Wow, what a work. There’s a reason we still read, admire, study, and act this play today, what, 4 centuries after its creation. I read this, like The Taming of the Shrew, years ago, but I needed the refresher for the performance I’m going to see tonight.
What can I say about Othello? Othello is “the Moor,” a general in the Venetian army. He has happily married the beautiful Desdemona, and they have set out together to Cyprus where Othello has been posted. They are a happy and loving couple, but Shakespeare gives them a tragic fate. There are men about who do not wish them well. Iago is the main villain; he is jealous of Cassio, who Othello chooses as a second in command. He uses Rodrigo, who wanted to marry Desdemona, as a pawn. Iago tricks Othello, who believes him to be a faithful friend, into thinking that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers. He convinces Rodrigo that Desdemona will be his if he will just kill Cassio; really, Iago wants them both dead, and also encourages Othello to kill his wife. His intention is to gain himself political power. He also uses his wife, Emilia, servant to Desdemona. The handkerchief is the fateful detail: Othello gave it to Desdemona; Iago obtains it and plants it on Cassio; and it seals the innocent, saintly Desdemona’s fate. The final tragic scene ends with Othello’s murder of Desdemona, his discovery of Iago’s treachery, and his suicide.
It is classic Shakespearean tragedy, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet in that final scene as Othello laments over his beloved wife’s body. The important difference, of course, is that there was no murder in Romeo and Juliet; Othello cannot be an entirely sympathetic character. It is especially frustrating to hear the faithful Emilia argue Desdemona’s innocence and have Othello reject it. But Iago, as I said, is the real villain; Othello is victim to his machinations.
I enjoyed this play all over again and always recommend it, as I do all of Shakespeare’s work. I’ve always been a big fan. I tend to think that I prefer the comedies, but in rereading his tragedies I find the same genius and the same ability to wrench my emotions in the desired direction. He was truly a great artist. I do have a fondness for the comedies, though; I forget, until I see or read them again, how accessible and universal the humor is. Last summer I went to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as produced by the Houston Shakespeare Festival, and marveled, once more, at how appealing, funny, and fun it is. Please! If you’re in Houston, don’t miss this annual summer event. Again, this year they’re producing Othello and The Taming of the Shrew, and it’s FREE, and you can sit on the hill with your dog and/or your picnic dinner and/or your beer, wine, whatever. Couldn’t be better. Check out the Miller Outdoor Theatre schedule for details.