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Comparative Text, Othello and O Essays

Drafted Essay Context study; Comparing texts, Othello and O’ William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan play Othello (16th Century) and its modern (21st Century) appropriation O’ by Tim Blake Nelson depict a story of an African American hero, who is deceived by one of his close allies. Both writers have incorporated themes and values appropriate to the context of their time, to shape and form meaning within each piece of work. In the modern film O’, Odin James, as Othello is the black star of the basketball team at an otherwise white boarding school.
He is headed for big time with his sport and is in love with Desi, as Desdemona, the most popular girl in school winning the “most valuable player award” and sharing it with his right hand man and close friend Michel, as Casio. Meanwhile, Hugo is the coach’s son, but he is outshone on court by Odin, and feels rejected when Odin chooses Michel to share the award instead of himself. Hugo’s feelings of envy and neglect lead him to construct a plot to make Odin doubt Desi’s love for him, a plot which Hugo is willing to take to its most extreme consequences.
The film ends with the tragic shootings of Desi, Rodger, Emily and the suicide of Odin. {Othello is a highly esteemed general in the service of Venice. Iago is Othello’s ambitious friend. Othello promotes Michael Casio to the position of personal lieutenant and Iago is deadly jealous. Iago begins an evil and malicious campaign against the hero. Othello elopes with Desdemona but Iago starts to plot against them. Othello becomes jealous and suspicious of Desdemona. He confides in Iago that he plans to poison Desdemona.
Plots and murders ensue and Othello returns to the castle to kill his innocent wife. He eventually smothers her to death. Emilia tells Othello the truth about the scheming Iago. Othello wounds Iago, then goes on to commit suicide. } Although both movie and play are very similar in structure, there is a noticeable difference in values that are associated with each text. {As a writer or producer it is important to be aware of current issues by using context that is relevant to further engage the targeted audience. }
William Shakespeare’s Othello is set in the Elizabethan times, against the backdrop of the bubonic plague and the death of Queen Elizabeth I, as well as the current war between Venice and Turkey. Most of the action takes place in Cyprus, a location that in the wars acted as a Venetion outpost that was attacked by the Turks in 1570. This setting choice is a direct link to the era in which Shakespeare was writing from. In the Elizabethan era kings, queens, noblemen and other royals had great power over society and therefore were to be treated with great respect.
This idea of power is reflected in Othello, where there is a predominate focus on the hierarchy of society. In the 17th century attitudes towards non-Europeans were largely shaped by government policies, and as well by the exotic stories of travelers that came back from overseas. Although Queen Elizabeth granted full diplomatic recognition for their help in conquering Spain, they were still stereotyped by the people of England as overly sexual, prone to jealousy and just generally wicked. In Shakespeare’s play he incorporates these racial stereotypes into his dialogue.
It is believed that Shakespeare wrote the play specifically to satisfy James I, who had a keen interest in the history of the Turks and how Christians defeated them. By assigning Othello as a Christian general, Shakespeare gave recognitions to the recent military history but also signaled to the Elizabethans that hero was a civilized African and therefore worthy of their empathy. Tim Blake Nelson also has used the context of his era to create a film relevant to present day audiences, by using the popular medium of the time, film.
O’ emerged in a contemporary American context which was associated with drugs, violence, reputation, and youth culture. During the 1990’s the booming economy drew to a close and black poverty reached a record low rate. The impact of the economy’s downfall led to even further struggle and hardship in the African American communities. At this same time of the economy’s downfall, other significant events were occurring around the country such as an increase in gang violence, the O. J Simpson trial and the Columbine high school shooting that resulted in a delay of the release of the movie.
All of these events impacted on how Tim created and shaped meaning into the film O’. The use of the gun shootings and the blatant racism using terms such as ‘Nigger’, can be linked back to the values and issues of society at the time. Although Othello’s darkness is alluded to many times in Shakespeare’s play, it does not hold the same racial prejudices that the modern adaptation of O’ does. Elizabethans often referred to brunettes or olive skinned people as black. The opposition of black and white imagery that runs through Shakespeare’s Othello is certainly a mark of difference between Othello and his European companions.
However, was never quite as racially specific as a modern day reader would interpret it. This can be linked back to the varying morals, values and contexts of the two periods. From my studies I have become aware that although you can have two plots that are almost identical in structure, if placed in a different context, for example 17th Century versus 20th Century, the values depicted in each text will vary according to the historical, social and cultural makeup of the time.

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