Othello - A play for our times, all times
Othello was written, as a play by William Shakespeare (The Bard) between 1600 and 1606 so why is it still relevant? Well Othello is still relevant because of what the Bard based it on. Othello is a tragedy based on universal truths, emotions that we all feel at some point in our lives. But this is not the only reason why ‘The tragical Rembrandt’, as one critic called it, oh no since the start of the slave trade Othello’s political significance has changed and with it the way directors direct the play. About these universal truths, what are they?
Well a universal truth is an emotion we al feel such as love, hate, jealousy and so on. In Othello, the universal truths of love and jealousy are at the core of the play. The start of Othello is the marriage of a beautiful Venetian woman, daughter to a senate named Desdemona to a navel officer, the Moor (Othello). These was a marriage of love but with Othello’s ancient, Iago was using his jealousy of the newly promoted, newly wed Othello to plot against him and in doing so he uses a Venetian gentlemen by the name of Roderigo who wanted to marry the beautiful Desdemona how ever what has all this got to do with modern society.
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Well every one on the planet has been jealous and everyone has been in love. Therefore, I guess that is why people still go to see Othello. But that still leaves the political side of the play but how can politics remain the same for three hundred and four years, well the truth is politics hasn’t and neither has Othello’s political significance. Over time Othello’s political significance has been changed by the way, the director chooses to direct it and whom they cast in the play.
In the nineteen eighties South Africa was a racist country with the racial segregation system of Apartheid and in nineteen eighty-eight Janet Suzman directed Othello in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. Well as soon as Othello kissed Desdemona, the white section of the audience got up and left because blacks and whites were not permitted to be in the same places let alone the same bed. There are other things to remember like the great actor Paul Robeson who played Othello in three of the most politically significant staging of the play ever.
He was a black actor from the USA who actively supported equal rights for all races. In nineteen thirty he played Othello in London’s west end making him the first black actor to play Othello in a major production since before the start of the slave trade, but even though he was one of the west ends most revered actors it didn’t stop the restaurant in The Savoy refusing him entry. The reason was the colour of his skin. He didn’t play Othello again until nineteen forty-three when he played The Moor in New York eventually on the Broadway stage.
One Soviet journalist said, “The doors of the American theatre opened for the Negro people. ” Going on to say, “No white man should dare presume to play the role again. ” His third performance was possible the most significant as he was asked to play Othello in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) centenary season in nineteen fifty-nine after eight years of being blocked from performing and travelling abroad due to the US anti-communism policy. Paul later said, “I can’t act or sing in any sort of decent place- very seldom in my own country…
There was a request, and a contract sent to me to play ‘Othello’ in London as soon as I could get there. And they went to the British Equity Actors Association (BEAA) to see if I could a labour permit. And they said there was no question of the status of Mr Robeson… And we would welcome him to this land. ” Now all this may seem a bit detailed but that is because at the time every black actor wanted to play Othello to prove a point but now many refuse to play him as they believe Othello projects a negative image of black people and no one wants that. But politics is not what makes this play powerful it’s dramatic irony.
The Bard made Othello dramatically powerful by writing it like a pantomime, without the audience participation. Shakespeare wrote Othello so the audience want to jump out of there seats, punch Othello in the mouth and tell him Iago is going to destroy him because we know all about Iago’s plan. However none of the other characters know of his plan. This is called dramatic irony and Shakespeare uses it an orful lot like here for instants where Desdemona refers to Iago as “an honest fellow. ”
And here where Othello talks to “Honest Iago” and also here when Iago himself declares himself an “Honest man. All of these are pretty ironic considering what the audience already know and for that reason we call it dramatic irony. I believe that Othello is a play for all times because of the way it was written by the Bard. He has written the perfect play with Othello. It’s not to short, not too long, not to dependent on the actors performance and it will always provoke an emotional response from the audience and if the audience are emotionally involved they will never get bored of watching, reading or listening to it. And that’s what makes Othello a play for our times, all times.