What I’m Reading Thursday – Othello

Hark!  Doth mine ears perceive the glorious name that be Shakespeare?  Be he not of greatness? Genius, thy name be Shakespeare.

I have chosen the Shakespearean play, “Othello” to introduce the overwhelming artistry that is William Shakespeare.  Goodness knows that I did not enjoy my own exposure to Shakespeare in high school; we listened to the entire “Romeo and Juliet” play on scratchy records in the 9th grade, and I had the world’s biggest creeper for my British Lit teacher, so out the window went any interest I could have had with “MacBeth.”  Two years ago, many many amazing and anonymous Shakespeare fanatics donated class sets of “MidSummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “Othello,” and “The Taming of the Shrew” to my 11/12th grade literature classes.  I still have fond memories of my students acting out these various plays, and turning Shakespeare’s carefully chosen words into modern day raps.  We even did a workshop where we were paired up with local Theater majors/stars of a production of “MidSummer’s Night Dream” at Wayne State University.  A-MAZING!  So my goal is to instill an appreciation, if nothing else, of Shakespeare, as well as the story and characters in “Othello.”

Come, let’s away to mine reflection.

Never would I have imagined myself to be one of those people who would willingly, and repeatedly read a Shakespearean play, but here I am in all my glory.  I profess to my students that I don’t really care for the traditional Shakespearean format, but I am SUCH A LIAR!  I actually do love it, now that I have been able to dissect it.  And because I went through the torture of trying to figure out what the heck phrases like, “Cowards die many times before their deaths” or “Let every eye negotiate for itself” meant, I chose to spare my students.  Before any of you Shakespeare purists come out to attack me, we do review and reflect upon the original Shakespeare; it’s great for compare and contrast, critical thinking skills, as well as the fun of torturing a particularly rowdy student. I joke.  I joke.  In class we are using the “No Fear Shakespeare” version of “Othello.”

It provides both the Shakespearean verse and a mirrored, modern translation.

A great example of the usefulness of this translation can be found here:

Shakespearean: 

Modern:

What’s so great about “Othello”?

Um how about everything?  The complex characters who get caught up in web after web of lies and deceit; the authentic way in which Shakespeare captures human nature in 1603/4 that still applies to today is enough to make this teacher a serial reader.

The basic plot of “Othello” is that Iago, a hopeful second-in-command to the Venetian army’s leader Othello, creates a complex labyrinth of lies and trickery to attempt to bring down Othello.  Throw in a wife who would do anything to make her husband love her again, a likable but gullible scapegoat, a tragic hero with a fatal flaw, and a bushel of circumstantial evidence, you’ve got yourself a real movie-of-the-week plot line.  As if Othello didn’t have enough going against him with the ultimate scuzzbucket in Iago, he’s battle the social issues of being a Moor, a black man from Africa in Venice.  Shakespeare may have been the first writer to add in racial tension.  Interracial Couple + Disapproving Father = Mega Controversy.

Without giving away the ending, it should be known that “Othello” is a tragedy, and that typically means that there’s a no-holds barred approach to who gets killed.  Suspicion drives Othello mad with rage, and all of his allies abandon him in the false light that Iago shines on him.

I encourage you to read the play, and if you’re too intimidated by the Shakespearean approach, rent yourself a copy of “O” staring Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, & Josh Hartnett; it’s a pretty good adaptation.  It’s no Leonardo DiCaprio “Romeo and Juliet,” but then again what is?

Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall goodbye til’ it is Five Things Friday!

2 thoughts on “What I’m Reading Thursday – Othello

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