Friday (Non-)Film Focus: Othello (yet again)

OK, so I open in Othello next weekend. As I’ve noted before, I’m playing Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, another in a series of Shakespeare’s dubious dads. I disappear after the first act, only to die off-stage sometime before Lodovico’s delivering of the news in Act Five.

But before I leave the stage (forever), I have one last rhyming couplet…

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.
She has deceived her father, and may thee.

By now, I’ve lost my daughter. She’s married the Moor. I’ve been humiliated before the duke and some fellow senators. I’ve pleaded. I’ve pouted. And now, on my way out the door, I stop to say that.

I don’t talk to Desdemona; I have no words for her. She’s gone from my life.

Instead, I talk to the Moor, who–whether I like it or not–is now a bigger deal with the duke than I am.

Why those last lines?

Metrically, they’re similar: iambic pentameter, but both kicking off with a trochee. The last line has an additional non-iambic hiccup: the spondee at the end. I suppose you could have an iamb there, not stressing the “may’ but I can’t get that to work. So the “may” is important; she’s not going to deceive him, she may deceive him. I get why Shakespeare would do this: this sets first inklings of doubt regarding Desdemona’s fidelity–something about which Iago will remind the Moor in Act Three, Scene Two–but it also foreshadows that any such deception is not real. So dramatically, thematically, I get it.

But why does Brabantio say it? Yes, I know, the character is but a pawn that the playwright moves about the board. But why would I say it as Brabantio? Am I truly trying to warn him? Am I currying favor? I’ve lost her, but maybe I can salvage some relationship with the BMOC (Big Moor On Cyprus)? Am I saying this specifically to hurt her, regardless of the statement’s effect on the Moor? Or am I messing with his head, casually, carelessly, not knowing that by doing so, I’m setting up the first domino in a string that will kill my only child?

I’ve been leaning toward this last, but I haven’t hit a reading of it yet that I’m happy with.

I’ve got a week to play with it…

OK, one more quick thing (as I write this after last night’s rehearsal)…

Tonight’s rehearsal was an first half line-through in the dark. We all sat or lay on stage, we turned off the lights, and we simply recited the words. I had never done that before. Hats off and kudos to director Bill Fisher for this. What a beautiful experience, letting the language fill the empty darkness of space. Simply beautiful.

And insightful. I’ve read the play many times, watched it even more. And yet I heard things tonight that I never noticed before, things that if I ever were to direct the play or take on the monumental role of Iago I would want to explore.

Iago speaks in sexual terms. We all know this. But I hadn’t noticed the frequency with which he speaks about the results of that sex… and not what many of his characters focus on–disease–but rather pregnancy and birth. So, it got me thinking… What if Emilia is portrayed as pregnant? Could his fear of (and inspiring fear of) cuckoldry be affected (and maybe even EFFECTED) by this? Might this make his anger over a lack of promotion (tying into his male fear of not being able to provide for his now growing family) more tangible? It might be worth playing with (at least during the rehearsal process)…

One Reply to “Friday (Non-)Film Focus: Othello (yet again)”

  1. I agree with all the possibilities you mention to explain the “why” of Brabantio’s exit lines. But I have always felt Brabantio mostly says them to hurt his daughter for hurting him. Not only will he not say goodbye to her, he rids himself of her in the simple summation of her character: She’s a deceiver, nothing more to say. And these words (though incorrect in summing up Desdemona’s character) echo ominously through the play. By the way, I have always thought Brabantio is a plum role. I know he vanishes early. But the scenes in which he appears include a couple of the greatest ever written (the opening scene & the Senate scene). Good luck & have fun!

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