How successfully has Andrew Davies transformed William Shakespeare’s original text for a modern audience? In this essay I will explain how Andrew Davies’ film, Othello, 2001 released in 2001, is a successful transformation of William Shakespeare’s tragic play, Othello first performed in 1604. The play follows the events of the General Othello while outlining his love for his wife Desdemona and watches it turn into jealousy, since Iago deceives him into believing she is having an affair with Michael Cassio. Iago’s lies lead Othello to suffocate his innocent wife because of his jealous rage. Then after realising he mistake commits suicide.
Similarly, Davies film follows the manipulative Ben Jago’s plans to make the police Commissioner, John Othello, believe that his wife, Dessie, is having an affair with a policeman Michael Cass. The suspicion that Jago plants similarly leads John to kill his wife Dessie and to commit suicide due to his jealousy, leaving Jago to be promoted to the position of Commissioner. Davies’ appropriates the main characters, parts of the plot, and the themes of chaos verses order & racial intolerance and by recontextualising these Davies creates new meanings for a new audience, through illustrating the alteration of values with the change of context.
To appeal to the modern audience he reflects the values of England in the twenty-first century. The play’s dramatic change of character would have greatly compelled and interested the audiences of Shakespeare’s time. His play was a popular entertainment in the context of the Jacobean era. The popular drama film by Davies likewise entertains his viewers. Furthermore he makes his audience think about the issues highlighted by the characters throughout the film. This film shows how people’s values have changed very little since Shakespeare’s era.
Many people today are still bigoted and offensive to others of a different race. Furthermore in our patriarchal society people commit lawless acts while our legal structure tries to keep society in order. Racial intolerance and chaos versus order are central themes in both the written and visual text. They explore the relationships between men and women in Shakespeare’s and our patriarchal society. Davies has set his film transformation in London, and it starts with a race riot, indicating that racism still remains a major issue today.
In addition, his film highlights and focuses on racial tensions, due to it being an issue many people can relate to. My reception of this transformation is that it conveys the original play, yet is more capturing and moving because I can relate deeply to it, due to being teenager in our modern society. Davies’ film is a successful transformation because the theme of chaos versus order is explored similarly to the original text, since our context is still that of a busy patriarchal society. Australia is seen as a civilised nation because of its established system of law and government.
Yet we still have emotionally unstable individuals who will break the law structure leading to crime and disorder. In the play, Iago directs Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona, into jealousy from Othello’s belief that she is supposedly unfaithful. As his envy and fury grow into a jealous rage we are shown that his mind becomes a disordered mess. In the play, when Lodovico hands over a letter to Othello from Venice, it raises the conversation about the quarrel that has recently happened between Cassio and Othello.
Desdemona is slapped by Othello who says, “O devil, devil! / If that earth could teem with woman’s tears, / Each drop she falls would prove crocodile”. This is the first time Othello has lost his temper and duty in public, highlighting his disordered mind. This metaphor effectively illustrates Othello’s negative thought of Desdemona crying crocodile tears. This scene from the play is like a dinner scene in Davie’s film. Ben Jago, John Othello, Lulu and Dessie are all having dinner when Michael Cass abruptly turns up.
He tries to explain that the lies being spread about him aren’t true, which leads to John Othello jumping up, shouting and trying to physically hit Michael Cass. In this scene Othello reveals for the first time in the film his muddled mind in front of his guests. Moreover the low camera angled shots of Othello portray him as powerful and angry in comparison to Michael Cass. The close-up shots displays and emphasize his frightening facial expressions. These camera techniques reveal his disordered mind to his viewers, making them feel sympathy towards Othello after seeing his confusion overrule his personal moral values.
The theme of racial intolerance is also explored in both texts, supporting Davies succesfull transformation because this issue is still evident in our context.. Throughout both texts we see Othello’s colour being racially vilified. In Act I of Shakespeare’s play we see Othello explaining that he didn’t make Desdemona fall in love with him using witchcraft and wizardry. In his monologue he clarifies to Brabantio, the Duke, and senators that she fell in love because he told her stories of his dramatic and fascinating journeys.
He says, “She’d come again, and with a greedy ear/ Devour up my discourse”. The personification in the phrase ‘greedy ear’ is conveying that her ear is hungry for more of his captivating stories. Further the ‘d’ sound in ‘devour’ and ‘discourse’ is alliterative, which effectively emphasizes these important words. These two techniques help to metaphorically show that her ear is a mouth. Davies film similarly explores the racial intolerance, which is occurring not only in London but also throughout our modern society.
Ben Jago is filmed from a low camera angle during his ‘soliloquy’ in the corridors of the police station where he addresses the camera directly involving the audience in his emotional outburst. Davies’s use of a series of quick cuts between different angles some tilted others low, and close-up shots help to represent how enraged he is by jealousy. These camera techniques portray him as looking crazed as he rants about John Othello’s promotion to be Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In this furious rage Ben Jago refers to Othello as “ape”, “nigger and “darky”, all of which are racial slurs.
Through using these camera techniques and racial names the viewer sees and feels the racial intolerance occurring. This may remind the audience of the racial intolerance surrounding themselves in their context. In conclusion, I truly believe that Andrew Davies has successful transformed William Shakespeare’s original text for a modern audience. Davies has achieved this by appropriating the main characters, parts of the plot and the themes of chaos verses order & racial intolerance by recontextualising these in order to appeal to the modern audience by reflecting contemporary values.