Both my two oldest now are studying Shakespeare — Othello for one, Romeo and Juliet for the other — so the content comes so fast and furious it’s hard to keep up. My oldest has to write a paper on Iago, in fact, because they finished the play when I wasn’t looking.
“That’s what I was going to tell you,” she says. “I had to look something up about Iago for research … and you came up. That was weird.”
Sure enough, if you Google “Othello’s ancient” here’s what comes up:
The funny thing is that there in the car I said, “It means his right-hand man, right?” Which is exactly what I wrote in 2011. And she said, “No, it means flag bearer,” which is also what I learned in 2011 🙂
Yesterday I wrote about how it’s ok – nay, expected – that you know the ending of a Shakespeare play, but you still go see it again and again, because it’s about how they tell the story to get there. The only caveat to this rule would be those movies where it’s all about “the twist” (an M Night Shyamalan production). I noted that Shakespeare doesn’t really do twists.
But what if he did? I started wondering, which plays could be presented such that you don’t see it coming until the big reveal at the end.
Twelfth Night is an obvious example. What if we leave out Viola at the beginning, and pick it up with Cesario? Then you’ve got a classic romantic comedy where Cesario’s lusting after Orsino, Olivia is lusting after Cesario, Orsino’s lusting after Olivia but kind of really confused about his feelings for Cesario, and so on. Enter this guy Sebastian, who mentions a shipwreck and searching for his lost “sibling” and we think, “Aha! Twins! This will be good!” But then we get to the big finale where we find out Cesario is actually Viola. Cue happy endings and wedding music.
But I think it’s cheating to just do the easy comedy. Could we do it with a tragedy? I was wondering – if we took out all Iago’s soliloquies and behind the scenes machinations, could we make a twist out of it? Basically tell the whole story from Othello’s perspective, rather than Iago’s. He has to deal with his new father in law’s fury. He has to deal with his right-hand man Cassio getting into drunken bar fights. All the while he puts growing faith in loyal Iago, who hates to say this, but who thinks that maybe Cassio might be fooling around with Othello’s wife.
I think this one would be much harder to splice together, but imagine the payoff at the end? Suddenly Emilia comes out of nowhere to unveil that it was her husband all along? Then the husband f%^&*(ng STABS HER?! And then, when they catch him, he’s all, “Yup, not going to explain myself. At all. You get nothing.” That would be legendary.
Now I’m sad that knowing the real ending, I could never get to see how that would actually pay off, even if they made a movie exactly like that tomorrow.
This has more potential than I thought. What other plays could we twist? The only rule is that you can’t add more original content. If Shakespeare didn’t answer the question, we can’t answer it. We can’t, for instance, learn that it was actually Gertrude that killed her husband (or Ophelia). You have to stay as close the original material as possible, just mess with how the audience gets to see it.
Be me, on a typical school day, bustling around getting the kids breakfast as they get ready for school. My middle announces, “Did I tell you my Shakespeare story?”
Everything stops, of course. Well, more to the point everything I’m doing stops, while my wife kind of gives me the, “Seriously?” look since stuff’s still got to get done.
“Do tell,” I reply. “The very fact that you brought it up means this is going to be a blog post.”
“Ok,” she says, putting down her spoon. “Well, my friends and I the other day are talking, and somehow Shakespeare comes up, you know.”
“Sure, sure. I know the feeling.”
“And then my friend is all,” cue dripping fawning voice, “Oh, I *love* Shakespeare, I just *love* Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer’s Night’s Dream!” At this point she switches to brainy smirk, rolls up her sleeves, and begins. “Well, I said to her, do you know Othello? Hmm? How about Winter’s Tale? Or Titus Androkinus?”
My oldest and I exchange a glance and a laugh at that one. Middle continues, “Have *you* ever read the one where the husband bakes his wife into a pie? Hmmm???”
“Wait, what?” I ask.
“That’s Cleopatra,” says my oldest.
“Wait, WHAT?” I ask.
“Isn’t there one about Cleopatra and her husband?”
“Antony and Cleopatra, yes?”
“Isn’t that the one she’s talking about?”
It’s funny how sometimes the facts get garbled. I explain that Titus baked the sons of his enemy into a pie. I still have no idea where they got baking his wife – nor the connection with Antony and Cleopatra.
As regular readers may know my daughter is in her first real Shakespeare class, so we get to have regular discussions about my favorite subject and it almost always results in a blog post. Technically the class is only half Shakespeare, as it is really “Monsters in British Literature” and The Tempest was one of the topics, which makes this that much more interesting, because Othello isn’t normally part of the class.
So she’s got a writing assignment where she’s to pick a real person (can’t be fictional) that society sees as a monster, and then take a position whether to defend or rebut that argument, using what they’ve learned in class about the “definition” of what it means to be a monster.
We’ve been going back on forth on what (or who) she might pick, when she says to me, “One student did do Iago, though.” I think that may have been for a slightly different definition of the assignment as he’s clearly fictional. She continued, “But he argued that Iago’s not a monster.”
“Tough argument,” I say. Normally I’m driving while we have these conversations so I have to keep my eyes on the road. “Not really sure there’s any evidence on behalf of Iago being a nice guy.”
“That’s the thing!” my daughter responded, “Apparently the teacher read it and said, hmmm, makes you think. Like he actually had a convincing argument, at least to get her to say that much!”
“Yeah, I’ma need you to get me that paper,” I said.
Upon which my daughter freaked out. “DO NOT EMAIL MY TEACHER, DADDY!” she commanded. “I know that’s totally something you would do.”
“Yeah, you’re right, there.”
“Please don’t. You can’t just go asking for a random student’s paper.”
“Ok, then you do it.”
“I CAN’T DO IT EITHER!”
“Then I guess we’re gonna have to go Mission Impossible on this one, because I need to see what that argument was. I’m thinking we lower you into the room on cables, thread you through the laser security, and bam! You get to the file cabinet, you take some quick pictures of his homework, then we yank you out of there. No one’s the wiser.”
“Seriously, Daddy. You’re not going to email her, are you?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” I replied. “Besides, I’m going to get a blog post out of it either way.”
And here we are! If we start with the premise that somebody put forth a reasonably convincing “Iago’s not such a bad guy” argument…what could it possibly have been? Bardfilm sent me a piece from Arden edition which basically takes the position that we should assume everything Iago says is true — being a soldier is all that he knows how to do, it is his life, he seems himself as unfairly passed up for promotion by an unworthy candidate for all the wrong reasons, etc… It goes on to say that we should assume that, even if Othello isn’t sleeping with Iago’s wife, the important thing to take away is that Iago believes it. Iago isn’t just making some sort of alibi for his actions.
Personally I don’t see it. And even if we did believe that, it’s kind of like arguing first-degree murder versus third-degree murder. From the start he does show himself to be more sociopathic than that, going right through Roderigo and Cassio like they’re not even people.
<shrug> Anybody feel good taking Iago’s side? See a possible argument that we’re missing? My daughter has the same teacher for a pure Shakespeare class next semester as well, where they will be reading Othello, so if it so happens that this topic comes up again I will be sure to revisit.
So I’m not dressing up for Halloween this year, and thought I’d be lazy and do a “Best Of” Halloween post instead. But then I searched I realized … did I never post my Othello costume? I know it was on Facebook, but it looks like I never put up here on the blog!
Fall, 2016. I was hired at my new job in December 2015, so this is my first Halloween. They do a big company-wide party here, with prizes and everything, and I am definitely going through a phase of life where I’m wearing my Shakespeare devotion on my sleeve.
So I decide to go as Othello.
“Oh no,” you think, “You didn’t put on blackface like Anthony Hopkins, did you?” Well I still work here, that ought to give you a clue.
Nope, what I did was go to as both Othello the play, and Othello the board game.
Step one, I got one of those white painter’s jumpsuits to make a blank canvas of myself. Then I started transcribing.
You may not be able to make that out, but it’s the entirety of Othello Act I, Scene i. I may have had delusions of doing more, but that took me forever (and lots more space than I thought) so I stuck with just making the point.
But then I figured maybe people wouldn’t recognize the play. After all, Othello doesn’t show up in I.i. So I doubled as the board game (sometimes called “Reversi”):
Why am I carrying a stuffed animal? I’ll give you a hint, he’s got green eyes. He’s a green eyed monster.
Then I figured that there’s still a strong likelihood nobody’s going to get this, so I made it obvious on the back:
If you can get past the glare, that is. 🙂
How’d it go? I can’t say most people got it. Couple of the older people at work were all, “Oh, you’re that game!” Turns out Milton Bradley let the trademark lapse on Othello back in the 1980s and half these people have no idea what that game is. 🙂
Bonus! While we were in the mood and since I was rifling through my daughter’s stuffed animals, we were presented with this opportunity: