Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Othello was a dumb ass

Trying to think about the posts that I owe this blog.
1) Homage to Vonnegut
2) Mission statement
3) Discussion of Chaucer and Dickens

So I'll launch into a discussion of Othello, which I saw at the Globe (in Southwark) with my sister on Saturday. As viewing experiences go, seeing a play at the Globe is, um, authentic. That means that acoustics are crap, various players are hidden behind pillars, and the play takes way too long.

I'll have to give Othello another try at some point. Maybe I'll rent the Branagh/Fishburne collaboration. Because the performance we saw was not terribly compelling. We got tired by intermission (esp. a problem given B's chronic fatigue) and took off. So we missed out on all the stabbing and strangulation.

Here's my basic problem with Othello: I really don't care about the main character at all. A tragedy is supposed to involve a fall from an exalted position. But I don't see anything about Othello that is supposed to inspire me. And the defense of his crime is pathetic. "Well, I guess if my wife doesn't have her handkerchief, that must mean she's cheating on me, so I'll strangle her." And all of this in the first week of the marriage, and the day after they finally sleep together for the first time!

To say Othello has trust issues is an understatement.

I think I would have enjoyed the play a bit more if Iago hadn't always been facing directly away from me, speaking to the audience on the other side of the circle. Again, I'll have to see how Branagh plays this role. I suspect Iago is a more interesting character than Othello in any case, even when the play is done properly.

Some background here: Papa Whispers is an Oxfordian, which means he's of the school of thought that the plays in the Folio authored by "William Shakespeare" were really written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. It is a matter of historical record that de Vere was associated with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the same company that hired Shak(e)speare (of Stratford-upon-Avon) as an actor. I could see the case arguing that the man called Shak(e)speare was a bit socially limited to have written all the courtly behavior in the plays. I tend to buy the argument that there's something very fishy about the authorship question here, but don't know if Oxford is the right answer. In any case, Edward de Vere had some notable episodes of jealousy involving his wife. This kind of jealous is something that appears in many of the plays of Shakespeare, and it is most obvious in Othello. According to the bio of de Vere, Othello was one of the earlier of Shakespeare's works. That shows in the simplicity of the play. Unlike his more celebrated plays, there are no subplots, competing supporting characters, or subtle themes circumscribing the story. Indeed, it's the simplest of Shakespeare's that I've seen. It is definitely a notch below what I consider to be the masterpieces of Shakespearian tragedy: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet (with a nod to King Lear).

(Aside: regardless who the author of the plays was, I think it has to be conceded that their appears in an omnibus publication, after the death of Shak(e)speare, has to be viewed in a suspicious light. I think it's entirely possible that the plays were written jointly by several authors, a la the Bourbaki series in French mathematics. Or Shakespeare could be a pen name like Mark Twain or O. Henry.)

But, back to my main point. Othello was a tool. I don't care if he invented Reversi, the man was a tool.

I may go to another play at the Globe - at only £5 for the standing area it's not a bad deal. But I think if I do, I'll read the play beforehand, or possibly just print out a copy to bring with me.


Landru said...

This presentation of Math Geek Dissects Classical Literature has been brought to you by John Wesley. Please join us next week for Radical Feminists Discussing String Theory, brought to you by the Wall Street Journal.

Not to take anything away from your thesis. Yes, Othello was a dumbass.

ilse said...

The authorship debate is always a fun one.

And I initially read Landru's comment as "Radical Feminists Discussing Thong Story" which would be a much different thing.