There are plays and then there are plays. This one is the latter. Othello is a powerful play with multiple themes such as jealousy, self-doubt, betrayal and it’s consequences. There can be multiple interpretations to this classic. Many have popularly labeled the book and the author as sexist, racist, etc. I, however, have decided to give him the benefit of doubt and only consider this piece of work as a mere portrayal of the same. The book is a powerful story that has lived through the ages.
Othello, the dark skinned protagonist, is the General of Venice and he is married to the “fair” lady Desdemona. The antagonist is a white racist named Iago who is Othello’s right hand man and is disproportionately jealous of him. He manipulates people and events around him to make himself look better. Iago takes advantage of the racial prejudice and sexual inequalities of the times which leads to a tragic end.
Racism, sexism, jealousy, and other such vices are strikingly depicted here. And sadly it continues to haunt us in contemporary times; and I am afraid, it shall continue to do so for a long time to come. For instance, here is a excerpt depicting racism here-
Iago- If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit,
The one’s for use, the other useth it.
Desdemona- Well praised! How if she be black and witty?
Iago- If she be black, and thereof have a wit,
She’ll find a white that shall her blackness hit.
Desdemona- Worse and worse.
Emilia- How if fair and foolish?
Iago- She never yet was foolish that was fair,
For even her folly helped her to an heir
My favorite quotes from the book
How poor are they that have not patience
Though I am bound to every act of duty,
I am not bound to that all slaves are free to.
Utter my thoughts?
Danger conceits are in their nature poisons
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But, with a little act upon blood,
Burn like mines of sulphur.
I should be wise; for honesty’s a fool,
And looses that it works for.
Think on thy sins
Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.
But no matter how evil Iago is, he is one of the most intriguing villains I’ve come across. He is extraordinarily witty and manipulative. He seems trustworthy on the surface. While reading, I was myself deceived at several instances despite knowing Iago’s intentions. At one point of time I was thinking, the book should be named after Iago instead of Othello. It is maintained from the very beginning that Iago hates and is jealous of Othello but after a point of time one realizes that this emotion is quite motiveless. This, especially, makes ‘honest Iago’ (as Othello calls him) quite intriguing.
As we know by now, that the book portrays multiple themes, it is jealousy that strikes the reader first. Jealousy can be of two types, one when the person is resentful of another’s success and another when the person is extremely protective of one’s rights and possessions. The present case is about the former. Iago is extremely jealous of his General Othello. Initially it seems like he is in love with Othello’s wife, and much more but in the end it transcends to mere madness of jealousy. In fact, jealousy (the former kind) itself is quite meaningless!
But jealousy isn’t the only emotion acting here, there are other emotions which make the ground fertile for it to be so destructive. This is where racial prejudice, sexual inequality and stereotypical attitude comes in.
What makes this tragedy so tragic is that the General of Venice, Othello who is portrayed as a strong and responsible person and he is deceived by the white, racist, manipulative, Iago to such an extent that he ends up loosing his mind and so much more. This also depicts Othello’s perception about himself and women. While the society is portrayed as misogynistic, Othello not only accepts the same but also falls into the trap of, how can the fair lady, Desdemona love him (him, who is dark skinned) so much? He himself is scummed by racial discrimination in his head, that weakens him and paves a way for his own destruction. This Kinoko Nasu quote is apt for this situation, “An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside ship. Similarly, the negative of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you”.
The racial tragedy of our times
I believe this is a very important lesson for the Generation Z. Though many people are relentlessly making efforts to break the skin color stereotypes, it continues to affect our self-image, beauty standards, our partner preferences, etc, and more often than not burn a big hole in our pockets.
If someone asks to give an example of social development indicator, I would definitely say, if we stop associating skin color with an attribute, that would be a leap forward. I know so many people from educated and wealthy families, traveled the world, but are so obsessed with fairer skin colour and conversely white people want to be darker! So basically no one is happy with what they already have?!
Lord Krishna who is know to be dark skinned is always portrayed as a fair skinned god in India so that it is befitting the popular racist perception. In order to break this age old regressive mind-set, I wonder, should Othello’s part only be played by a dark skinned person? Are Shakespearean plays only restricted to certain races? Can a Japanese person (or any person irrespective of their racial background) portray Othello? These are some important question being raised lately; why are these questions important?
We all know that art, theater, cinema, music, multimedia influence the masses. When we see a dark skinned Lord Krishna on television, or (for instance) an Indian origin Othello, or (for instance) an African origin Desdemona on stage, we are not only bringing diversity on stage and television but also essentially empowering the respective community politically, socially and aesthetically. Its about enriching our experiences and perceptions with drama, television and much more. This can prove to be a powerful method for substituting our heritage of discrimination with a relatively more egalitarian society.
On an individual level, what we need to remember is that, it’s not your skin color, but how you present yourself makes you look good (on the surface). Ultimately, its the Batman rule, “its not who you are underneath (or on surface), but its what you do that defines you.”
For further reading on diversity in arts and diasporic Shakespear plays-http://goo.gl/NQGhv2
Actually I have seen only one adaptation, so….
(drumroll please) Its Omkara. The movie is based on Meerut, Western Uttar Pradesh. And it is a brilliant adaptation of Othello. The dialogues, music and direction is done by one and only, Vishal Bharadwaj. The music is absolutely a hit; its a team effort of some of the best artists in Indian film Industry, including lyrics by Gulzar ❤ . The actors have been utterly graceful, irrespective of the part they are playing.
No matter what, I just know that these stories are going to be with me forever and I’ll to pass it on to as many people as possible.
Shakespeare has provided us with so much of perspective about so many things that it must be made mandatory in school curriculum . For instance, “Othello is a play that
shows you what happens when you encounter someone who tells you exactly the lies that you want to hear. ” http://goo.gl/3A1I3I
Last but not the least, I am curious to know your opinion about Shakespeare. Have you ever encountered his work before? Why not? If yes, what strikes you the most about his work? Eager to know!
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