Staged direction

Every month, I like to delve into the text to find the non-stage direction found in the dialogue. Shakespeare is famous (or notorious, depending on your view) for a relative lack of explicit stage direction. But it’s there; he just hides it in the dialogue of his characters. We’ve already discussed what Othello’s fit should look like. Let me provide a just few examples of other spoken stage direction from Othello (just a few…but don’t feel short-changed: I’ve got something else today–whoo hoo, two entries for one day!).

Iago’s aside/commentary upon his arrival in Cyprus gives the director and the actor playing Cassio clues as to on-stage physicality: “He takes her by the palm…whisper…smile upon her…kissed your three fingers so oft…again your fingers to your lips” (II.i.167, 168, 169,172, 175). Later in the same scene, Iago tells Roderigo, “Lay thy finger thus” (II.i.220), over his lips as if to shush someone, so that he can listen to what Iago has to say.

Othello describes Iago “contract[ing] and purs[ing his] brows together” (III.iii.113) when they’re discussing Cassio’s involvement in Othello’s wooing of Desdemona. After this, Othello is so crushed in spirit that he cannot speak normally; Desdemona asks, “Why do you speak so faintly?” (III.iii.282).

During Othello’s asides while observing Iago speaking with Cassio, the Moor provides a physical action by Iago: “Iago beckons me” (IV.i.130). After Othello has struck Desdemona, when he interrogates her in her chamber, she cannot look at him, as he says, “Let me see your eyes. // Look me in the face” (IV.ii.25-6). This interrogation leaves Othello crying, since Desdemona asks, “Why do you weep? // Am I the motive of these tears, my lord?” (IV.ii.42-3). The encounter doesn’t leave her in much better shape, as Iago later says to her, “Do not weep, do not weep. Alas the day!” (IV.ii.124).

When Emilia meets with Desdemona in her chamber, Desdemona provides some stage direction as to how Emilia should assist her: “Prithee unpin me” (IV.iii.21) and “Lay by these” (IV.iii.49).

In the final scene, Othello seems to be going into a less severe fit, with Desdemona commenting “your eyes roll so” (V.ii.38), and “why gnaw you so your nether lip?” (V.ii.43). And when he smothers her, his words denote how he should be less than successful: “Not dead? not yet quite dead?” (V.ii.86). If done well, this makes her revival less incredible (and quasi-ridiculous).

That’s just a taste, but like I said earlier, don’t fee short-changed: I’ve got another entry coming later today!