March 3, 2021

From the Page to the Screen

James Earl Jones’ performance of Othello’s created a new version of the character Othello for me. I didn’t view this speech as a defense speech but more like a humble plea when I was reading directly from the play. However, Jones’ performance creates a much more tense and defensive speech than how I originally interpreted the speech while reading. For example, the very first lines of his speech “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, My very noble and approved good masters (I.III.75). When I read these opening lines I immediately imagined Othello speaking in a calm and humble manner. However, in Jones’ speech, these lines are sharp and seem as though he’s saying them because it’s the respectful thing to do. While reading I interpreted in a more sincere approach. My personal interpretation of Othello is that he is a very passionate man and well composed until Iago manipulates him. Jones’ performance made me think of Othello in a different light. His performance created new possibilities for Othello’s character. It made me think about the possibility of Othello being hostile, defensive, and less composed, this characterization would’ve made the ending of the play and Desdemona’s death more predictable. Another section of the speech that stood out to me because it was quite different from my reading of the play was the following: “When I did speak of some distressful stroke That my youth suffered. My story being done, She gave me for my pains a world of (sighs.) She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange. ‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful (I.III.181-186). My interpretation of this portion of the speech was that Othello was speaking passionately and was moved by Desdemona’s grieving for his suffering. Jones performs these lines with a very sharp and intense tone. This tone seems like Othello’s saying “hey, your daughter wanted me.” In my interpretation of the reading and how I imagined Othello’s tone is that he’s saying it with so much passion that readers/viewers get the sense that he is moved by her compassion for him and that the feelings mutual between them. Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Othello fits more into my interpretation of Othello’s character. Fishburne’s calmness and passion is how I imagined Othello’s character throughout the entire play. The link below is to the scene where Othello kills himself and speaks his final lines (V.II.397-417). In his final words, Othello says “Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely, but too well (V.II.402-404). These lines sum up my interpretation of Othello. Othello was a passionate man who loved hard and was unable to think clearly when he was torn between the love of his life and his “loyal” soldier/friend. His emotions and his passion clouds his judgment and leads to his downfall.

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