto Of Othello  edited by Scott McMillin  -  This is a volume in The Early Quartos series of The New Cambridge Shakespeare.  It contains an annotated edition of the First Quarto, as well as a nice long introduction.  One interesting tidbit in the introduction that isn't completely related to Othello is this: "The bookkeeper's function has been cast in a new light by the discovery at the reconstruction of the Globe in London that supplying lines to forgetful actors is virtually impossible in the configuration of the Elizabethan stage" (page 14).  McMillin also writes, "Once we give up the notion that prompt books were word perfect, Q1 begins to appear in a fresh light - not as a bundle of errors attributable to lazy scribes and slovenly compositors, and not as the first thoughts of a playwright who would deliver his second thoughts in time for F, but as a performable and lively playhouse script which can be staged as it stands, and probably was" (page 14). "The evidence we have reviewed, howoever, tilts towards a theatre script as the source for Q1" (page 14).  He also writes, "Not only was Q1 Othello published close to the time of the printing of the Folio, it was also the first Shakespeare play to be newly published in more than a decade (since the 1609 Quarto of Troilus And Cressida). In 1619, the King's Men had apparently entered a staying order in the Stationers' Register to prevent any of their plays from being published without their consent.  That Q1 Othello should then appear in 1622, while plans for the Folio edition must have been in the making, has aroused some suspicion" (page 15).  Later he discusses the punctuation in Q1: "One other unusual feature of the Q1 punctuation is that the vast majority of its verse line-endings are marked, usually with commas and often without respect to poetic enjambment" (page 23).  McMillin argues that Q1 was most likely set down by a scribe listening to a performance of the play.  He writes, "Lineation is hard to hear.  Especially in dialogue which varies from prose to verse and back again, a listening scribe is bound to copy in the wrong mode from time to time" (page 38).  Published in 2005.

- Phakespeare's Mothello  by Dilan MacHardy  -  This is a book for children in which Shakespeare's characters are moths and butterflies and ants and so on.  A choice of moth for Othello is interesting, because of course the word "moth" is uttered by Desdemona in Act I Scene iii: "So that, dear lords, if I be left behind/A moth of peace, and he go to war,/The rites for which I love him are bereft me."  In this telling of Othello, the Willow song is introduced early.  Mothello has just emerged from his cocoon and is learning to fly.  Desdemona, a butterfly, is singing that song, which is what draws Mothello to her (so clearly Desdemona is actually older than Mothello in thie version).  She then teaches him to fly, and actually says, "Just think happy thoughts, and you'll fly" (page 17).  Mothello goes and lives with the butterflies and tells stories of the cave where he lived.  He begins making up stories, stories which Brabantio loves.  Mothello is chosen to lead the army against the red ants, and he in turn chooses Cassio as his wingman ("It was one thing to have a foreigner in the top position. But to have foreigners in the top two positions was unheard of in Venus and immediately raised antennas in the military" - page 31). Imago (this rendition's Iago) is jealous of Mothello, as he wanted to be put in charge. Mothello and Desdemona get "airied," the butterfly version of married.  Mothello is often referred to as "The Moth" rather than "the Moor."  Finally, in Chapter 7, we get to Act I Scene i.  And then short quotations from the play are scattered throughout the rest of the book.  Imago tells Brabantio that "an ugly black moth is plucking your precious butterfly" (page 40), but includes "your daughter and the Moth are now making the beast with two backs" (page 42).  In this version, Mothello doesn't completely trust Imago from the start, which is an odd choice.  When Mothello and Brabantio arrive to see the Monarch, the Monarch says to Brabantio, "Welcome, sir, but we aren't in need of your services tonight" (page 48), a pointless change from the play.  Early on it's established that Mothello doesn't know much about battle.  So his lines to the Monarch don't make sense - "I know very little about the ways of Venus except those things relating to battle" (page 49).  Mothello hasn't yet been in battle.  So when he talks of the stories he told Desdemona, he's speaking of lies.  It's sort of an interesting take on Othello.  Are his tales at all true?  Iago at one point says they're not, so was Iago actually truthful in that moment?  In this book, the line from Othello that mentions the word moth is changed to "a so-called moth of peace" (page 56).  By the way, the author seems to be following the Folio rather than Q1, as the Monarch says they'll meet at "nine in the morning."  This book's "your son-in-law is far more colorful than black" doesn't really work nearly as well as "more fair than black."  The other definitions of "colorful" and "fair" don't exactly compare.  Instead of "cats and blind puppies," Imago tells Rodrigo to drown "gnats and blind fleas" (page 60).  Imago tells Rodrigo, "She will exchange him for a younger butterfly."  But it was established that Mothello is very young.  He just came out of his cocoon when he first met Desdemona, so she is older than he is.  Added in this telling of the tale is the whole thing about Mothello missing his family.  They were gone when he awoke from his cocoon.  So when he first sees the ants, he takes them for his family.  And he's taken prisoner, and of course saved by the ant that had acted as his mother.  When he's not paraphrasing Shakespeare, the author has the character speak in a very different voice - the mark of poor writing.  When Imago is questioning Mothello about Cassio and Desdemona, it doesn't really make sense.  Imago asks, "Did you know Cassio when you fell in love with Desdemona?"  Mothello answers, "Yeah" (page 86).  But that's not true in this version of the story.  Mothello met Desdemona first.  In this telling, it's a rose petal, not a handkerchief, that Mothello gives Desdemona.  And in this version it's clear that everything Mothello tells Desdemona about the petal is a lie.  For when he gives it to her, the author tells us he picked it from a rose bush just the day before.  Cassio rushes off to give Bianca the petal, then tells her to leave him because he's waiting for the general.  How can he in flight and waiting at the same time?  The author has a difficult time making Shakespeare's tale fit his butterfly world.  Throughout the book the author uses "antennas" as the plural form of "antenna," and then suddenly on page 121 he correctly writes "antennae," but does so only once ("antennas" would be correct if he were talking about television or radio antennas).  Instead of strangling Desdemona, Imago says Mothello should "drown her in the stream. The very stream she has infected" (page 122).  Published in 2008.

Film Versions:

- Othello (1981) with Anthony Hopkins, Bob Hoskins, Penelope Wilton, Rosemary Leach; directed by Jonathan Miller. This is an excellent production, starring one of my favorite black actors, Anthony Hopkins (The Human Stain), as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago. Both of them are perfect. This film also boasts excellent performances by Rosemary Leach as Emilia, David Yelland as Cassio, and Penelope Wilton as Desdemona. There are a couple of somewhat weaker performances, Geoffrey Chater as Brabantio and John Barron as Duke of Venice, but these characters are minor. This production seems to follow the First Folio, rather than the First Quarto. For example, in Act I Scene iii, Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat." And the Duke, in the same scene, says, "At nine i' the morning" rather than "ten i' the morning." Interestingly, in Act II Scene i, after the gun is heard, Cassio says, "So speaks this voice. See for the news" - a combination of lines from Q1 and First Folio respectively. His "But hark! a sail" is cut, as is the Second Gentleman's lines. The actors speak all soliloquys to themselves, rather than to the camera, to us. This is the one fault I find with this production. It would be a much stronger choice for Iago to speak his asides and soliloquys to us, for he should be wooing us and bragging to us, getting us on his side. In Act IV Scene i, when Othello has his fit, Iago (behind him) jumps for joy. Later in that scene, when Iago and Cassio are talking about Bianca, we see it from Othello's perspective, which is interesting. This is when Othello thinks they're talking about Desdemona. Bianca (Wendy Morgan), by the way, is a bit of a hottie. But she's a bit much when she confronts Cassio, basically screaming all her lines: "This is some minx's token, and I must take out the work!" The scene with Desdemona and Emilia is wonderful, the "willow" scene. (However, I have to wonder, Is that Yorick's skull on Desdemona's table?) Emilia's speech at the end of that scene is perfect (I love her reading of "What is it that they do when they change us for others? Is it sport? I think it is"). I really like the way they staged Act V Scene i, when Iago gets Cassio and Rodrigo to fight. And the entire final scene is excellent. When Emilia rushes to Desdemona's bed, the staging is wonderful. On the left side of the screen, we see Othello in the hall just outside the room, in a bluish grey light. On the right of the screen, we see the reflections of Emilia and Desdemona in the framed mirror on the wall, with a candle on the table just in front of the mirror. And that shot is held while Emilia asks who has killed her and Desdemona answers, "Nobody. I myself." It is not until after Desdemona has died and Emilia has wept over her body and then exited to the hall that we leave that shot. And Emilia's reaction when Othello mentions the handkerchief is excellent, as is Iago's reaction. (time: 203 minutes)

- Othello (1922) with Emil Jannings; directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki. This is a silent film version. We're quickly introduced to Iago, Rodrigo and Desdemona. On a card Desdemona is referred to as "the toast of suitors from far and near." Then Othello enters. he card calls him "intellectual, tender, lofty; warlike, heroic, impetuous." There is quite a bit about appointing a lieutenant. We learn that Iago is expecting that honor. When Othello names Cassio, we see Iago's confused, shocked, angry face. Othello then approaches Desdemona, and Iago begins to think of revenge. Othello tells Cassio to protect Desdemona, but Desdemona leaves with the Moor. Then we go to Act I Scene i, where Iago calls to Brabantio from below his window, saying, "Thieves." We see Othello give Desdemona the handkerchief, the card telling us, "An Egyptian gave this handkerchief to my mother. There's magic in the web of it - and to lose it or give it away were such perdition as nothing else could match." Brabantio goes to the Duke, crying "My daughter." They ask, "Dead?" Othello arrives with Desdemona. Outside, there are crowd reactions. The crowd cheers Othello as he exits with Desdemona. Meanwhile Rodrido is threatening to drown himself, until Iago convinces him to travel with him to Cyprus.
Act II begins with shots of Othello and Cassio on one boat, and Desdemona and Emilia on another. Desdemona shows Emilia the handkerchief and says, "My dear husband gave this handkerchief to me and bade me hold it alway - for if I do lose it, or make a gift of it, that were perdition." Iago is spying on them, and so overhears this. Iago then tells Emilia to grab the handkerchief. It seems she agrees in order to receive some trinket that Iago has pulled out of his pocket. Once in Cyprus, there is some cute business with Othello teasing Desdemona and Emilia, and wrapping Emilia up in a curtain. Meanwhile, the people celebrate, being entertained by a sword swallower. And there is some weirdness with Iago, Rodrigo and a false nose. Iago is never really on his own - no soliloquys in a silent film - so he's basically stuck with Rodrigo, or with Emilia (we see quite a bit of Iago and Emilia together in this version). Iago by making only one comment about Cassio arouses Othello's jealousy. The quarrel between Cassio and Rodrigo is pretty silly. The stuff with Cassio bemoaning the loss of his reputation is included, and is a nice shot. Iago tells Emilia, "Cassio comes to Desdemona to ask her aid - Othello must not know." And it's then that Iago takes the handkerchief. Othello asks Emilia who was with his wife. Emilia, at Iago's urging, says "No one." Othello says, "Thou liest" and rushes to his wife, who is sewing. She tells him Cassio was there, and to call him back. Meanwhile Cyprus is being attacked. The governor urges Othello to help.
Rodrigo woos Desdemona from below her window. Othello hears it. Iago tells Emilia to shoo Rodrigo away. Othello chases Rodrigo away, but doesn't know who it is. Iago tells him it was Cassio. (This is obviously a deviation from the play.) And it's then that Desdemona can't find her handkerchief. Emilia, concerned, rushes to her husband to get it back to give to Desdemona, but he won't give it to her. We get a weird dream sequence - Othello imagining Cassio with Desdemona. Iago soothes Othello with the handkerchief, and tells him he found it at Cassio's. Othello then confronts Desdemona, asking for the handkerchief (Act III Scene iv). He then rushes from the room and tears the handkerchief apart with his teeth, which is cool. Othello then gets the message that he is to be sent home, and Cassio put in his place (Act IV Scene i). And Othello strikes Desdemona. Iago convinces Rodrigo to slay Cassio (Act V Scene i). Then Othello talks to Emilia (Act IV Scene ii), Emilia telling him Desdemona is honest and true. Othello actually grabs Emilia and throws her to the ground. Othello gives Iago a blade and bids him to kill Desdemona for him. But then he stops him and enters her chamber himself. Emilia rishes in just as Othello finishes strangling her. (Desdemona is not still alive in this production, so no dialogue between the two women.) Iago then enters. Othello lifts the blade in his right hand, as if to kill him. We see Iago's frightened reaction. And then it's unclear just what happens. It looks as if Iago has been stabbed - he falls out of frame - but when he does, we see that Othello has no blade in his hand. Where did it go? But anyway, in this production, Iago is killed, which is really weird. Othello exits he bedroom as the men arrive to say Cassio rules in Cyprus. Cassio is bandaged - from the fight which we didn't see. Othello then returns to the bedroom. The crowd outside is upset that Othello is arrested. Othello dies next to Desdemona. The film ends with Cassio addressing the crowd, "Othello is dead."

- Othello (1965) with Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Joyce Redman; directed by Stuart Burge. This is an incredible production, with only one major fault (that being a cut toward the end of the play). The first act starts with Rodrigo's line, "Thou told'st me thou did'st hold him in thy hate" (so the first few lines of the play are cut). I love Frank Finlay's delivery of "I am not what I am." Most of the beginning of Act I Scene iii is cut before Brabantio's entrance. Othello (Laurence Olivier) looks at Brabantio on "Her father lov'd me; often invited me." This production seems to follow the First Folio, as Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat." Iago's soliloquy is done partly to himself, but then he faces the camera and looks directly at us at times. On "Hell and night.Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light," the lights fade, first in the background, then on Iago.
Act II begins with the sound of thunder. The word play between Desdemona and Iago is completely cut. Iago is on the left side of the screen, in closeup, when he speaks his aside about Cassio, this time facing Cassio and Desdemona (who are on the right side of the screen in the background) rather than to us. In his next big soliloquy he begins speaking as if to himself, but then turns to the camnera on "Now I do love her too." That short scene with the herald is cut (Act II Scene ii). Iago's aside about getting Cassio drunk is done to himself, while facing the direction where Cassio went. There are women in the drinking scene. Bianca is there, hanging on Cassio. Cassio kisses her after his bit about being saved before Iago. Then he stops kissing her, so his "no more of this" is about kissing. Edward Hardwicke is really good as Montano. The entire drunk scene and quarrel is done really well. Iago takes Cassio's sword before asking if he's hurt - a nice touch. After "soliciting his wife," Iago makes the sign of the cuckold, horns on his head.
In Act III, Cassio kisses Desdemona's hand before taking his leave, which causes Iago's comment, "Ha! I like not that." Othello laughs off Iago's comment about it not being Cassio who "would steal away so guilty-like." Olivier is fantastic in the scene with Iago when he asks what he thinks of Cassio. Othello's soliloquy is done to himself. There is an intermission before Act III Scene iv, which on the DVD is just a few seconds. The Clown is cut from the beginning of Act III Scene iv.
In Act IV, after Othello collapses, Iago says, "Work on./My medicine, work." However, his next line is cut - "Thus credulous fools are caught..." After Desdemona says "O these men, these men," it cuts to Act V. I can't believe they cut the rest of the dialogue between Desdemona and Emilia, including Emilia's great speech. That is a fault. How can you cut the part where Desdemona asks if there are women who abuse their husbands? It's one of the best scenes in the play, and losing it is the one great fault of this production.
In Act V, Cassio is not carried in on a chair, but walks in with a crutch. At the end, after everyone who is alive has exited, there is a slow pull-out, showing the bodies on the bed.
(time: 166 minutes)

- O (2001) with Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Rain Phoenix, John Heard, Martin Sheen; screenplay by Brad Kaaya; directed by Tim Blake Nelson. This adaptation of Othello sets the play in the world of high school basketball, with Othello, Cassio and Iago as players on the same team. It surprisingly sticks fairly close to Shakespeare's play. Othello is named Odin, and is the star basketball player of the team. Iago, named Hugo in this version, is jealous of the attention Odin receives at the end of the game, particularly because the coach, named Coach Duke Goulding (played by Martin Sheen), is Hugo's father. And when presenting Odin with the most valuable player plaque, Coach says of Odin, "I love him like my own son." Odin says he couldn't have won these games without the help of his teammate Michael (the one name not really changed from the play - in the play he is Michael Cassio). And Hugo is jealous and hurt that Odin singled out Michael over him. So Hugo's motivation is this jealousy; there is no mention of the rumor that Odin has slept with Hugo's girlfriend, Emily (Emilia in the play). And he begins plotting by telling Roger (Rodrigo in the play) that he can help him get a date with Desi, Odin's girlfriend (Desdemona in the play).
And then we go to Act I Scene i of the play, with Hugo and Roger outside Desi's house. Roger calls Desi's father, Dean Brabel (Brabantio in the play), who happens to be the dean of school (played by John Heard) and tells him someone stole his daughter. Then Dean Brabel talks to Coach and Odin in his office. Brabel thinks that Odin forced himself on his daughter. Odin says, "If Desi says I did anything even close to wrong to her, I'll leave the goddamned school, okay?" In the play, he offers his life. So then Desi comes in. She tells her dad that Odin and she have been together for four months. When he asks, what do you mean together, she says it's none of his business (a bit of a deviation from the respect that Desdemona shows her father in the play). Brabel tells Odin, "She deceived me. What makes you think she won't do the same to you?" As in the play. Desi is friends and roommates with Emily, who is Hugo's girlfriend. Unlike in the play, Desi admits that she doesn't trust Hugo. Odin climbs in through the window and gives Desi the handkerchief (called a scarf in this version), telling her it was his great-grandmother's. Desi asks Odin how he got the scar on his back, and tells him he has the best stories (a reference to Othello's speech to the Duke and Brabantio about how he won Desdemona's love).
We then get the drunk scene - Hugo gets Michael drunk, and tells Roger to pick a fight with him to get Desi's attention. And Roger ends up getting hurt. So Coach asks Hugo if Michael threw the first punch. Hugo reluctantly admits it, but adds it wasn't his fault. So it's the coach who tells him he's out for at least two games. In the play, of course, it's Othello himself who tells Cassio he's no longer officer of his. The stakes aren't quite as high in this version; after all, being suspended for two games isn't that big of a deal. We do get the "reputation" scene, where Michael cares about it. Hugo tells Michael to get Desi to talk to Odin, and Odin will get the coach to put him back on the team. So it's one removed from the play. During a basketball game, Michael sits next to Desi and when they win, Odin sees Michael and Desi hugging. He seems a little concerned, the first hints of jealousy.
Odin tells Hugo he's going to talk to Coach about getting Michael back on the team, which leads to Hugo asking Odin if Michael knew that he and Desi were getting together. Odin tells him that he knew, that Michael was kind of the one that got them together. Hugo asks Odin if he trusts Michael. Odin tells him to say what he needs to say. Hugo tells Odin to watch her, to see if she spends time with Michael. Again, this is sticking very close to the play. When Desi drops the handkerchief, Emily looks at it. Emily then gives Hugo the handkerchief. Hugo tells her he's going to use it just for a little prank. There is then a sex scene with Odin and Desi, with Odin beginning to think she might not be faithful, that she's not acting like a virgin. Then we actually get a reference to another Shakespeare play. In a classroom scene, the teacher is discussing Macbeth, Act I Scene vii. On the blackboard is written Lady Macbeth's line, "How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me" (with the stressed syllables marked). During class, Hugo leans forward to ask Odin if he'd given Desi a scarf, and to tell him he thinks he saw Michael with it. The teacher then interrupts them and says, "Would either of you care to name one of Shakespeare's poems for me." Hugo responds, "I thought he wrote movies." It's a little odd to have a self-referential line in such a serious film, this obviously being a film based on one of Shakespeare's works. An odd choice that pulls you out of the film, at least briefly. They do bring race into the story, with Desi telling Emily about how Odin got rough during sex, and then based on Emily's reaction, says, "Would you be so concerned if he was white?" Seems a bit forced. (A side note: if you put the subtitles on, the line is given as grammatically correct: "Would you be so concerned if he were white?") Odin arrives. Desi says Michael was looking for him. Odin asks about the scarf, so Desi goes to get it, and it's then she realizes it's missing. In the play, Desdemona knows it's missing before Othello mentions it. Odin attacks Michael during basketball practice. Michael and his friend Jason torment Roger before a slam dunk contest. This scene is quite a deviation from the play, as far as Michael's character is concerned. Cassio is no bully. Odin acts like a jerk during the contest.
Hugo gives him some cocaine. However, Odin already got some from Hugo's connection, so Hugo giving him drugs isn't as powerful a moment as it could have been. Then we get the eavesdropping scene. Hugo says something about Desi, then whispers to Michael, "If you could just handler her the way you handle Brandy, then you'd be in business." The only problem is we haven't really been introduced to Brandy (Bianca in the play). Brandy arrives with the scarf, and gives it back to Michael. Hugo plans to have Odin kill Desi and set up Michael, then have Roger kill Michael but have it look like suicide. This is different from the play, obviously.
Roger wounds Michael in the leg instead of killing him. Hugo then shoots and kills Roger. Brandy shows up, but then drives away. While Odin strangles Desi, he tells her, "Go to sleep." Emily arrives, but Desi is already dead (so they don't have that dialogue that they do in the play). Hugo arrives. Emily tells Odin the truth of the scarf. And Hugo shoots her. Odin picks up the gun and tells Jason - who has also arrived - to ask Hugo why he did it. Hugo says, "You won't ask me nothing. I did what I did, and that's all you need to know. From here on out I say nothing" (a variation of Iago's lines, "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word"). Odin shoots himself while Hugo watches. Hugo is then arrested. Desi's father rushes in (a deviation from the play, in which Desdemona's father has died before the play's end). (time: 94 minutes)

- Shakespeare The Animated Tales: Othello (1994) with Colin McFarlane, Gerard McSorley, Philip Franks, Sian Thomas; screenplay by Leon Garfield; directed by Nikolai Serebryakov. This animated adaptation of Othello is only twenty-five minutes long, so it definitely rushes through the story. It begins with a voice over telling us that Othello married Desdemona in secret, but this production does not rely too heavily on voice over, which is good. What is surprising is that for an animated film, it doesn't shy away too much from the violence or the racier language. For example, in Act I Scene i, Iago tells Brabantio that a "black ram is tupping your white ewe" and he does say "the beast with two backs." And later we do get the lines "with her, on her, what you will" and "that cunning whore of Venice." The willow song is included, and the song ends that scene, so Emilia's great speech is cut. When Othello says "put out the light," he puts his hand into the flame. We don't see the actual murder of Desdemona. And when Emilia enters, Desdemona is still alive, as in the play, so we get their dialogue. We do see Iago stab Emilia. Iago says, "What you know you know," but his line about not speaking again is cut. This production ends with Othello saying "to die upon a kiss." (time: 25 minutes)

- Othello (1990) with Willard White, Ian McKellen, Sean Baker, Imogen Stubbs, Zoe Wanamaker, Clive Swift; directed by Trevor Nunn. This production by the Royal Shakespeare Company is excellent (apart from the incessant cricket sounds in the sound design whenever the action is outside). It is set in more modern times, maybe early 1900s or late 1800s. In Act I Scene i, Iago (Ian McKellen) smokes before "I am not what I am." Rodrigo doesn't call loudly enough to Brabantio, which leads Iago to step in and shout his lines. It is great to see the beginning of Scene iii, which is often cut. And I love Clive Swift as Brabantio. This production seems to favor the First Quarto over the First Folio whenever a choice between the two is presented. Except of course Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat," preferring the Folio reading. Desdemona gives Brabantio a hug after "come hither, gentle mistress." Imogen Stubbs seems a bit boyish as Desdemona in her first scene, with the hood up. Desdemona's lines "To my unfolding lend your prosperous ear,/And let me find a charter in your voice/T'assist my simpleness" are cut. Othello says "Of feathered Cupid foils with wanton dullness," choosing Q1's reading over the Folio reading of "Cupid seel." Likewise, the Duke says "At ten i' the morning" rather than the Folio's "nine i' the morning" (letting Othello get an extra hour's sleep). When Brabantio tells Othello that Desdemona may deceive him, we see Desdemona between them in the background. Rodrigo pouts like a child, pounding his fists on his thighs and then on the floor. Iago says, "Put money in your purse" rather than "thy purse" every time he repeats it. An odd choice, especially as he says "thou" and "thee." And, of course, it's "thy" in both Q1 and Folio. Iago's soliloquy is spoken to us, to the camera.
At the beginning of Act II, the sounds of the storm are so loud that we nearly lose a couple of lines. Cassio says, "So speaks this voice," the Q1 reading. During the beginning of the word play between Desdemona and Iago, Iago steps on a case as if onto a stage. Desdemona cries and Cassio comforts her during a quiet pause while waiting for Othello - a nice moment, which leads to Iago's aside to us. Iago says, "whose qualification shall come into no true trust again," the Q1 reading ("true taste" is in the Folio). The herald is included in this production (Act II Scene ii), with military folks standing at attention. In Scene iii, Iago watches the beginning of the scene before entering. Iago falls asleep at the end of his soliloquy. And then it's later that Rodrigo enters - an interesting choice, and one way to help with the idea that it is now morning (Shakespeare's nights are often very short).
The first several lines of Act III Scene i are cut. Cassio gives Desdemona a gift when he presents his suit. Iago is quite a distance from Othello when he says "I like not that." I love Imogen Stubbs' delivery of "Why then, tomorrow night, or Tuesday morn," etc. There is something joyously youthful in her delivery. Othello's soliloquy is to us, to the camera. Only Desdemona enters, not Emilia. Desdemona says "bind your head," which again is the Q1 reading ("bind it hard" is in the Folio). The production's intermission comes when Othello and Desdemona exit, just after the handkerchief is dropped. We pick up again with Emilia smoking by herself, then spotting the handkerchief. Emilia says, "I'm glad I found this napkin..." to us, to the camera. Othello says "wide throats," which again is the Q1 reading (it is "rude throats" in the Folio). Othello strangles Iago when he orders Iago to prove it, and lets him go before Iago says, "Heaven defend me." The clown is actually included at the beginning of Scene iv. We see Emilia in the foreground when Othello tells Desdemona the tale of the handkerchief. Bianca in this production is black, an interesting choice.
In Act IV, I love Ian McKellen's delivery of "With her, on her, what you will." When Bianca says, "This is some minx's token," she hands the handkerchief to Iago. She then takes it back and tosses it to the ground and steps on it, while Othello watches. I love Willard White's delivery of "very good" after Iago suggests strangling Desdemona. Imogen Stubbs is fantastic in the scene where Othello strikes her and calls her back. I also really like the scene where Rodrigo stands up to Iago, and then Iago convinces him to kill Cassio. Desdemona quickly hugs Emilia when she says "good night." After Emilia's "you might quickly make it right," Desdemona unlocks a drawer and takes out the gift of chocolate that Cassio had given her, and shares some with Emilia. This is an interesting choice, for doesn't it hint that Desdemona might actually consider being with Cassio? Clearly she's thinking of him while they talk about women who cheat on their husbands. After Desdemona says "good night" again, Emilia hugs her.
In Act V Scene i, Rodrigo says "I have no great devotion to the deed" to the camera. When Emilia talks to Desdemona as Desdemona is dying, she finishes her sentences for her, saying, for example, "Myself," as Desdemona struggles to say it (something not in the play). Emilia says, "Twill out. It will. I hold my peace, sir? No. I'll be in speaking liberal as the air." That is the Q1 reading. At the end, Iago looks down at the bed upon which the corpses of Othello and Desdemona lie. Iago's face is the last image we see. (time: 205 minutes)

- Othello  (2008) with Eamonn Walker, Tim McInnerny, Zoe Tapper, Nick Barber, Sam Crane, Zawe Ashton; directed by Wilson Milam.  This production is a live performance filmed at the Globe Theatre, so occasionally a camera angle might not be perfect, or we miss a reaction of one of the characters.  But there are some incredible performances here, particularly Eamonn Walker as Othello, Tim McInnerny as Iago, Nick Barber as Cassio and Sam Crane as Rodrigo.  We have a very angry Iago at the beginning of the first scene.  He gives Rodrigo a little nod after "I am not what I am."  Brabantio's line "Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds" is said to the audience.  The Duke bangs on the table to silence Brabantio when he interrupts Othello with "Nothing but this is so."  This production favors the First Folio over Q1.  As usual, Othello says "upon this hint" rather than the Q1 reading of "upon this heat."  After Brabantio asks Desdemona, "Do you perceive in all this noble company/Where most you owe obedience?" Desdemona takes a long moment and looks around at everyone present, including the audience before answering, as if any individual there might be the one to whom she owes obedience.  That's a very poor choice, which is a shame, for it's her first moment on stage.  And because of that awful choice, it took me a long time to warm up to that actor.  The Duke says "new mischief" and "At nine i' the morning," again the Folio readings.  The scene with Iago and Rodrigo is wonderful.  Actually, all the scenes between these two characters are wonderful.  Rodrigo's "I'll sell all my land" is shouted from offstage after he has exited.
In Act II we are introduced to Emilia, who in this production is played by a black actor, Lorraine Burroughs.  Having a black Emilia is just wrong.  It makes no sense, especially considering many of Iago's lines and his apparent racism.  And even worse, it takes away from the one interracial marriage in the play, that of Othello and Desdemona.  Interracial marriages should not be commonplace in the world of this play.  It weakens the entire structure of the play.  Casting a black woman to play Emilia is by far the greatest sin of this production.  That being said, she does a pretty good job (particularly in the final scene).  This production includes the Herald scene, with a horn player who interrupts the herald.  (The herald is also the clown in this production.)  I would have liked a stronger reaction from Cassio when Othello cashiers him (but in general Nick Barber gives a great performance).
The clown and musicians are included at the beginning of Act III.  The intermission in this production comes at the end of Act III Scene iii.  This production has a black Bianca, which again is a poor choice (though not nearly as disastrous as a black Emilia).  Iago says "Bianca" just as loudly as "Desdemona" in the scene where Othello is hidden and listening, which is Tim McInnerny's one error.  He needs to whisper the name "Bianca" so that Othello doesn't hear it.  The blocking in this scene is a bit awkward, with Cassio facing the spot where Othello is (barely) hidden - it would be better if his back were to him and Iago faced Othello.
I love the various entrances of Rodrigo, with Iago's various readings of "How now Rodrigo?"  There is music over the Desdemona/Emilia scene, which is really annoying and totally out of place.  It does end before the mention of the willow song.  But then when Desdemona sings the willow song, the musicians return and accompany her, which completely kills the effect of the song.  It should be sad, not a production number. 
The brief exchange between Bianca and Emilia in Act V Scene i has a different feel with them both being black.  When Emilia asks Desdemona who has murdered her, Desdemona looks toward Othello before she answers "Nobody."  Emilia follows her gaze to Othello before looking back at her.  An interesting choice.  Again this production follows the Folio, with Emilia saying "I will speak as liberal as the north" rather than "liberal as the air."  Likewise, Othello says "base Judean" rather than Q1's "base Indian."  Othello kills himself with a crossbow, which is an odd and awkward choice.  He grabs it from one of guards and shoots himself with it.  This choice is especially odd considering that Iago dropped his dagger after stabbing Emilia, and it was plainly visible on the floor next to the bed - so I was fully expecting him to make his way to that dagger and use it.  Cassio's line "but thought he had no weapon" is cut.  (time: 195 minutes)

Related Films
- A Double Life  (1948) with Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O'Brien, Shelley Winters; written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin; directed by George Cukor. This film stars Ronald Colman as Anthony John, a famous and talented stage actor who is talked into playing Othello, even though, as he says, "Some parts give me the willies."  He's established as a man who takes his craft very seriously, and completely immerses himself in a role. He begins looking over his notes for Othello and says, quoting Iago, "O, beware my lord of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster."  He then switches to Othello and quotes, "All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven. 'Tis gone. Arise, black vengeance."  He then laughs to himself and turns out the light. Then he continues, "Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have."  He laughs again, and leaves.  He sees a travel poster for Venice, and then goes to an Italian restaurant, where he speaks more lines from the play: "That we can call these delicate creatures ours/And not their appetites. I had rather be a toad/And live upon the vapor of a dungeon/Than keep a corner in the thing I love -" A man interrupts him, asking, "Are you talking to me?"  The waitress, Pat Kroll (Shelley Winters), later asks him his name.  He tells her his many names, the parts he's played, including Hamlet.  He looks in the mirror and begins reciting, "The bawdy wind, that kisses all it meets,/Is hushed within the hollow mine of earth/And will not hear 't. What committed?/Impudent strumpet."  We see a good deal of Act V Scene ii acted upon the stage.  In this version Othello says "Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away," using the Folio reading of "Judean" over the Q1 reading of "Indian."  Anthony John's performance is applauded greatly by the audience, but Anthony is out of sorts afterwards.  Time passes, and the play is in its two hundredth performance.  This time we see the end of the handkerchief scene (Act III Scene iv), and when Othello exits the stage he says, "Zounds," but Ronald Colman mispronounces it, rhyming it with "sounds."  The production continues to be a hit, and suddenly it's the three hundredth performance.  We see part of Desdemona's death scene, and Anthony actually hurts her while strangling her.  He was once married to Brita, the woman who plays Desdemona, and still loves her.  Now he becomes horribly jealous of her, accusing her of being with Bill (Edmond O'Brien).  Anthony goes to see Pat, the waitress.  Pat tells him she may move in with her friend Emily (thus setting Anthony's mind in line with the play).  Then she asks him, "You want to put out the light?"  That's enough to make him become the role.  He says, "Put out the light," and turns off the light.  He immediately turns it back on and continues the speech.  Of course, Pat doesn't know what he's talking about.  Lost in the role, and in his jealousy over Brita, he strangles Pat.  We then see the final scene again on stage, and Anthony stabs himself. (time: 103 minutes) 
- Olivier Talks About Othello - This short featurette's footage is basically the trailer for the 1965 version of Othello, with Olivier speaking to the camera about the production. There is approximately a minute more in this than in the trailer.
- Stage Beauty  (2004) with Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville; directed by Richard Eyre.  This film stars Billy Crudup as Ned Kynaston, a 17th century actor famous for playing the female roles in Shakespeare's plays.  His Desdemona is greatly admired.  The film opens with a scene backstage, but we hear Othello saying, "It is the cause, it is the cause."  And then we see the scene as Desdemona wakes.  After the play, his wardrobe assistant, Maria (Claire Danes), rushes to another theatre, where she plays Desdemona herself (though illegally).  And we see the same scene, where she wakes just before Othello kills her.  Soon a law is passed that women shall play the female roles on stage, and Maria becomes a star, while Ned becomes unemployed.  It's a truly interesting film about identity and how it is shaped.  And the film ends once again with Desdemona's death scene from Othello, this time Desdemona being played by Maria and Othello being played by Ned.  (time: 109 minutes) 

Films With References To Othello:
- Blood Tide (1982) with James Earl Jones, Martin Kove, Jose Ferrer, Lila Kedrova, Mary Louise Weller; directed by Richard Jeffries. This cool horror film has several references to Othello. When we first meet Frye (James Earl Jones), he holds a knife to Neil (Martin Kove). When Madeline (Deborah Shelton) tells him to stop, that Neil is her brother, Frye says, "I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee. No way but this." And then he kisses Neil's cheek. Those lines are Othello's last lines of the play, in Act V, Scene ii. Madeline then tells Neil, "Don't mind Frye. He played Othello once in college and never quite got over it." Neil responds, "Othello in college? Okay, my Midsummer Night's Dream." That leads Frye to continue, this time from Act I Scene iii: "Rude am I in my speech/And little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace." Madeline says, "Cut it out, Frye." Later, Frye is in a cavern. He looks to the wall (and also to the camera) and recites the first lines from Act V Scene ii: "It is the cause. Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause." (He left out "it is the cause, my soul" after the first "It is the cause.") He then puts on his mask and continues the lines, but they're barely discernible: "Yet I'll not shed her blood,/Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow." A moment later he picks up the speech again, reciting, "Yet she must die, or else she'll betray more men," while drinking straight from a bottle. He picks it up again, with "Put out the light, and then put out the light," then lights the explosives the destroy the wall. Later, Frye is mumbling to himself lines from Act III Scene iv: "A sibyl, that had number'd in the world/The sun to course two hundred compasses,/In her prophetic fury sew'd the work." He's suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a bleeding nun. And then at the end as he's getting ready to kill the monster, he says "I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus" (from Act V Scene ii).
- Shakespeare Wallah (1965) with Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Madhur Jaffrey, Geoffrey Kendal; directed by James Ivory.  This wonderful film is about a family that worked as a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors in India.  The real troupe was called Shakespeariana, and it was run by Geoffrey Kendal with his family, including daughter Felicity Kendal.  Both of them star in the film.  Felicity plays Lizzie.  Geoffrey plays Tony Buckingham.  And the troupe in the film is called The Buckingham Players.  As you might guess, there are plenty of references to Shakespeare throughout the film.  Late in the film we see Othello, beginning with "It is the cause" through Desdemona's death.  The fact that they're family makes it a bit odd - after all, the daughter plays Desdemona and the father plays Othello (Felicity talks a bit about this in one of the DVD's special features). 
- Theater Of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price, Diana Rigg; directed by Douglas Hickox. In this movie, an actor kills his critics by methods from Shakespeare's plays. There are references to Julius Caesar, Troilus And Cressidea, Cymbeline, The Merchant Of Venice - in his version, Shylock does indeed get his bond - Richard III, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Henry VI Part I, Titus Andronicus, King Lear and Hamlet.

Next month: King Lear

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