Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Shakespeare's Text versus Ola Ince's politically charged Met adaptation (Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 10th anniversary edition) (2024)

Disclaimer: This extended article discusses the original text of Othello by William Shakespeare, as well as a modern adaptation that has recently been performed on stage. It is recommended that readers are made aware or have read the play and know details of the plot, for the article discusses its elements to a significant degree.

Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Shakespeare's Text versus Ola Ince's politically charged Met adaptation (Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 10th anniversary edition) (1)

“That is a fault.” says Ken Nwosu’s Othello at a critical juncture of Ola Ince’s modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, originally titled The Tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice. It is a line uttered with clear and sharp bluntness by the doomed protagonist, and what appears in his eyes to bare certain correctness as he has been persuaded to believe that his Venetian (in the adaptation London) wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful and been groomed and seduced by his recently promoted sergeant Cassio; both are under a fierce and raging vendetta by the Moor, as he descends further into the blinded realm of jealously, and behaves gradually more erratic and hasty as the falling action of the play takes its foreboding course.

This particular line is spoken soon into Act III, Scene 4 of the original text, referring to a handkerchief that “Did an Egyptian to my mother give… ’Twould make her amiable and subdue my father | Entirely to her love; but, if she lost it | Or made a gift of it, my father’s eye | Should hold her loathèd, and his spirits should hunt | After new fancies. She dying…”, Thus, it bares a crucial token of love and trust in Othello’s elopement with Desdemona, and her having “lost” it, seemingly verifies in his mind his friend Iago’s supposed suspicion and thoughts that Desdemona is cheating on him with a nearby acquaintance.

We do indeed see the handkerchief in this modern production of Othello by Ince, at multiple points; a large black piece of silk adorned with strawberries, negligently dropped and left from Desdemona’s person, then changing hands from Emilia (Desdemona’s maidservant and Iago’s wife), to Iago himself, then planted in Cassio’s room, which is all but the final “evidence” for Othello’s mind to succumb to the poisoning deception of Iago.

This modern take on the early seventeenth-century Shakespearian tragedy is ingeniously adapted into the high-octane, near-claustrophobic setting of New Scotland Yard, amid a mainly white police force. This framing of a police procedural, sharply inflected at moments with large portrait boards of collected evidential photographs of victims and potential perpetrators, alongside a mainly white collection of colleagues and cops, allows this modern staging to coalesce well with Shakespeare’s original of a ranked system of military workers at sea, as well as providing the elusively overriding feeling of racial favouritism and prejudice that was a key theme in the original text. Although here it carries haunting undertones of a Met still grappling with institutionalised racism and misogyny within its ranks; as well as chilling resonances of the murder of George Floyd.

Ken Nwosu’s Othello, known as the “guvnor”, leads an investigation team of police officials and sergeants, initially being led on stage in handcuffs. The characters - who in the original text are ranked officials battling and travelling at sea against the Turks, or ‘the general enemy Ottoman’, and the Barbary (Moorish) pirates from Africa (in Western civilisation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries no clear distinction was made between the Turks and the Moors, and the Moors and black Africans) - don either full body armour to protect themselves from their latest hunt/mission against the criminal underbelly of London, or thick black police jackets and hats with white-and-black-chequered patterning to showcase certain officials’ rank in the force, as well as to present themselves authoritatively at work discussions and meetings.

The men “out on the streets” wearing the body armour, comprise Othello (who we see woo and succeed in marrying Desdemona in the opening scenes, who is cheekily referenced as a “Chelsea girl”), his sergeant Iago (played spectacularly by a cleanly cut and stubbled Ralph Davis), initially wearing an atypical dark-navy-blue police boiler suit with handcuffs and a gun and taser strapped sternly around his thighs, and Michael Cassio, or simply Cassio (played by a young, suave, and tall Oli Higginson), referred to as an “Eton boy”, and who is quickly promoted by Othello over Iago in rank, which spurs Iago into his cunningly deceptive and hateful campaign against the “guvnor”.

Wearing the more dark and stout hats and jackets of the Met (who are in the main much older, and generally much less fit-looking and far more portly) are Brabantio (Ché Walker) - who as Desdemona’s father initially despises her elopement to a “Moor”, though is counterbalanced by Othello eloquently telling him of his troubled past and heroic travels in making it as a worthy and noble member of the Met - and an unnamed Commissioner (David Hounslow), who appear on stage in the more formal discussions of what we can assume is the supposed New Scotland Yard building, aptly taking the place of Venetian Senators (the play’s original characters). Merely by the shade of their clothes and size of their frames are we privy to men who, on the surface, are of a most towering and intimidating kind, though within and under their Caucasian skin, carry the prejudicial morals and psyches that discriminate against people of colour, who go on to only provide a narrow smidge of the institutional racism within the invisibly seedy community of the Met; as it is, in the play at least, certain individuals who go on to inflate the racism to severe levels of eventual hatred, leading to destruction.

And lest we forget poor old Roderigo, played in wittingly brilliant fashion by the smart-haired and stubbled Sam Swann. He appears at critical intervals within the action, flitting between various poorly paid jobs from Deliveroo driver to street Electrician, as he is simultaneously charmed and goaded by Iago to continue trying to win over Desdemona (for he was the budding Venetian bachelor who desired to marry her), - the little side-hustle of Iago’s in his hateful campaign against Othello - although due to his foolishness and gullibility, as well as the cunning genius of Iago, he can ostensibly never truly realise his heart’s desire. He initially appears in this adaptation as a cute and innocent attendee at Othello and Desdemona’s wedding - as Ince crucially cuts out the original opening exchange between Roderigo and Iago in Act I, Scene I, where Iago influences his thoughts in discussing Othello and the recent changes to rank within the navy, where they both adopt racial stereotypes toward the protagonist, as well as eventually Brabantio - walking around the corner of the stage after having caught the Boquete of flowers, though he is sulking to himself, and vocalises his miserable brooding to Iago; contemplating suicide, in what is an intimate yet quietly manipulative exchange, which remains firmly faithful to the original text:

RODERIGO I will incontinently drown myself… |

RODERIGO It is stillness to live, when to live is to torment: and then we have a prescription to die, when death is our physician. |

IAGO O villainous! I have looked upon the world for four times seven years, and since I could distinguish betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found a man knew how to love himself. Ere I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon. |

RODERIGO What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is not in my virtue to amend it. |

IAGO Virtue? A fig! ’Tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we plant nettles or sow lettuce… either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry, why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the beam of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts: whereof I take this, that you call love, to be a sect or scion… |

IAGO It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man. Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies… I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou these wars; defeat thy favour with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor - put money in thy purse - nor he is to her. It was a violent commencement, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration - put but money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in their wills - fill thy purse with money.”1

To anybody who did not quite get the message of Iago’s impassioned inspiring of his feeble friend, he is repetitively telling Roderigo to “make money!” Essentially, this is the moment in the dialogue where the elusive and sinister plotting of Iago begins, for when Othello is off-stage, he feels he can take liberty by referring to him as “the Moor”, emphasising his racist feelings for his senior police official, as well as setting in motion, by way of provoking Roderigo, the campaign to break up Othello’s beloved marriage with Desdemona. Roderigo, crucially in this adaptation, is initially presented as a broken and morose figure, who for all his friendliness and loyalty, is contemplating taking his own life by drowning himself because he feels he cannot persist with his unsuccessful work and love life. Though receiving these seemingly uplifting, grandiloquent words of Iago, Sam Swann’s Roderigo suddenly bares a beaming, wide smile upon taking on board his friend’s persistent instruction to, as translated into modern-day English: “Put money in your purse”. He goes on to say briefly, with a new lease of life, as if he has morphed into a small boy being given infinite helpings of ice-cream, by which point the audience in the tight and cylindrical Sam Wanamaker Theatre burst into cheery guffaws: “Wilt thou be fast to my hopes, if I depend on the issue?”

It is an ingeniously modified segment in the play that Ince brings to the audience in her more contemporary setting of the quiet and claustrophobic realms of inner-city London. Where Shakespeare’s original projection was men in transit and fighting at sea, flitting off and on board ships in European waters, this vital exchange of dialogue where Iago’s cunning and deceiving thoughts are brought to fruition loses none of its poetic charm, grace, and ultimate malevolence; the outside atmosphere of London at night - where couples and inebriated groups prancing through the chaotic and wide streets of Tottenham Court Road and Bishopsgate are rife with chatter and a mingling hullabaloo, while the Met and other forces at power are quietly going about their business on the periphery - making for the perfect off-the-beaten-track conversation, where we witness perhaps the most striking moment of institutionalised racism within the Met in the play, a startling degree of toxic masculinity, and realise that workers and colleagues, most likely in many other industries, not only the Met, will conspire against each other due to inner and personal feelings of betrayal, jealousy, even hate.

As well as Ince’s gleaming imagination and intelligence to turn the setting of this exchange into the metropolitan backstreets of London, here at the culmination of the First Act, within the text and words themselves most prominently spoken by Iago (and with great loudness and command by Ralph Davis), is a poetic and quiet demonstration - although it is difficult to notice on stage in the first viewing or reading at a faster pace - of the theme of juxtaposition, or “doubleness” within the play. We in fact first get a glimpse of it in Act I, Scene I, when Roderigo and Iago are speaking of Othello and the circ*mstances surrounding Iago’s newfound hate of his “Moorship” (as aforementioned this opening part of the text is sharply cut from Ince’s adaptation), where we can identify within Iago’s riddling extended passages a man that is greatly conflicted; fuelled by hate of Othello for his race and colour, yet success within the navy, and jealousy, both of Cassio for having been promoted to “officer” by Othello, and Othello himself because he has been following his “master” for a long time as his subordinate, though has not been rewarded in the way he hoped, or received the recognition he clearly feels he deserves.

There is to be found various dichotomies within Iago’s inferences in his first extended soliloquy when he projects his thoughts and feelings to Roderigo: “prattle without practice”2 is what he thinks of his “soldiership”; a soldier that speaks with a silver-tongue, yet does not equal it with his actions in work at battle; before this he refers to Othello more crassly: “But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, | Evades them with a bombast circ*mstance | Horribly stuffed with epithets of war…”3, which is Iago first discerningly bringing to light Othello’s ability to speak verbosely of his tales of war at sea which he feels he uses as a way to inflate his opinion of himself. Within Shakespeare’s singularly ingenious writing one can identify the alliteration of “p” at the conclusion of the lines, and a patterning in the text through Iago’s opening speech; the “pride and purpose” and “prattle and practice” opposing each other as concepts and actions that are constantly held in question by humans, as an individual will inevitably re-evaluate these things as a matter of personal assessment throughout their life. Iago feels this verbal “Evasion” of Othello, blathering on articulately, “Horribly stuffed with epithets of war”, reduces Othello, at least temporarily, to an arrogant and vain soldier who fights his battles against his enemies and merely “stuffs” them with disregarding and flimsy titles, that only go on to garner his perceived self-importance.

Upon mentioning Michael Cassio, Iago brings to the fore a couple of clever yet profound duplexities. Firstly, the opposition of literature and mathematics; for Iago, even by this initial speech, almost certainly bares the ability and power of a great spokesperson, orator, perhaps even possessing an exceptional aptitude in spoken poetry. Yet, he contrasts his flowery opening vocalisations, even literal words themselves, when he mentions Cassio being promoted to the position of Othello’s “Lieutenant”: “For ‘Certes,’ says he, | ‘I have already chose my officer.’ | And what was he? | Forsooth, a great arithmetician…”4 The use of the somewhat dated adverb “Forsooth” is used ironically by Iago, for he has already espoused quite beautifully, if not rather cruelly, his thoughts and feelings of his master Othello and demonstrated his gift and potential for being a wordsmith himself; to Iago’s eyes this would make Othello think he is a suitable candidate to be his lieutenant because he shares a common ability in storytelling, poetry, and the spoken word, yet he is overlooked by “a great arithmetician”. Perhaps it was with more proactive thinking in mind that Othello selected Cassio as lieutenant so as to complement his own verbose skills with those of somebody who is an expert in the use of numbers and calculation, though in this context we can assume that the two opposing fields of words and numbers are starkly pinned against each other; for Iago makes it seem as though it is rightfully unfathomable that Othello would turn him down for someone else who happens to be adept in arithmetic.

The second very intriguing presence of duality comes when Iago mentions Cassio’s name outright, and brings to our knowledge his heritage and where he comes from: “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine…”5 This further adds an unusual nature to Cassio, for geographical, historical, and social reasons. It is first curious for the sole reason that Iago felt the need to mention it immediately after announcing his name, stating the noun clearly as a sharp phrase to Roderigo’s ears, “a Florentine”; carrying the unwanted weight of a person who comes from a wealthy family and was expected to do well, probably did go on to do well, akin to an Oxbridge graduate in England. Ostensibly, he is saying it in a surprising tone to Roderigo as if to evoke and make him realise this circ*mstance is very strange, “forsooth”, in other words saying to him: “would you believe this?! I know!”

The geographical and historical weight behind Cassio being a Florentine is that him not coming from Venice (where the majority of the characters hail from and reside) directly contrasts the coastal and seaport nature to the city of Venice. While the northern Italian city has historically been an affluent, artistic, and opulent city open to welcoming foreigners and providing romantic tours along its famous waters, it has also provided a crucial commerce and trading location, lying at the summit of a diagonal portion of the Adriatic Sea; the city was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as that key area built on water for commerce to thrive - particularly silk, grain, and spice, and of art from the thirteenth to the end of the seventeenth century. While it can vehemently be argued that the city bodes a well-off population and profits prolifically from attractive yet pricy tourism, the duality Cassio’s heritage creates of being a Florentine is profound; an inland Tuscan city known for being at the centre of artistic flourishing during the Renaissance, the place opposes the play’s titular city for being a good distance east from the coast. Cassio’s homeplace is not a bustling seaport that administers cargo and ships to venture out for trade and battle at sea; it is a cherished hub of high art and culture, thus the polarity created between Venice and Florence at the beginning of the play is more politically one of a place of labour, versus a place of privilege. It is no surprise then, that in Ince’s production, set predominantly in London and southern England, that he is eventually referred to as an “Eton boy”; the prestigious public school resembling privilege and wealth to a high degree, taking the place of what would have been his education and upbringing in Florence in the original text.

Along with the duality of characters’ background and place, Iago speaks of another fundamental opposition of ideas; masterdom and servitude. As well as expressing his lack of love, now increasing hate for Othello (chiefly on the basis that the Florentine Cassio has been promoted above him), Iago continues to lecture to Roderigo didactically; trying to find logic and solace within his thoughts and words regarding his present state as a subordinate to Othello, to the point that he finds himself teaching Roderigo his chief philosophies and ideas having been a lower-ranking official to Othello for a long time. Still referring to the recent promotion of Cassio over his own, there eventually comes a telling exchange between the pair, with Iago speaking lyrically:

IAGO ’Tis the curse of service: | Preferment goes by letter and affection, | And not by old gradation, where each second | Stood heir to th’first. Now sir, be judge yourself | Whether I in any just term am affined | To love the Moor.

RODERIGO I would not follow him then.

IAGO O, sir, content you: | I follow him to serve my turn upon him. | We cannot all be masters, nor all masters | Cannot be truly followed.”6

The opening declarative phrase is spoken confidently and sternly, “ ’Tis the curse of service”, which gives the first hint of Iago’s dissatisfaction of being in service to Othello as an inferior. He justifies the reasons for this “curse” and being overlooked by his senior that “Preferment goes by letter and affection, | And not by old gradation…”, which purportedly means that Othello has favoured Cassio due to his writings and letters to him as well as “affection”, or love; in other words, he sees Cassio, not least as superior to Iago because of his arithmetic ability and Florentine heritage, as somebody who has been consistent and loyal in his battles and travels with him, and has demonstrated higher aptitude in love and writing. Iago has been overlooked for his loyalty to Othello for a far longer period; his longevity of service to Othello has been trumped; preferment has not been judged by “old gradation”. A further double nature to the ideas uttered here by Iago are two words which are conjoined throughout the play: “love” and “duty”. They are two concepts, or feelings, that are frequently at odds in common day experience; for love is an infinitely profound emotion and feeling we save for our family, friends, and loved ones, outside of the busy, motoring world of work, and duty is a strong feeling we build towards our colleagues and seniors at work, bolstered and garnered over a long amount of time where we come to ardently appreciate and value our work and social circles, as well as using it to continue to work hard with passion and productivity. As Tom McAlindon puts it in his Introduction to the play: “The word ‘service’, too, functions as a synonym for ‘duty’ in this doublet, as does ‘office’ or ‘officer’ (officium being the Latin for ‘duty’).”7 Paradoxically, these two prime concepts are now being fragmented in Iago’s eyes - he does not love the Moor Othello, he is now beginning to hate him (personally as well as racially), and his duty to him as a junior ranking officer is waning into irreverence and eventually, deceit.

Of the duality of masterdom and servitude, Iago utters in the exchange one of the most protracted phrases, undoubtedly one of the most compelling and thought-provoking of the whole scene: “We cannot all be masters, nor all masters | Cannot be truly followed.” This ties in with his former declaration of his allegiance to Othello being a “curse of service”; he is readily admitting that we cannot all be masters, and especially when one is in servitude to a master, they cannot expect to become one themselves. In the context of the setting and time of the play, in Venice’s rigidly hierarchical society, there is seemingly little that an individual can do about the system and levels of rank given; there is a natural order of things, some people give orders, others take them. Iago is stating that is just the way it is. However, there is one method that someone lower down on the social ladder, such as Iago, can exercise mastery - by manipulating his social superiors. This is what Iago eventually sets out to do to Othello, by getting him to believe that Desdemona has been cheating on him. By feigning to be a loyal and faithful servant to Othello, Iago is lulling the protagonist into a false sense of security that will make it easier for him to carry out his deceptively wicked plan. And in carrying out this plan, Iago subverts the social order of masterdom and servitude from within, which is the only way that someone of his class can challenge the existing structure of society. With reference to the wider context of this opening dialogue, Iago clearly understands how society works in a way that the dim Roderigo never could; he has observed that men from humble backgrounds can only get what they want if they fake loyalty to their masters, but in actual fact, work to further their own interests. Iago’s rather magnificent cynicism in this speech does not merely tell us a lot about himself, it is also a rather clever and riddling commentary and revealing about the nature of Venetian society.

Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Shakespeare's Text versus Ola Ince's politically charged Met adaptation (Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 10th anniversary edition) (2)

Within Ola Ince’s present-day take, there a numerous dramatic touches in stage direction, theatre set, and scene transition that separate it form the original play and emphasise its power as a critical representation of the world of the Met. The characters and cast are consistently forthright, forward-facing, and quick to the mark when being called or summoned; a symbol of the police force being an alert and intense business where attendance and holding of information is of an almost do-or-die nature. Emilia (played with great emotion and passion by Charlotte Bate) is arguably the most busy and buzzing of the team of police commanders and officials, scurrying from corner to room to centre of the stage to converse with either her husband or her superiors; Emilia in the original text is Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maidservant - Charlotte Bate in Ince’s play fulfils both of those roles, though with an added touch of pragmatic stoicism, content with her junior ranking husband’s doggedness and masculinity, working as a side-sergeant of sorts to him. Although, she is immensely more concerned on stage when she is serving her mistress Desdemona, doing menial tasks and providing Othello’s wife with a meaningful ear whilst advising her on her most personal and pressing concerns.

Emilia’s most significant action on stage comes in the in-between scenes of the rising tension, meeting Iago when all other appropriate parties have exited and he is left alone on stage, seemingly about to enter a state of deep solitary thought, though is quickly intercepted by his curious-headed wife and immediately asked to speak and qualify his thoughts. She acts and speaks as an eloquent mediator to the fast-moving affairs and social battles in the play. This is emulated by Charlotte Bate’s reprisal of Emilia as a junior cop. She ambles around briskly within the compact wooden spaces of the stage, following her husband Iago’s shoulder as he and Othello go about their police investigations, while seeming to almost teleport between place and time when we transition to Desdemona’s room at home when Othello is at work, and she wilfully fulfils her duty as her maid, friend, and unofficial advisor. In Ince’s production she dons a strong army green shirt, a wide belt, and an equally cotton-polyester blend for trousers, with firm and large black boots to finish her macho makeup; in many ways trying to match her husband’s ordinarily manly look.

There is a seemingly good-natured, well-meaning triad formed between Desdemona, Emilia, and Cassio, within both Shakespeare’s original text and Ince’s adaptation. After Cassio is very disingenuously made to get drunk by Iago near the start of Act II, this is arguably where Desdemona and Emilia appear to veer closer to Cassio to protect him from any further evil influence. As well as his intellectually well-regarded background as a Florentine, and his recent promotion to Lieutenant by Othello, he is generally known and valued by all as kind, honest, and a good and trustworthy friend. We soon witness within the interactions between Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio, and to a lesser extent Iago, (for he is really plotting Cassio, Desdemona, and Othello’s demise), that the presence he has within his work and the love and respect he garners from his friends is vital, and upon his recovery from being badly influenced by alcohol and picking a fight with Roderigo and Montano, he becomes more closely watched, in many ways cared for by the two wives of Desdemona and Emilia; an interpersonal and sensitive soul that has his own work, social, and love life to lead, and as Othello’s new Lieutenant (that he is temporarily suspended from following his inebriated and violent bout) they all want him in as good and healthy a state as possible. At the conclusion of Act III, Scene I, Emilia and Iago (although we are increasingly more suspicious of his spoken thoughts) praise Cassio’s presence and value to the social circle as a newly reinstated Lieutenant:

IAGO I’ll send her to you presently; | And I’ll devise a mean to draw the Moor | Out of the way, that your converse and business | May be more free.

CASSIO I humbly thank you for’t.

Exit Iago

I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest.

Enter Emilia

EMILIA Good morrow, good Lieutenant; I am sorry | For your displeasure: but all will sure be well. | The General and his wife are talking of it, | And she speaks for you stoutly.”8

The most telling of these utterances is unquestionably Iago’s as he is exiting the stage - for by this point, although he sings of Cassio’s praises, he has been responsible for getting Cassio violently drunk and causing him to temporarily lose his new rank to Othello, as well as using him as the source to which to stir jealousy in Othello’s mind as he accuses him of sexually courting Desdemona - as they are first spoken as a quietly fading compliment that hangs in the air, and second because of the certain and well-known truth that people never “say what they mean”. Here, though, not in the sense that people in general never truly say what they mean in conversation, but that Iago’s rising antagonism and malevolence within the play makes him outrightly liable to questioning and suspicion when he speaks. From the moment in the opening scene when he declares his hate for Othello, the “Moor”, through his gradual and evermore intentional plotting of accusing Cassio and Desdemona of having an affair, to sinisterly leading on Roderigo, to obtaining the handkerchief that will crucially come between Othello and Desdemona, he has taken on the position and role of a mole in the system; a passive schemer of Machiavellian quality that intends to cause social havoc and rupture relationships to a disastrous level. Iago utters these words with a stinging quietness, leaving them to blow evilly on the surface and fade off stage, before Emilia and Cassio resume the conversation and discuss Othello’s duties. Emilia repeating the infinitely affirmative “good” to greet Cassio, followed by apologising for his “displeasure”, then reassuring him that “all will sure be well”, are almost said with guilty automation by Iago’s wife, for she is quick to notice his kind and noble presence, and that any dealings and negotiations with either Desdemona or Othello are likely to be friendly and well-intended. Emilia and Cassio conclude the scene by saying kindly to each other:

EMILIA Pray you, come in: | I will bestow you where you shall have time | To speak your bosom freely.

CASSIO I am much bound to you.”9

Even though it is a distinctly short exchange, it is filled with positive affirmations, verbs, nouns, and adverbs that represent a content and kind friendship; “pray”, “bestow”, “shall” “time”, “speak” “freely”, “bound”, as well as in the previous dialogue where Emilia talks of Desdemona speaking of Cassio “stoutly”; they all give connotations of liberty, freedom, openness, and that they wish each other good health and wellness; this segment firmly juxtaposes the villainous mind of Iago; were he to utter similar phrases and words, we would immediately question their intention and legitimacy. Although here, we can assume that the words and motives of Emilia and Cassio are good, true, and wise. This is where the building of a well-intentioned, constructive triad of friendship shows blossoming signs, and gives some optimism to the audience that there does exist a good degree of hope and resistance to Iago’s solitary yet powerful plotting; with most of Othello’s family and friends on his side in number, it provides some belief that Desdemona and Othello’s threatened and increasingly tempestuous marriage can be salvaged by characters with good consciences. This is further emphasised soon after this exchange in Act III, Scene 3, when the three of them open the scene in their trio and are seeking to repair and restore Cassio’s place as Lieutenant to Othello:

DESDEMONA Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do | All my abilities in thy behalf.

EMILIA Good madam, do: I warrant it grieves my husband | As if the case were his.

DESDEMONA O, that’s an honest fellow! Do not doubt, Cassio, | But I will have my lord and you again | As friendly as you were.

CASSIO Bounteous madam, | Whatever shall become of Michael Cassio, | He’s never anything but your servant.”10

Once more, there are only helpful and optimistic words: “assured”, “friendly”, “bounteous”. Although, inarguably the most supportive phrase uttered is Desdemona’s crying out of “O, that’s an honest fellow!” Ironically, this is actually in reference to Iago, for Emilia has spoken of her husband “grieving” at the task of trying to restore Cassio to his rightful position as Othello’s Lieutenant, and we know this is because as spoken by Iago in the opening scene he was overlooked for the role, even though he has followed his master for a much longer period. Though of course, Desdemona still understandably believes that Iago is a good and honest friend to her husband; she knows of his longstanding service to Othello, and being the husband of her maidservant Emilia, she has little reason to believe that he holds any ill intentions towards Cassio, Othello, or herself; in other words, he is veiling his cunningness and deceit tremendously well up to this point. And to uphold the evolving deception of Iago, Cassio very modestly declares his self-deprecation and self-pity; since he cannot recall much of the occasion where he was forced into severe drunkenness by Iago, and that most of his thoughts are geared towards restoring his position as Othello’s Lieutenant, he does not suspect Iago or hold him as a threatening enemy, thus he merely feels embarrassment and guilt; feels responsible himself for getting drunk and violent among his friends, so he states his most urgent worries and feels that his position and reputation are still very fragile and that he could be turned away once again at any moment by Othello and his family and friends: “Whatever shall become of Michael Cassio, | He’s anything but your servant.” Cassio believes he is indebted to Desdemona, specifically, and has to make up in any way possible for what he believes was his self-inflicted behaviour earlier in the play.

A minor character in the original play is the “Clown”; a jester or fool that appears at pivotal intervals and speaks briefly with only a couple of the characters. Within Ince’s adaptation, the character of the clown is greatly emphasised and given a much more prominent role; alongside Nwosu’s Othello, the clown is also his subconscious self (played with lurid emotion by Ira Mandela Siobhan), who comes to the fore in Othello’s conflicted or tortured moments, and expresses himself mostly through strained and borderline painful facial expressions, and significant bursts of movement. One of the first instances the viewer gets of Othello’s subconscious (in Ince’s production) is when Othello is being promoted to his latest position by Brabantio in the Met; the main Othello is standing tall and proper to his seniors dressed in smart police uniform, while his subconscious is close by his side (invisible and unseen by the other characters) dressed in a casual t-shirt and black trousers, awaiting the verdict of his superiors in a highly anxious state as he frets and twitters about as if the tension is all too much. This is of course meant to represent Othello’s inner thought patterns and feelings that are unshown to those around him; getting this vantage point, the audience are able to see the breakable and fragile side to the heroic protagonist; while he is so far presented to us as a noble and strong officer in the force, we are shown that beneath his stout and muscly exterior (which Owusu is a worthy actor for), there is a surface to his skin that can be penetrated dishonourably if the right character or person can persist with poking at his mind and body for long enough. When Brabantio and Othello’s seniors eventually announce Othello’s success in being promoted, the clown and his subconscious self suddenly pipes down and settles, at least temporarily, to a greatly more subdued state - showing to the audience that Othello’s inner emotions rise and fall, become elated, yet tumble morosely, like most other individuals in their lives.

In Shakespeare’s original play, while the character of the Clown is a more watered down jester who has only very momentary passages, the Clown does in fact serve a few vital purposes, symbolising a deeper realm of contradiction and juxtaposition to the play’s main characters and themes. Primarily, as expected because of his naming, he provides a brief amount of comic relief in a play that is otherwise extendedly dark and tragic. His appearances are sudden yet curiously memorable, engaging in humorous dialogue with the likes of Cassio and Desdemona; offering the audience a moment of levity amidst the tense unfolding drama.

At the culmination of Act II, after Iago expounds that his wife Emilia should target Desdemona, and himself further manipulate Othello into believing his wife is soliciting Cassio, Act III begins with Cassio and a group of “Musicians”, who we soon assume Cassio has summoned for certain absurd yet logical purposes, turning out to be him attempting to regain Othello’s favour through music, only to be interrupted by the Clown. Cassio initially instructs the Musicians: “Masters, play here - I will content your pains - | Something that’s brief; and bid ‘Good morrow, General’. ” Following the opening of their music, the Clown enters the stage, then rather whimsically asks of the Musicians: “Why, masters, have your instruments been in | Naples, that they speak i’th’nose thus?”11 He eventually goes on to ask the “First Musician”: “Are these, I pray you, wind instruments?” The musician then confirms to him that they are indeed wind instruments. Following this, Shakespeare induces a slight and small linguistic twist to his writing; a device he had used before in his preceding plays; the Clown proceeds to say: “O, thereby hangs a tail.” The first musician then replies: “Whereby hangs a tale, sir?” The inducement of the hom*ophone “tail” and “tale” is strikingly intriguing as it is perplexingly funny. On the first musician confirming to the clown that the instruments the group are playing are wind, it seems to reaffirm in the clown’s mind something personal and pressing the he already knew of, and saying “thereby hangs a tail”, the “tail”, while not directly being referred to as the hind of an animal, is a seemingly unwanted burden or piece of knowledge that that he wants rid of. Whereas the musician’s consequent meaning of the word would indicate that he wants the clown to expand on this “tale”, thinking the clown has a story to tell, being provoked to think of it because of the wind instruments. This is in its simplest terms a clever bit of writing by Shakespeare that merely shows the Clown bantering with one of the Musicians, thus he is fulfilling his role as a humorous diversion from the general seriousness of the play. People in Shakespearian England often used the idiom “thereby lies a tale” as a quietly funny reference to there being a longer story attributed to the mention of a person or place; the playwright used the phrase initially in one of his comedies, The Taming of the Shrew. By changing it to “hangs”, he puns tale and tail; it is a blurring of the meaning of both, being a story and an animal’s backside. In The Taming of the Shrew, where the idiom is first expressed, the story Grumio is telling has Kate falling off of a horse into the dirt. Grumio says that’s where the horse’s “tail hangs”, and that there’s a good story about it. In the sense of the conversation at this moment in Othello, the “wind instruments” provoking the clown to think “thereby hangs a tail” would likely refer to passing wind, or farting, from the backside.

With the clown providing a suitable amount of jocularity and levity to the darkness and tension, he also plays a role in the structural balance of the play. From Act III onwards, Iago’s knavery and schemes begin to take effect; he has hovered over Othello’s ear scrupulously and planted the untrue accusations of infidelity of Desdemona and Cassio, and continued to extort money from Roderigo and give him false hope in courting Desdemona. Reading the original text from the outset proves to be a difficult task for the individual in attempting to gauge how the balance of good and evil lies; not only for its bombast and cryptic-like poetry, but how the action and play swings from a seemingly civil conversation, to the audience realising antagonism and plotting, to drunken frenzies, to extraordinarily high emotion; since from the opening scene we witness Iago showing hate for and speaking offensively about his military superior, we already as an audience identify a brooding sense of darkness and iniquity; that is to say, the play instantly opens with bad and evil feeling - another example used in film would be some of the openings to the Star Wars movies, where the first scenes and shots we get after the opening credits show the Imperial Fleet in battle, and eventually on board the ship where we witness Darth Vader speaking darkly with his military team. Although, this is almost inevitably counterbalanced in Othello; soon after the initial exchange between Iago and Roderigo we go to Othello being promoted in the navy and speaking elatedly about his recent marriage to Desdemona i.e. there is a sharp shift from the overriding sense of darkness and plotting, to lightness and mirth; this is a commonly seesawing and swinging dramatic effect used in the play. Thus, it is through the Clown’s jesting and mockery that he indirectly highlights the absurdity and irony of the situations that the main characters find themselves in; whether it be Cassio trying to win back Othello’s support by getting musicians to play outside of his lodging (a near total flipping of fortunes for the Lieutenant as before being exploited by Iago to drunkenness he was held in great favour by Othello), or briefly joking with Desdemona before delivering a message to her. We can surmise that the Clown’s presence and his interactions represent a form of foreshadowing, hinting at the tragic events to come; his mockery of the musicians in Act III, Scene I, underscores the theme of appearance versus reality; while Cassio getting the musicians to play boisterous music, which initially induces a sense of unexpected cheerfulness, the Clown on opening a dialogue with one of the musicians and eventually paying them to stop playing overrides the initial cheer and shows the situation for what it really is i.e. Cassio is in a currently fragile state and is desperately trying to turn Othello’s opinion of him, and Othello is not mentally strong himself due to Cassio’s prior behaviour and Iago beginning to manipulate and play with his conscious thoughts. The Clown therefore tries to clearly mark the concerning nature of events in the play; appearance versus reality being a constantly central motif in Othello.

By any stretch, while the original clown in Shakespeare’s play is driven by light-heartedness and a desire to jest with the other characters in sombre situations, within Ince’s production, Ira Mandela Siobhan plays the dual character of the clown and Othello’s subconscious self to an eerily devastating effect. So much so, that the seeming conviviality and civility on stage become blurred and jarred; when Othello finds himself mentally tested or in an increasingly urgent circ*mstance, his subconscious proceeds to shake about violently next to him, grasping the sides of his face with both palms, - as if Edvard Munch’s alienlike figure in The Scream has come to life - straining and contorting his eyes and mouth as if he desires to let out a lengthy and voluble “scream”. His subconscious, whilst initially being tempered and settled, as Othello’s marriage and work life starts out promisingly, is gradually consumed and warped by the outside influence of thought and gossip from his friends and colleagues (mainly Iago).

It is key that Ora Ince in her adaptation remains faithful to Shakespeare’s text and its original English, specifically for the most meaningful exchanges in the play, even though Ince’s chosen setup for her version is vastly modernised; stood up as it is in the seedy white-collar realm of the Metropolitan Police. This is particularly effective when depicting a scene whereby Cassio is still aiming to win back Othello’s support for his former drunken escapades, and proceeds to leave the premises, soon followed by Desdemona and Emilia, leaving Iago and Othello to their devices. In Ince’s play at this moment, the two male leads of Nwosu and Davis are situated in curiously opposing positions; Iago is seated on a low stall working on his laptop, seemingly getting on with work, while Othello is stood beside him ambling around rather lightly and aimlessly. While it appears to the audience that Othello has the upper-hand, both socially in his work ranking, and by the fact that he is physically dwarfing his colleague by standing over him, the authority and power of proceedings begins to swing in Iago’s favour. This is done mainly through dialogue and spoken word, - a key aspect of the play - and Iago’s words we find begin to enquire, deduce, and judge things more and more in his favour, as he sets the course for the inevitably sharp downward spiral of Othello’s fortunes. Iago speaks with his usual melodic poise, yet introduces strong tones of the dark themes that will come to plague Othello’s mind. This situation occurs is in Act III, Scene 3 of the original text; in Ince’s play she smartly adapts it so that the two male characters are positioned with one seated and the other standing, a short silence brewing in the air, before Iago feels the need to “satisfy his thought”:

OTHELLO What dost thou say, Iago?

IAGO Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lady, know of your love?

OTHELLO He did, from first to last. Why dost thou ask?

IAGO But for a satisfaction of my thought - | No further harm.

OTHELLO Why of thy thought, Iago?

IAGO I did not think he had been acquainted with her.

OTHELLO O yes, and went between us very oft.

IAGO Indeed!

OTHELLO Indeed? Ay, indeed. Discern’st thou aught in that? | Is he not honest?

IAGO Honest, my lord?

OTHELLO Honest? Ay, honest.

IAGO My lord, for aught I know.

OTHELLO What dost thou think?

IAGO Think, my lord?”12

What follows is one of the most extended and crucial exchanges of dialogue in the entire tragedy, as Iago, now having gained the knowledge that Cassio was very much aware of Othello’s love for Desdemona when he was “wooing” her, feels he has the necessary information and tools to begin to play with Othello’s conscience deceitfully. Even though he appears to be acting rather dim after Othello “satisfies his thought”, going on to say “My lord, for aught I know”, and “Think, my lord?”, as if he is a blind witness to his surroundings, it works counterproductively for Othello, as the protagonist truly does want to know what Iago “thinks”, and why Iago happened to want to ask him about Cassio knowing of Othello’s love for Desdemona. Othello bursts into further protracted pieces of speech that show to the audience that for all his original nobleness in front of his colleagues, love and romance for his wife, and vocal expressiveness to his social circle, he does bare a curious and resentful side to him that he will show if irked our provoked in a certain way. Further addressing his work junior, he says: “What didst not like? | And when I told thee he was of my counsel | In my whole course of wooing, thou cried’st ‘Indeed!’ | And didst contract and purse thy brow together, | As if thou hadst shut up in thy brain | Some horrible conceit. If thou dost love me, | Show me thy thought.” Othello is fuelled into demanding Iago for his thoughts on the sensitive basis that it will justify his love for Othello, which goes to show that Othello is deeply concerned about his friend’s questioning of Cassio’s relationship with his wife. Othello is met at first with more pithy phrases that he cannot extract much meaning from: “My lord, you know I love you.” But Othello cannot stop at this juncture of social confusion and flux; he wants to know his companion’s true thoughts at length as a demonstration of love for him, while also seeking to get to the heart of why Iago felt the need to inquire about the social dynamic between himself, Desdemona, and Cassio. The prolonged, chess-match-like games of dialogue continue between the pair, with Othello not getting the answer he truly desires.

Iago, after multiple efforts to placate his senior colleague’s increasingly troubled mind, - “Iago: Why, then, I think Cassio’s an honest man. | Othello: Nay, yet there’s more in this. | I prithee speak to me as to thy thinkings… | Iago: Good my lord, pardon me; | Though I am bound to every act of duty…” - appears to psychologically succumb to his sinister temptations, for Othello continues to want to get to the core of what Iago is thinking / what his morals and views are on these matters regarding relationships with friends and loved ones. Othello once again asks, rather densely: “What dost thou mean?”, whereby Iago then goes on to give the idiomatic “answer” that Othello was seeking, speaking at length on what he thinks about people that behave in ill-advised ways:

IAGO Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, | Is the immediate jewel of their souls. | Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; | ’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: | But he that filches from me my good name | Robs me of that which not enriches him | And makes me poor indeed.”13

Soon after the moment Iago speaks this key passage, Othello’s clown suddenly glances and twitters beside him, for he is now concernedly provoked into action and made to brood on Iago’s curious rumination, which happens to be a very prominent one in the wider context of the play: stealing someone’s good name is a much more serious crime than stealing someone’s purse. It carries a strong double-meaning of being thought-provoking for the audience and reader (for it leaves us thinking of our relationships in reality; if we would dare attempt to steal financially, or further try to thieve their good character and reputation through ill-action), as well as being a key exemplar of Iago’s horrific hypocrisy. For we know by this point that Iago is scheming and trying, psychologically, to usurp his senior by distracting him and getting him to believe that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Is he attempting to “filch” Othello’s “good name” by mental manipulation and plotting his demise? We can almost definitely assure ourselves that he is; as he said earlier to Roderigo: “I follow him to serve my turn upon him. | We cannot all be masters, nor all masters | Cannot be truly followed.” Thus Iago shall not proceed, at least by his thinking, to follow Othello blindly for much longer; only by severing his servitude, planning and acting as Othello’s evil supplanter can he become a “master” himself. It is deceit and jealousy as clear as day; while we do not see or witness any drastic “action” or wrongdoing physically to Othello or his loved ones at this point, the mode in which Iago utters his ideas evoke and foreshadow acts that can and will lead to a severe downfall. Following this comes one of the most notoriously profound pieces of speech of the entire tragedy, where Iago feels he has Othello where he wants him momentarily, suspended under his word-playing influence:

IAGO O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! | It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock | The meat it feeds on.”14

Jealousy is now the severe emotion, foreshadowed prominently by Iago in earlier dialogues (not wanting to follow his master any longer but usurp him, also jealous of his good name and marriage), that he is now perilously illuminating to the stage and trying to get Othello to feel himself. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!” It is exclaimed almost ironically; Iago has already felt it for a long time, and now using it to his advantage he wants his superior to feel it even more severely. Iago declaring brutally after this, “It is the green-eyed monster”, only further emphasises the clear jealousy that is flowing through the air of the stage; the metaphor directly refers to jealousy itself. We now of course acknowledge that Shakespeare originally coined the term, for we know of the phrase when somebody says “they’re seeing green”. The phrase suggests that jealousy is an emotion that can consume and destroy those who harbour it. In Ince’s play, Othello’s subconscious and clown begins to move across the tight wooden stage more anxiously and almost in a state of unknowing stress; he starts to question where he is moving, what he is thinking, if he should go this way, or that. Ira Miranda Siobhan begins to show gradually more emotional horror and worry, the whites of his eyes popping out; should he take Iago’s word passively and feel jealousy more easily and frivolously? Are his family and friends containing more information or doing questionable things behind his back? Othello does not truly know yet, but he definitely feels the need to express it in words: “O misery”!15 he exclaims.

Overall, the Clown’s role in Ince’s production is far more present and turbulent, hovering over Othello’s shoulder for a great portion of the action, while also speaking in brief synchronicity with Othello during particular dialogues and soliloquies, cutting in and fading out so that at moments they both speak the same words; a doubling of speech or echo of sorts; this is especially powerful during the climax of the play, after the murderous deed is done by Nwosu’s Othello, and still feeling wracked with guilt he rants and whales with poetic emotion as Miranda Siobhan speaks his exact words at the exact same moment: “O, insupportable! O heavy hour! | Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse | Of sun and moon, and that th’affrighted globe | Should yawn at alteration.”16 The clown is limited in terms of stage time in the original play, though equally significant in contributing to the thematic depth and providing a counterpoint to the play’s intense emotions and actions.

Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Shakespeare's Text versus Ola Ince's politically charged Met adaptation (Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 10th anniversary edition) (3)

The handkerchief is a great symbol of emotional and conceptual depth in both the original play, and Ince’s adaptation. It is first brought to the sight of the audience in Ince’s play by Desdemona when she resides at her and Othello’s lodging; Poppy Gilbert manoeuvres suavely on stage with the napkin adorned and tucked into her trousers. Though it very soon becomes the centrepiece, and central object, where the seeds of doubt placed in Othello’s mind by Iago inflame to emotionally catastrophic levels. The big black silk handkerchief, while we have seen and spotted the item on stage on Desdemona’s person, and in the original text we read of it initially being disregarded by Othello: “Your napkin is too little. | He puts the handkerchief from him, and she drops it”, we quickly discern that it bares not only a visually attractive physicality, but that it can, and could be used for a number of practical and theoretical purposes that we come to question e.g. Was it a present from Othello? What value does it have? Will it eventually be used to wipe off sweat, blood, or a spillage? Will it be used in exchange for something else, if so, will the exchange be fair?

Othello, seemingly fatigued from the recent weight of information brought on him by Iago, is consoled by Desdemona in this instant, and her having offered the napkin and dropped it, he says laxly “Let it alone.” This quickly becomes critical to the following action; almost immediately, in the same scene, Emilia enters where Desdemona and Othello have exited and picks it up. She is apparently happy and content to do so, even though she realises her mistress will soon be worried that it is lost, and we soon understand why this is so: “I am glad I have found this napkin: | This was her first remembrance from the Moor. | My wayward husband hath a hundred times | Wooed me to steal it…”17 These lines are spoken with firm clarity and shock by Charlotte Bate’s Emilia; already a minor hero in the audience’s eyes as she has glided and travelled across the stage amidst all the socially hectic action with a clear and sober conscience, trying to avoid ill-thought and treachery at all costs. The information given to us that her husband has already “wooed” her a hundred times to steal it is both shocking in its revelatory magnitude, yet also anticipated, since we have securely acknowledged Iago’s deceptive aims by now. Having said that, it is still outrageous in the immediate for the audience to discover, in vocal words, that the antagonist has been trying to thieve it for so long; confirming to us that his reprobate behaviour and devilish ambitions to break up Desdemona and Othello’s love and topple his superior have been held for very long indeed.

It has been known that the play’s power in performance over the centuries have led members of the audience to cry out in key moments of rage, horror and pity, and this is incontrovertibly in large part due to the use of the handkerchief. This instance in Act III, Scene 3, is almost certainly a moment that could warrant one of these reactions, for not only do we receive the news that Iago has been tyring to get his wife to “filch” the handkerchief on a hundred occasions, but we learn of the sheer greatness of its symbolic nature of love and loyalty, for Emilia says: “but she loves the token - | For he conjured her she should ever keep it - | That she reserves it evermore about her | To kiss and talk to.”18 Therefore it would be understandable, due to us now realising the amount of endearing love it holds, if audience members were to cry out with emotional rage, or at least feel like their head will pop with passionate anger, screaming out something akin to: “Exactly! Find Desdemona immediately! Give it back to her!!” Alas, it not at all surprising that Iago, right on cue, wanders on stage and is almost expecting to receive something from his wife, in what becomes a curious exchange of toxic masculinity, and concurrently diminishes Emilia, and the audience’s good intentions of wanting to return the handkerchief to Desdemona, as it passes over into the hands of Iago through his snatching:

EMILIA O, is that all? What will you give me now | For that same handkerchief?

IAGO What handkerchief?

EMILIA What handkerchief! | Why that the Moor first gave to Desdemona; | That which so often you did bid me steal.

IAGO Hast stol’n it from her?

EMILIA No, faith, she let it drop by negligence, | And to th’advantage, I, being here, took’t up. | Look, here it is.

IAGO A good wench! Give it me.

EMILIA What will you do with’t, that you have been so earnest | To have me filch it?

IAGO (snatching it) Why, what is that to you?

EMILIA If it be not some purpose of import, | Give’t me again. Poor lady, she’ll run mad | When she shall lack it.

IAGO Be not acknown on’t: I have use for it. | Go, leave me.

Exit Emilia”19

It feels critically important to highlight the rife toxic masculinity in this exchange. While ideas of male dominance and female subordination only come in sparse doses, murmurings and offhand remarks throughout the play, one may not do a large deal of research into the social and economic factors playing their part in Shakespearian England (late sixteenth and early seventeenth century) until they become aware that the patriarchal advantages and rulings over theoretical and practical aspects of society were seriously large; land and property was inherited and owned by men, women were expected to provide a dowry upon marriage, female artists, writers, and academics were highly shunned to society’s peripheries, and of course - lest we forget the heroic work of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragists - women in the country were still three or so centuries away from having the right to vote, not to mention certain portions of women (certainly in the rural populations) had a rather unwanted reputation of being involved in black magic and witchcraft. It is interesting to note that while the rest of the women citizenry of England during what people call the “Golden Age” were given to the decisions of the male members in their family and were only limited to household duties, it was in the end a woman who sat on the throne as Queen of the land.

The theme of dark magic and witchcraft was something that would be explored to great literary effect by Shakespeare in his later tragedy Macbeth (1606), although of course to what degree his “three witches” would eventually have on art and popular culture in the centuries to come, he alas was no prophet on. William Shakespeare himself was only a teenager when he had his first child, just six months after he and Anne Hathaway were married (their marriage, coincidentally, may well have been done hurriedly to avoid scandal as Anne was already carrying their first child); this does not categorically demonstrate a passive expectancy of women to marry and bare children, nor is it a stark example of the domination of men in the late 1500s, although it does subtly add to what was clearly at the time the societal norm. It is certainly not outright “toxic” behaviour; there is no evidence or intention of violence, or will to assert one’s dominance over another party unlawfully, but it casually fills the status quo, and it is perhaps not all too startling to uncover within the vast bed of Shakespeare’s plays that his female characters are sometimes referred to in objective terms, such as Iago here calling Emilia a “good wench”; another term for a “girl or young woman”. Not only this, but before the dialogue quoted, Iago speaks of Emilia’s “thing for him”, and it being “a common thing”. Within masculinised conversation in Shakespeare’s time, a woman’s “thing” was between her legs, and a “common thing” was one available to any man. Interestedly, Shakespeare has Emilia object to the joke, and Iago changes his words to an ordinary insult by saying that it is a common thing “to have a foolish wife”. While we are aware of the Bard’s unchallenging and unflinching lyricism and wordplay, it is paramount to acknowledge that he was not exempt from portraying women subordinately in his works, and Othello is very much an example of a play that stoutly upholds patriarchal forces of the time. It is also important to recognise that the idea of a “foolish wife” is a stereotype that is not only outdated but also unfair and disrespectful. Stereotypes about wives and women in general are harmful and contribute to gender inequality. It is crucial to treat each individual as a unique person with their own strengths and weaknesses, regardless of gender; healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, understanding, and partnership. Perhaps this is something that Iago (almost for certain), and maybe Shakespeare himself could have looked into a little more. Although, of course, the liberality granted to creating awfully-minded and demonstrative male characters in fiction and in theatre is undoubtedly a freedom that any writer, novice or professional, has at their disposal; how would we be able to read, watch, and analyse Tennessee William’s masterful social drama A Streetcar Named Desire (1948) without the brutal and virile Stanley Kowalski at the helm of the action, or appreciate the gothic and romantic horror of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) without the archetypal Byronic antihero Heathcliff, with his all-consuming rage, jealousy, and anger destroying himself and those around him?

The dated language used extensively by Shakespeare in his plays is an area that can always be traced back and analysed, though at this prominent juncture in Othello, it is unquestionable that the snatching of possession of the handkerchief into Iago’s hands spells intentional and predictable doom. Right after he tells Emilia to leave, he enters into another brief yet meaningful soliloquy, laying out his deceitful plans with the item before the audience:

IAGO … I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin, | And let him find it… | The Moor already changes with my poison. | Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons, | Which at the first are scarce found to distaste, | But, with a little act upon the blood, | Burn like the mines of sulphur.”20

Clearly stating that he will plant it in Cassio’s lodging is the moment that induces immediate shock into the audience’s mind. Although we were already aware that he was going to do something spiteful with the object very soon, Iago uttering it out loud to the audience and breaking the fourth wall, feeling compelled to speak his inner thoughts, sets the evil courses of action in motion; we are now aware he has the item that grants him control over the compact social dynamic of the main players in the play. He also outright says that “dangerous conceits”, while in their nature are “poisons”, are “scarce found to distaste”, being that they are not necessarily done often, and are not commonly unpleasant; this is commonly untrue for the average well-meaning person, for they never likely even think to carry out dangerous conceits that may harm a fellow individual. However, Iago sharply turns his tongue to its formerly malevolent state, using the harsh conjunction “But”, and, almost with the serrated edge of a knife itself, lays to bare his base and cutting intentions: “with a little act upon the blood”. We now know his “dangerous conceits”, in first supplanting the handkerchief into Cassio’s hands, are going to be carried out with full force and malice; and at the last, wants his actions to leave awful and disastrous marks on their recipients: “Burn like the mines of sulphur.” This concluding phrase is subsumed with all the evil and venom that acts of subterfuge and treachery hold, describing them as harmfully acidic; that his actions will get under and penetrate the skin of those he wishes to harm.

Indeed, the dispute and switching of possession of the handkerchief outwardly sets into motion the quickly rising chaos that dominates the rest of the play. Othello soon returns home and is reeling with disbelief and misery, going as far as to say that his career and work hangs in the balance: “Farewell! Othello’s occupation gone.”21 This is chiefly down to Iago’s manipulation, as his influence and judgements about Othello’s wife and Cassio are now dangerously playing on his mind. In Ince’s play, the workmanlike, macho Nwusu bellows his lines, staying faithful to Shakespeare’s text, in what we come to hear and see as some of the most passionate and purposeful lines spoken in the entire play, although they are spoken by a man, our protagonist, that is being increasingly consumed by jealousy and rage:

IAGO Is’t possible, my lord?

OTHELLO Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whor*; | Be sure of it: give me the ocular proof, | Or by the worth of mine eternal soul, | Thou hadst been better have been born a dog | Than answer my waked wrath!”22

From a seemingly in control and noble military officer (or police officer in Ince’s production) who was confident and determined to face and speak before the Duke of the Senate (or police officials) and Brabantio in the play’s opening - “My services, which I have done the signory, | Shall out-tongue his complaints…”23 - to justify his marriage to Desdemona and defend his militaristic credentials, he now bares a fragile and adrift figure; seeking consolation and righteous advice from a companion he feels he can trust. Of course, we know as an audience privy to Iago’s most inner conscious thoughts, that Othello seeking service from Iago - especially by language and tongue - will only serve to sinisterly plague his mind more.

Even though Othello is absorbed in this bubble of confusion and anger, the protagonist being swelled in this social mire provokes him to utter some greatly poetic and telling lines, perhaps some of the most vocally exquisite of the entire play; he brings to bare some of his most pregnant and emotional thoughts, which highlight to an unquestionably meta level the play’s lofty and weighty themes of deceit, honesty, loyalty, trust, and going as far as to mention his race, which he is now himself increasingly seeing as somewhat vulgar and out-of-place - we as an audience know that racial prejudice is already playing its part in the general setting of the play, although we originally thought that such scurrilous views were only saved by the white elite of Venice (or in Ince’s production the White British proportion of the Met and British society). In an ardent and verbose piece of dialogue charged with passion and contrasts of meaning, Othello calls out to Iago (his only companion on stage) and makes the audience hear:

OTHELLO By the world, | I think my wife be honest, and think she is not; | I think that thou art just, and think thou art not. | I’ll have some proof. Her name that was as fresh | As Dian’s visage is now begrimed and black | As mine own face. If there be cords or knives, | Poison or fire or suffocating streams, | I’ll not endure it. Would I were satisfied!”24

Iago goes on to reply with sensitive care, almost semi-mocking his senior: “I see, sir, you are eaten up with passion.” It is clear that Othello’s most personal thoughts are now spilling over onto the stage, and he is doing himself no justice by pouring out this fractured and charged emotion in front of the very person that is continuing to do him social harm; though of course, although his enemy is the person currently listening to him and staring him in the face, he is darkly veiled from Othello’s impassioned and manic mind.

The key word that Othello uttered prior, and that holds significant weight as a central motif in the play, is “ocular”. Othello desperately seeks the “ocular proof”; he now demands of his companion to “prove my love a whor*”. This “ocular”, or optical element to the play has already become immensely profound; as an audience we “see” Cassio influenced to the point of violence with alcohol at Iago’s hand; we “see” the handkerchief dropped and left carelessly by Desdemona, then consequently picked up and snatched by Iago. These snippets of action in the opening Acts of the play, whilst seeming somewhat unimportant in the instant, are all in fact sneaking in pieces of visual evidence that are accumulating fast and providing the facts we need to prove Iago’s undoubted guilt and injudicious behaviour. The actions and clues are in fact so clear and plain to us that we think to ourselves: “Your enemy is right there conniving and doing evil things! How are you not seeing it, Othello!?” But of course our protagonist is now emotionally and mentally blinded; he is warped by jealousy and anger, has become the “green-eyed monster”, descended to borderline insanity, and wants immediate answers and evidence to his wife’s apparent infidelity; to Othello, it is the very thing he cares about most: love. It being threatened to such a degree has blinded him so much that he is scarcely able to see things as they really are, or be in any acceptable state to judge things correctly and well. It echoes the formerly mentioned opposing tropes of appearance and reality; Othello has been told that his wife has been unfaithful with Cassio, but he is lacking the visual proof, so he confides his friend further to try find a way to justify his thoughts (appearance), whereas, what Iago has told him and will tell him further has been and is going to be false, and will only go to strengthen Iago’s mission of usurping his senior colleague (reality). On realising this, we have as an audience become one of the only “players” in the play that can judge things as they really are; we have used our own eyes and sighted the horrific acts of Iago, holding onto them dearly as pieces of the jigsaw we can put in place for the inevitable trial and ultimatum to come.

At the conclusion of Act III, Scene 3, Iago, continuing to connive and spread false rumour, all but convinces Othello that Cassio and his wife are having an affair, which drives our hero into uncontrolled fury and the near total loss of his sanity. Othello still demands of his work companion to provide a solid, noteworthy reason for believing that his wife has been unfaithful, or as he said prior, some “ocular proof”. He says firmly to Iago: “Give me a living reason she’s disloyal.” The instructive utterance from Othello appears to emanate across the stage, leading Iago to take his time to consider how he can shape his response and eventually create the foremost lie that he is sure will send Othello over the edge. With crafty falsity, he goes into his latest oration:

IAGO I do not like the office. | But sith I am entered in this cause so far - | Pricked to’t by foolish honesty and love - | I will go on. I lay with Cassio lately, | And being troubled with a raging tooth | I could not sleep. | There are a kind of men so loose of soul | That in their sleeps will mutter their affairs: | One of this kind is Cassio. | In sleep I heard him say: ‘Sweet Desdemona, | Let us be wary, let us hide our loves’; | And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand, | Cry ‘O sweet creature!’ and then kiss me hard, | As if he plucked up kisses by the roots, | That grew upon my lips; then laid his leg | Over my thigh, and sighed and kissed, and then | Cried ‘Cursèd fate that gave thee to the Moor!’

OTHELLO O monstrous! Monstrous!

IAGO Nay, this was but his dream.

OTHELLO But this denoted a foregone conclusion.”25

Once more, the audience can aptly take the role of the judge and point to Iago’s clear falsehood and corruption, and we know so profoundly and utterly that he is guilty of now a swell of miscarriage of information. We can be bubbling with anger, horror, and rage, but we feel we can scarcely do a thing about it as we are mere passive observers to the unfolding deceitful action. “He lies! He is a liar! You are being tricked, Othello!” we may think to yelp out to our protagonist, yet we remain helpless, and our hero can only respond to this prolonged fabrication that Cassio uttered his feelings for Desdemona in his sleep with ghastly dread and disbelief: “O monstrous! Monstrous!” This loud declaration of Othello having the dual effect of showing his clear-cut exasperation and incredulity, as well as carrying a great weight of irony; the repeated adjective of “monstrous” is an emotionally charged word that is only saved for a person being witness to very horrific circ*mstances; though, indeed, Iago can be construed as being the ever-evolving “monster” that is standing and presenting himself right in front of Othello; with an ingenious touch of prophetic action, literature, and speech, Shakespeare turns Othello, despite Iago’s playful warning, into the “green-eyed-monster”, whilst Iago himself becomes more “monstrous” with each passing scene and act of deception, further harming the characters who bare good and righteous souls; essentially, immorality and malevolence are now trumping good character and nature.

While Othello is feeling the emotion and heat of the moment swarm over his conscience, Iago continues to pick and unravel his senior further by planting the crucial seed of doubt into his mind, by mentioning the handkerchief, which Iago now has full dictation and power over since he possesses the item, hence he can spread whatever false information he pleases regarding it:

IAGO Nay, but be wise: yet we see nothing done, | She may be honest yet. Tell me but this: | Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief, | Spotted with strawberries, in your wife’s hand?

OTHELLO I gave her such a one: ’twas my first gift.

IAGO I know not that: but such a handkerchief - | I am sure it was your wife’s - did I today | See Cassio wipe his beard with.

OTHELLO If it be that -

IAGO If it be that, or any that was hers, | It speaks against her with the other proofs.

OTHELLO O, that the slave had forty thousand lives! | One is too poor, too weak for my revenge.”26

This moment truly marks and confirms a turning point in Othello’s character, as he succumbs to jealousy and anger, manipulated by Iago’s blatant fraudulence. Further mention of the handkerchief by Iago and inquiring as to his master’s knowledge and use with it emphasises and is an extension of the themes that the object signify; trust, betrayal, and the destructive power of emotions; we have been party to these tropes within the play to a great deal; Iago not having “trust” for his master based on his race and because he wants to be the one in power himself, his consequential “betrayal” of Othello and Cassio through falsely turning them against each other (and to a lesser extent Roderigo, as advising him to make more money and continue to pursue Desdemona is only working toward his own corruptive interest), and the manipulation and changing of hands of the handkerchief itself - a vitally important love-token and a symbol of Othello and Desdemona’s love - is the main object that, used with slyness, can “destruct emotions”.

This segment of dialogue is also significant for the positive modal verbs used; Iago asking his senior colleague if he has “seen” the handkerchief in Othello’s wife’s hand is a shrewd touch by Shakespeare, continuing the powerful metaphor of and connotations of optics, sight, needing “ocular proof” of things to be sure of clarification. The whole sentence of Iago’s initial question is in fact packed with sibilance and the literal sound of “S”: “sometimes”, “seen”, “spotted”, “strawberries”, all appearing to gear towards the antagonist’s sneakiness and sly behaviour. There are also subtle sexual undertones within these words regarding the art and patterning on the handkerchief. The handkerchief spotted with small, red strawberries, revealed to be dyed with the blood of virgins, is symbolic for a number of reasons. During this time, strawberries were said to be symbolic of purity and virginity. So, by having the handkerchief embellished with strawberries, Shakespeare is using it to symbolise such sensual characteristics.

Bearing witness to these exchanges of speech and action on stage in Ince’s production is a powerfully paralysing process for the audience member. Othello and his subconscious (also the clown) are found to be in a significantly crazed and disturbed state; his police duties have seemingly been suspended for he barely appears to have the mind or mental will to carry out his work as usual, while Ralph Davis’s macho and nonplussed Iago continues to stand nonchalantly beside him, growing evermore confident and deceptive with each passing moment. For all the racial prejudice and toxic masculinity we have seen and heard so far, - the police officials dialled in on their criminal investigations, expecting excellence and adherence to regulations, and Iago’s talking down of and objectivising of women - we find ourselves emotionally engrossed into the literal fracturing and breaking down of a man’s mental faculties; the modern and urban setting of London only narrows and tightens its grip on Othello, as he shows the body language and expressions of a man who does not know where to go, or who to turn to, regardless of the racial stereotyping of his heritage; on the face of it, Othello is now becoming the erratic and wanton person that Iago wants him to be, blinded and overwhelmed by anger and jealousy, so that he may finally talk and behave like somebody who wants to and is about to do something disastrous. Othello gloomily exchanges his intentions to Iago at the end of the scene:

OTHELLO I greet thy love, | Not with vain thanks, but with acceptance bounteous; | And will upon the instant put thee to’t. | Within these three days let me hear thee say | That Cassio’s not alive.

IAGO My friend is dead; | ’Tis done at your request. But let her live.

OTHELLO Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her! | Come go with me apart. I will withdraw | To furnish me with some swift means of death | For the fair devil. Now art thou my Lieutenant.

IAGO I am your own forever.


An undeniably major tenet throughout the course of the play is the act of lying; being untruthful and deceitful. While most of the characters mean well and behave and speak truthfully to their conscience and those around them, the gradual increase and rise in falsehood, false arguments, and claims begin to bubble above the surface and have a direct impact on Othello and his social circle. It goes without saying by now that most of it is orchestrated by Iago; seemingly incapable of behaving or speaking honestly and truthfully for an unfaltering period - by Act IV and beyond, he is hellbent on persisting with his deception and lies, both with the designation of objects (the handkerchief), and how he interacts with people (mainly Othello, Cassio, and Emilia).

A pivotal and short exchange in the final moments of Act III demonstrates and foreshadows the theme of “lying”, or in its original verb form, to “lie”. Shakespeare toys and plays with the word itself as a linguistic device at this crucial phase in the play; the word “lie” as a verb is a hom*onym i.e. a word that is spelled exactly the same but has multiple meanings. The playwright pins the characters of Desdemona and the Clown together on stage for a very brief dialogue, although the particular words and phrases they use (chiefly the Clown) are packed with double meanings and light jests that cleverly carry the weight of what “lying” entails; or more simply, what it would mean “to lie”.

“Enter Desdemona, Emilia, and Clown

DESDEMONA Do you know, sirrah, where Lieutenant | Cassio lies?

CLOWN I dare not say he lies anywhere.


CLOWN He’s a soldier, and for one to say a soldier lies is | stabbing.

DESDEMONA Go to! Where lodges he?

CLOWN To tell you where he lodges is to yell you where I | lie.

DESDEMONA Can anything be made of this?

CLOWN I know not where he lodges, and for me to devise a | lodging, and say he lies here, or he lies there, were to lie | in mine own throat.

DESDEMONA Can you inquire him out? And be edified by | report?

CLOWN I will catechize the world for him, that is, make | questions, and by them answer.

DESDEMONA Seek him; bid him come hither; tell him I | have moved my lord on his behalf, and hope all will be | well.

CLOWN To do this is within the compass of man’s wit, and | therefore I will attempt the doing of it.


It is an immensely playful and warping tactic of language Shakespeare utilises in this interchange; hearing it performed on stage at the speed of conversation perhaps makes it all too difficult to deduce for the audience member in the moment; we do not quite know in the immediate if the Clown is “lying” himself, although, since Desdemona has stumbled upon him and the Clown is willing to interact with her, we can assume that he does not mean outright harm, or is going to do anything drastic or painful; he is simply a jester, so we expect that while he may behave and speak foolishly, it is not totally with the intention of hurting any of the other characters. What is deducible is that his immediate reply “I dare not say he lies anywhere” could well mean any of the definitions of the verb “lie”; he could well mean that Cassio does not literally “lie” on a bed, or the ground at a certain lodging; or he does not “lie” in a certain place i.e. to reside or be found there; or he may mean that Cassio does not tell a “lie”, or “lies” i.e. he is not somebody that is untruthful or tells fibs. What is also inferable is that the character of the Clown intends to engage in a play on words with Desdemona. The Clown alludes to the fact about Cassio: “He’s a solider”, (in Ince’s staging a police sergeant), therefore to declare or disclose, “to say a soldier lies is stabbing”. This is where the use of such a simple word can evoke multiple meanings, and Shakespeare wants to bring this complexity and borderline confusion to the characters and the audience. The Clown could mean that accusing a soldier of lying (being dishonest) is as serious an offense as physically stabbing him; or he could mean that to say a “soldier lies” in a certain place would also be equal to stabbing him; i.e. would reveal the location of a soldier, so the enemy can target him/her and kill them. This reflects the high value placed on a soldier’s honour and truthfulness, or police official’s honourable actions and wanting justice and truth to be served. It is extraordinarily clever and lofty usage of the English language that Shakespeare is known for, using the very common verb of “lie” to literally carry the weight of multiple meanings; leading to a deeper understanding of the characters and their values.

The tennis-match back-and-forth of speech, while being markedly brief and puzzling, provides a moment of concern for all the characters in question; Desdemona desperately wants to seek Cassio out for she feels that he could be in danger, or needs his service in some way; Desdemona herself wants clarification on social matters, for she has recently been accused of deceit by Othello; and the Clown himself also feels that he is in danger, for if he were to “say he lies here, or he lies there, were to lie | in mine own throat”; he does not want to say that Cassio is to be found at a certain place because he would be lying. All the connotations and meanings that come with “lying” are thus thrown into the air and blurred; the Clown could mean that Cassio is for all intents and purposes an honest man and does not lie, but he must physically be lying or be found somewhere, but for the Clown to actually speak upon such matters would threaten his own honesty.

On the element of foreshadowing, where the Clown makes puns on the word “lie, this prognosticates Iago and Othello’s highly emphasised words in Act IV, Scene 1, where the word “lie” once again portrays the multiple meanings of the verb. It eventually leads the protagonist to lambast and curse passionately until he physically “falls” to the ground due to the information given to him by Iago:

OTHELLO Hath he said anything?

IAGO He hath, my lord; but be you well assured, | No more than he’ll unswear.

OTHELLO What hath he said?

IAGO Faith, that he did - I know not what he did.

OTHELLO What? What?

IAGO Lie -

OTHELLO With her?

IAGO With her, on her, what you will.

OTHELLO Lie with her? Lie on her? We say lie on her | when they belie her. Lie with her! Zounds, that’s ful- | some! Handkerchief - confession - handkerchief! To | confess and be hanged for his labour. First to be hanged | and then to confess! I tremble at it. Nature would not | invest herself in such shadowing passion without some | instruction. It is not words that shakes me thus! Pish! | Noses, ears, and lips! Is’t possible? - Confess? Handker- | chief! O devil!

He falls”29

The use of the two prepositions by Othello of “with” and “on” mark out that the act of “lying” are meant in a firmly physical sense; not in the theoretical sense of speaking lies and being dishonest. Even though Iago initially says the word “Lie” on its own, which could mean a number of things, Othello instantly interrupts his colleague by bringing in the preposition along with his wife: “With her?”, which shows that he is suddenly shocked to hear the word “lie” be used in reference to Cassio and Desdemona. The physical act of “lying” with or on another person elicits multitudes of feelings and references to sex, or sexual fantasies and feelings. Consequentially, Othello is further emotionally torn; he feels the words from Iago sting his gut, and all he can feel to do is rant and rave manically about his former Lieutenant; abusing, criticising, and damning him to death as he has been fully influenced to believe that his wife and Cassio have had an extramarital affair, envisaging the sexual act of lying beside each other, and in so doing driving himself to the precipice of doubt and despair.

This most recent communication, culminating with Othello falling to the ground and having an epileptic fit, consolidates and powerfully emphasises the embedded theme of “lying” in the tragedy, in its practical and theoretical sense. The spoken act of lying has been promulgated by Iago from the beginning; while he may have not been outright lying to Roderigo when he declared that he “hates” the Moor, he is absolutely conscious of the fact that he will go on to lie to a great extent in the proceeding action; namely in dictating to Roderigo to “put money in thy purse” (which is not told with the honest intention of doing it so Roderigo can help himself, but to make more money so Iago can extort it from him), when Iago influences Cassio to get severely drunk and fabricate the scenario to make it look like Cassio had brought his shameful behaviour upon himself, to when he first accuses Cassio of courting Desdemona behind Othello’s back; all the deceptive acts and words from Iago are set in motion from the beginning, based on the foundation that he desires power, or that he is in many ways psychopathically hungry for it. Along with this, the practical act of “lying” has been displayed strongly throughout the rising action of the play; it acts as a vital element to the drama that for the most part, remains unseen. For even though we do not outright “see” much action of the characters lying down and sleeping, we can gain from merely the passing of time, how the scenes transition from the main players at work (in the navy or with the police force), to the way the dialogue gives direct mention to the physical act of lying down and sleeping e.g. “I lay with Cassio lately, | And being troubled with a raging tooth | I could not sleep”, that the characters have been lying down and resting, thus have had time to alter and process their thoughts before the next moments of human interaction. The motif and act of “lying” therefore plays an implicit, and multiple role within the action; being a physical state where the characters have time to rest and recuperate, along with a potential path that a character may opt to take or use - by telling a white lie, or perhaps even a compellingly big lie - to get the better of other characters and players in the play. Therefore, the act of Othello literally falling down and “lying” on the ground in a state of hysteria can arguably be viewed as the consummation of all the deceit and falsehood so far weighing heavily on his conscience; even though he is far from being aware that he is being lied to by his inferior, all the dishonest information he has been given so far and seeming inability to clarify it, have led to him becoming overburdened with bad emotion and stress, so that he ends up “lying” on the floor in a fit of frenzy.

While the finale to the action in Othello is the predictably tragic conclusion that has been forecast by the main characters, - Iago making Othello believe that his wife is false and Othello announcing and ordering the murder of Cassio and Desdemona - the highly raw and visual emotions and movements of the characters, as well as the loud poetic power and punch to the language makes it one of the most poignantly dramatic climaxes in Shakespeare’s tragedies. In Ola Ince’s biting and dynamic adaptation seemingly nothing is left unsaid or wanting, as Nwusu and Mandela Siobhan as Othello and his subconscious mentally battle out until devastating decisions are made, and goodness and happiness are wantonly destroyed by the senior police officer. Othello confronts Desdemona at their lodging in a final swell of anger and distrust, his subconscious and clown close at hand to plague his mind and aid him in administering the criminally calamitous blow.

Othello’s propensity for his anger to blow over to detrimentally violent levels had already occurred some scenes before in the midst of a meeting of the couple and reports coming from Lodovico (one of Desdemona’s father’s officials) of Cassio’s well-being: “Lodovico: He did not call: he’s busy in the paper. | Is there division ’twixt my lord and Cassio? | Desdemona: A most unhappy one; I would do much | T’atone them, for the love I bear to Cassio. | Othello: Fire and Brimstone!”30 Very soon, on Desdemona merely showing concern and worry for a friend she fears is in danger (being Cassio) Othello curses Desdemona (“Devil!”) and “strikes her”. The moment is depicted in Ince’s play forcefully and haphazardly, bringing shocked gasps and sharp exhales of breath, for we more than anything witness it as a once well-respected and high-ranking cop now losing his hold on decency and virtue, succumbing to a darkly growing surge of toxic masculinity and violent thought.

More than anything, though, and this remains true in Ince’s staging, is the psychological weight of a unique relationship breaking down tragically; and the tragedy of it lies with a character who, through his own highly gifted ability with speech, talk, and ability to spread well-constructed gossip, has for much of the duration of the play attempted to make a colleague of his become so wracked by envy that he becomes impelled to murder his partner.

In the final scene; Act V, Scene 2, Desdemona has resorted to her bedsit and blows out most of the candle light to take sleep. Othello sneaks up on her, quietly speaking of his intentions to carry out the murder and the inevitable pain that it will bring him, while berating his wife: “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. | Put out the light, and then put out the light… When I have plucked thy rose, | I cannot give it vital growth again, | It needs must whither. I’ll smell it on the tree. | He kisses her31 Even within the most tragic circ*mstance of the play, Othello tries to maintain an artful and poetic tongue, and we can almost certainly conclude that he upholds it, but as an audience member and judge we are also acutely aware that he is on the cusp of carrying out an egregious wrong, thus we have to keep questioning his conscience.

Ola Ince adapts the text so that Nwusu - and Mandela Siobhan as his now tortured subconscious and clown - eventually resorts to strangling Desdemona on the ground. In the original text it is merely said “He smothers her”, while also blurred with Emilia calling out from another room of the lodging: “(without) My lord, my lord! What, ho! My lord, my lord!”32 In the interests of staging this climax in Ince’s modern-day take, particular pauses and dramatic effects seem necessary. Fatally, Othello delves the final blow when the nearly suffocated Desdemona gasps a few more withered breaths, before Nwusu’s Othello cracks her neck. The unwatchable stroke draws apt and horrific gasps from the audience, made to witness and feel how starkly tragic the moment is; a false murder - lying on the conscience of our now truly doomed protagonist. The play’s power comes home in these moments, for all the police alertness and brutality, and sly racial stereotyping, it is the feeling of suspense that has bubbled at the surface before a blow that we can scarcely believe has been made.

Comparing it with the original written word in Shakespeare’s folio, there are not perhaps many other versions or updates to the text that carry the emotional weight behind the original last lines of Desdemona, with the heroic Emilia shocked and heartbroken upon discovering what Othello has done: “She draws back the curtains | Help, help, ho, help! O, lady, speak again! | Sweet Desdemona, O sweet mistress, speak! | Desdemona: A guiltless death I die. | Emilia: O, who hath done this deed? | Desdemona: Nobody - I myself - farewell. | Commend me to my kind lord - O, farewell! She dies”. Not only does the falsely accused heroine utter that the death is “guiltless”, but she declares that she brought the death upon herself, which we can take a number of ways, though in the context of the profound moment of tragedy her last words are essentially protecting her husband from accusation of the murder, though intrinsically the pain of guilt weighs heavily on Othello’s shoulders.

Charlotte Bate’s Emilia in the adaptation brings the strong goodness and innocence in the final exchanges, standing firm as the cop who defends truth and virtue to the grave. “Thou art rash as fire to say | That she was false. O, she was heavenly true!” Othello soon admits that it was “Thy husband” who “knew it all”, to which Emilia now struggles to hold her emotions: “My husband!” Soon Iago enters with Montano and Gratiano, and the dark denouement takes place. Emilia demands that her husband speak, and in a slight shift to the archetypal text, Iago realises that he cannot uphold his deceit any longer, and does indeed utter the line that holds all the weight of his plotting and thinking from first scene to last.

Eventually Cassio is brought in injured, but healthy, and the arrest of Iago is soon commissioned. But we see that a destruction of career and good name has taken place, and left nearly all parties in a bedevilled and dismal state, down to the evil workings of an antagonistic mind; the pinpointing of objects that can be used for vicious acts, and, perhaps most tragically, racial prejudice being at the crux of the evil from the first. Othello’s marriage and his own subconscious cannot in the end survive the toxic systems that surround him.


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act I, Scene 1, p. 5


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act I, Scene 1, p. 5


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House) Act I, Scene I, p. 5


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House) Act I, Scene 1, p. 5


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act I, Scene 1, p. 6


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act I, Scene 1, p. 6


William Shakespeare, Othello, Introduction by Tom McAlindon, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), p. xxvii


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 1, p. 56


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 1, p. 56-57


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 57


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 1, p. 55


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 61


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 64


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 64


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 64


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act V, Scene 2, p. 122-123


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 69


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 69


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 70


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 70-71


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 72


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III, Scene 3, p. 72


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 2, p. 12


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 73


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 74


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 75


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 76


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act III Scene 3, p. 77


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act IV Scene 1, p. 86-87


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act IV Scene 1, p. 94


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act V Scene 2, p. 118


William Shakespeare, Othello, (Penguin Classics 2015, Random House), Act V Scene 2, p. 122

Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Shakespeare's Text versus Ola Ince's politically charged Met adaptation (Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 10th anniversary edition) (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terence Hammes MD

Last Updated:

Views: 6171

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.