Othello

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1996
directed by Lynn Nichols

Darkness covers the great 16thcentury city-state of Venice, and trouble is swirling on two fronts. The Turks are preparing to attack Cyprus, an island colony crucial to Venice's defense, and the great Moorish general Othello, now in the service of Venice, has eloped with Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian senator. As the Venetian council meets to prepare their response to the Turkish threat, Iago, Othello's ensign, and Roderigo, Desdemona's scorned suitor, awaken Desdemona's father, Brabantio, to inform him of his daughter's hasty marriage. Iago has reason to wish Othello ill, especially since he's recently been passed over for promotion as Othello's second-in-command in favor of Michael Cassio, a cultured but unproven soldier. Rushing to the council meeting, Brabantio interrupts the war plans to accuse Othello of using witchcraft or even drugs to seduce his daughter. The testimony of Othello and that of Desdemona, each of whom professes love for the other, convinces the Duke that the marriage is legitimate, though unusual. The council then returns to the business at hand and appoints Othello to lead the force that will travel to Cyprus to meet the Turks. Othello leaves immediately with Desdemona following in the care of Iago and his wife, Emilia. Before they arrive in Cyprus, however, a raging storm destroys the Turkish navy, leaving the entire Venetian company in Cyprus with dangerous time on their hands. lago takes advantage of this opportunity to plot revenge against Othello and Cassio. He begins by plying Cassio with wine and then embroiling him in a dispute with Montano, a leading citizen of Cyprus. When Othello, roused from bed, breaks up the ensuing fight, he demotes Cassio in anger. Stunned by his demotion and shamed by his behavior, Cassio turns to Iago for help. Iago persuades Cassio to plead his case not with Othello, but with the "General's General," Desdemona. At the same time, however, he plants the suspicion in Othello's mind that Desdemona and Cassio have been engaged in an affair. With Roderigo's help, Iago constructs a series of tricks to convince Othello of Desdemona's unfaithfulness. Torn between his great love for Desdemona and seemingly irrefutable evidence of her unfaithfulness, Othello finally succumbs to Iago's machinations and believes the worst.

Date Time
Saturday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

In many ways, Othello is not a typical Shakespearean tragedy. Compared to other works, such as Hamlet, Macbeth, or Julius Caesar, Othello is a remarkably simple play. Its plot is strikingly linear, without Shakespeare's usual digressions through multiple subplots. The action is tightly focused, especially after the Venetian party arrives in Cyprus at the beginning of the second act, moving purposefully and relentlessly toward its ultimate conclusion.

Darkness covers the great 16thcentury city-state of Venice, and trouble is swirling on two fronts. The Turks are preparing to attack Cyprus, an island colony crucial to Venice's defense, and the great Moorish general Othello, now in the service of Venice, has eloped with Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian senator. As the Venetian council meets to prepare their response to the Turkish threat, Iago, Othello's ensign, and Roderigo, Desdemona's scorned suitor, awaken Desdemona's father, Brabantio, to inform him of his daughter's hasty marriage. Iago has reason to wish Othello ill, especially since he's recently been passed over for promotion as Othello's second-in-command in favor of Michael Cassio, a cultured but unproven soldier. Rushing to the council meeting, Brabantio interrupts the war plans to accuse Othello of using witchcraft or even drugs to seduce his daughter. The testimony of Othello and that of Desdemona, each of whom professes love for the other, convinces the Duke that the marriage is legitimate, though unusual. The council then returns to the business at hand and appoints Othello to lead the force that will travel to Cyprus to meet the Turks. Othello leaves immediately with Desdemona following in the care of Iago and his wife, Emilia. Before they arrive in Cyprus, however, a raging storm destroys the Turkish navy, leaving the entire Venetian company in Cyprus with dangerous time on their hands. lago takes advantage of this opportunity to plot revenge against Othello and Cassio. He begins by plying Cassio with wine and then embroiling him in a dispute with Montano, a leading citizen of Cyprus. When Othello, roused from bed, breaks up the ensuing fight, he demotes Cassio in anger. Stunned by his demotion and shamed by his behavior, Cassio turns to Iago for help. Iago persuades Cassio to plead his case not with Othello, but with the "General's General," Desdemona. At the same time, however, he plants the suspicion in Othello's mind that Desdemona and Cassio have been engaged in an affair. With Roderigo's help, Iago constructs a series of tricks to convince Othello of Desdemona's unfaithfulness. Torn between his great love for Desdemona and seemingly irrefutable evidence of her unfaithfulness, Othello finally succumbs to Iago's machinations and believes the worst.

Shakespeare's Tragedy for the Rest of Us If the first act in Venice is considered as a prologue to the main action, Shakespeare comes closer in Othello than in any of his other tragedies to observing the classical "unities" of time, place and action. Othello also differs from other Shakespearean tragedies in that it's what often has been called a "domestic drama," more frequently the stuff of Shakespeare's comedies. Othello's cast comprises "ordinary" people who, though individuals of moderate rank, are not larger-than life figures of heroic stature that usually populate Shakespeare's great tragedies. The context of the dramatic action is primarily private, interpersonal, indeed, even matrimonial, rather than national or universal. The fate of kingdoms and peoples is not at stake. Thus, of all Shakespeare's tragedies, Othello is closer to the lives of audiences. That is not to say, however, that Othello does not contain universal and timely themes. Shakespeare uses this intimate situation to explore one of the great themes of literature. The central question of Othello is, 'What is real? What is true?' And how can one ascertain the truth? In the drama, Shakespeare explores this question through Othello's struggle to determine the truth of Desdemona's relationship with Cassio. He demands from Iago proof of Desdemona's infidelity, yet, tragically, acts on the basis of hearsay and contrived evidence. In Othello, Shakespeare illustrates graphically the incredible power of a lie. It's at this point that many critics question Othello's character because he seems so easily duped by Iago's fabrication. But Iago is more than just a simple liar, and he confronts Othello with more than a simple untruth. Whether intuitively or by careful design, Iago exploits Othello's deepest insecurities. One must not forget that Othello is, first and foremost, an alien in Venetian society. His race, culture and profession set him apart from Venice's sophisticated, cosmopolitan elite, among whom he finds himself at the play's opening. Thus, long before Iago first offers his powerful untruth, Othello already is insecure in his position. It's natural, then, that he turn to Iago -not only his heretofore faithful subordinate but also a Venetian and keen observer of Venetian ways -for a solution. The emotion that drives the action of Othello, of course, is jealousy. Jealousy, which Iago calls a "green-ey'd monster" (III:3), provides the spark that inflames the dry tinder of the play's relationships. Othello is a play that continues to capture the attention of audiences who daily struggle with the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the difficulty of sorting fact from fiction in their own lives.