The only Shakespeare that I have ever read is the Charles & Mary Lamb version in high school. While this was a great way to get introduced to essential plots and Shakespearean themes, however, the beauty of the language itself was greatly lost. I have never formally studied Shakespeare and my only memory of even attempting to read it is that of a fourteen year old me reaching out at dusty shelves to drag down an extremely heavy copy of The Complete Original Works of Shakespeare at my grandparents place. That lovely leather covered hard bound edition is now lost forever, and now that I am old enough to understand its value , I wish I had done soemthing to keep it safe.
Anyway, I digress.
Since reading original prose has always been difficult and as critics often say that in the world of Shakespeare, there is a pun in every second sentence and joke in every third, I decided to approach this differently .
I chose to start my Bard experience with Othello because I like dark tragic themes. I got the text from the library and also the Audio Recording of the Othello production by Donmar Warehouse. This stars Ewan McGregor is Iago, Kelly Reily as Desdomona and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello. I will not review this production but would say that its worth listening once. Overall, it had quite average reviews when it performed in 2007 but I loved hearing it – so try it at your own risk.
As I played the disc, I read along, gleaning new meaning from each sentences. Little hints in dialog delivery and soundtrack also helped set context and tones for scenes which enhanced my reading experience.
Othello is a marvelous story of passionate love, betrayel, jealousy, revenge and desire for power.My favorite character is Iago simply because he is the most intelligent and complex. I have always known that Iago is evil but only Shakespeare can make this evil a genius. Oh what a cunning, cunning villain! Othello is likeable till he turns mad with jealousy. None of the other characters made any impression on me, except for maybe Emilia, who is the only feminist in the play.
Some of the broader themes that are being addressed are inter-racial marriages ( Othello famously being a Black man) and the positions of black men in society in general, role of women and her social position ( how Desdemona’s fate is really determined by her father and then her husband) and the struggle of power ( how the whole tragedy sets in motion when Iago is passed over by Othello and Cassio is promoted)
I do not want to paraphrase the story but instead I will pick up some of my favorite lines and leave with you that
Othello : ( as he describes how Desdemona and he fell in love)Her father loved me; oft invited me; Still question’d me the story of my life, From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes, That I have passed. I ran it through, even from my boyish days, To the very moment that he bade me tell it; Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances, Of moving accidents by flood and fieldOf hair-breadth scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach, Of being taken by the insolent foe And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence And portance in my travels’ history: Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven It was my hint to speak,–such was the process;……………………… This to hearWould Desdemona seriously incline: But still the house-affairs would draw her thence: Which ever as she could with haste dispatch, She’ld come again, and with a greedy ear Devour up my discourse:……………………… She gave me for my pains a world of sighs: She swore, in faith, twas strange, ’twas passing strange, ‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful: She wish’d she had not heard it, yet she wish’d That heaven had made her such a man: she thank’d me, And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her, I should but teach him how to tell my story. And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake: She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d, And I loved her that she did pity them.
BRABANTIO ( It is here that it is where the seed of doubt is planted in Othello’s mind)Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee. Iago ( when he explains to Roderigo that he must become rich to win Desdemona)– Put money in thypurse; follow thou the wars; defeat thy favour withan usurped beard; I say, put money in thy purse. Itcannot be that Desdemona should long continue herlove to the Moor,– put money in thy purse,–nor hehis to her: it was a violent commencement, and thoushalt see an answerable sequestration:–put butmoney in thy purse. These Moors are changeable intheir wills: fill thy purse with money:–the foodthat to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall beto him shortly as bitter as coloquintida. She mustchange for youth: when she is sated with his body,she will find the error of her choice: she musthave change, she must: therefore put money in thypurse. Iago to Cassio (who has just kissed Emilia as a sign of courtesy): Sir, would she give you so much of her lips As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, You’ll have enough. And some of my favorite – Iago’s comment on women’s beauty and wit
If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit, The one’s for use, the other useth it.
If she be black, and thereto have a wit, She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.
She never yet was foolish that was fair; For even her folly help’d her to an heir. DESDEMONA ( assuring Cassio that she will heckle Othello until his case is heard) Do not doubt that; before Emilia here I give thee warrant of thy place:assure thee, If I do vow a friendship, I’ll perform it To the last article: my lord shall never rest; I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience; His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift; I’ll intermingle every thing he does With Cassio’s suit: therefore be merry, Cassio; For thy solicitor shall rather die Than give thy cause away. Iago( explains the concept of reputation) Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed. IAGO ( on wealth & happiness) Poor and content is rich and rich enough, But riches fineless is as poor as winter To him that ever fears he shall be poor.
And many more…