March 3, 2021

Othello Then and Othello Now

Reading Othello I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of deja vu. My first encounter with Shakespeare was in my 8th-grade honors English class. We were required to read Othello twice. The first reading was done individually and the second was done aloud in class. Once we completed reading the play we watched the film. While reading Othello for class I recalled my middle school experience. The Bedford chapter “What is Your Text?” was the most interesting to me because I was able to make connections to my experience with reading Shakespeare. The section on Shakespeare’s texts an the General reader reminded me of my middle school experience. When I read Othello for the first time in 8th-grade, I didn’t understand Shakespeare or enjoy it. However, once we read the play aloud in class it was easier to understand the text. When I watched the film the directors made changes to make things clearer for modern day viewers, which also made it easier for me to understand the play. Reading Othello in graduate school after reading the other chapters on Shakespeare gave me a better understanding of Shakespeare’s writing.

I found it very interesting to watch different play and film interpretations of the play. I watched various versions of the play on YouTube acted out by college students and aspiring actors. I also watched Oliver’s Othello from 1965. In this version, Othello was performed by a white man in blackface. As I was searching for more performances of Othello I remembered the film I watched in 8th grade directed by Oliver Parker in 1995. I watched this film version and read the play simultaneously. While watching the film and other performances I noticed that the performances would sometimes replace lines with actions. For example, in the film when Othello returns from war in the opening of Act 2 actions are used instead of words to express his happiness over seeing Desdemona. Othello embraces and kisses Desdemona in the film and many of his lines from the play are omitted. I enjoyed watching the different performances of Othello and seeing how the directors and actors interpretations of the play altered the impression Shakespeare’s play on paper. I’m not sure if the text I read in 8th grade was edited or if there were just lines that I didn’t remember.

I would be interested in researching Shakespeare’s theater for each of the films and performances of Othello that I watched. The film that portrays Othello in blackface raises questions of what social issues were going on in society during that time.

2 Responses to “Othello Then and Othello Now”
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  2. Hi Veda. Nice entry, and you’re right on track. I love the sound of your 8th grade English teacher–that was a smart approach to have kids read, then read aloud, then watch the play. The Olivier blackface version is very famous for being problematic in his interpretation and his use of blackface, although he is one of the best known, classically trained Shakespearean actors. It might be fun for you to watch the same speech delivered by Olivier, then by Fishburne and perhaps Orson Welles. You’re quite right that in film versions they often shorten the play and heighten the drama by using actions instead of words. Some questions to consider as we move forward: why might Shakespeare have had to rely on words more than actions in the Elizabethan theater? How does language change as it moves from the page to the stage? What kinds of historical documents might you want to examine to offer you more insight into the Olivier Othello? For this week’s reading, what kinds of autobiographical research might be relevant if you wanted to know more about the Olivier Othello? Or about Shakespeare’s context as he wrote it? Your response opens many avenues of potential approach!

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