martedì, febbraio 17, 2009

Of strumpets and wolves among the sheep

A little tired this morning because we went to see an amateur production of Othello an old colleague was in, and then I couldn't stop reading The Mayor of Casterbridge when I got home. The amateur production was okay. Like all amateur productions, once you find three reasonably talented actors it's just a matter of blocking the untalented ones like bits of scenery. And this one - the main problem is that it laboured a bit under the burden that Othello and Desdemona looked like nephew and auntie, with about as much sexual chemistry. I know there's the theory running around that Othello and Desdemona never consummate their marriage, and I understand why it exists though I think it's nonsense and rather too subtle for Shakespeare, but I just don't believe someone's going to smother someone else in a jealous rage over the smotheree's sexual improprieties unless he or she feels a sense of sexual ownership of that person. And whether he actually slipped it to her or not there's enough coo-ey and dirty talk between them to at least have them get in a bit of a cuddle on stage. A touch of tongue while the duke is looking the other way. Something that convinces me he loves her in such a way he can bother to hate her. Not really the actor's fault. The director could have whipped that up easily if she'd chosen to.

But the important thing about Othello is Iago as he's always on the fucking stage, to the degree that I feel, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, that Iago is the play's real hero, and the Iago in this production was very watchable. He gets some good lines, Iago. Lots of examples of what Robertson Davies laughed at in some book I can't remember - that lots of Shakespearian aphorisms taken as serious moral advice have came from thoroughly unpleasant or evil characters. One of our group was baffled by the character - just couldn't wrap his head around why someone would be such a cunt. I guess I'd always taken it for granted. I'm used to the idea of the nature of tragedy being that the hero has a fatal flaw, and always thought without questioning it much that Iago's fatal flaw is to be a asshole in a world full of fucking morons, a fox among the hens.

Othello - well, it takes ten minutes of loose talk from someone he's just passed over for promotion to turn him from an uxuriously happy man into a foaming-at-the-mouth stereotype. Desdemona throws a fit of pique over the handkerchief she's lost instead of coming clean with the fact that she can't fucking find it even as her wierdo husband, whose job it is to violently murder people, is getting all mouth-foamy, and then she trots out that retarded little line as she expires about how she did it to herself. Amelia enthusiastically rushes into her death at the end to expose the story of the hankerchief, but if she had three brain cells to rub together she would have realized what the game was with it at the midpoint of the play when Othello starts chiding Desdemona. Cassio gets dangerously shitfaced after two drinks whilst on the job depsite his boss warning him not to, and it takes 30 seconds of urging from an underling to make him so. Rodrigo - well. Obviously he's so fucking dumb it's only fair to assume he was written as comic relief, as a really openly stupid embodiment of all the other character's stupidity.

The only character who shows even a modicum of rationality and intelligence is Iago. And as far as I remember, that's quite unique in Shakespeare's tragedies - all the other ones I can think of have at least a few secondary characters who aren't fucking dumbkopfs and who figure out what's going on pretty early in the game. So, you know, think about Iago's circumstances: surrounded by blithering morons, blithering morons who are mostly more materially and sexually successful than you, what's more, with two of them rumoured to have fucked your wife - even if you're only sort of an asshole, surely you're going to start manipulating the situation.

And from there comes moments of sly but undeniable humour in a script written off as tragedy, as everybody loves on Iago while he destroys them. And then, as Brad Pitt showed in Burn After Reading, retards are funny. ". . . One who loved not wisely, but too well" after spending an hour bellowing about what a slimy wop whore someone is and then killing her? Come on, that's fucking comedy gold. I think the play could be done as a black comedy - something the Coen brothers could do.

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