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

OK, so you probably all know I’m appearing in Othello next month (open two weeks from tonight!). I’m playing Brabantio, Desdemona’s d-bag dad. I disappear after the first act, only to die off-stage sometime before Lodovico’s delivering of the news in Act Five.

As I go over my lines, I’m noticing some interesting things in regards to pronouns.

Earlier in this project, I’ve discussed the differences between the “you” and “thou” pronouns and their relative levels of respect and familiarity. “You” is more formal, more respectful. “Thou” is more familiar, or at times disrespectful.

As my time on stage opens, and I’m questioning those voices in the dark that have wakened me, I use the the pronoun “you”:

Enter Brabantio, above.BRABANTIO
What is the reason of this terrible summons?
What is the matter there?
RODERIGO
Signior, is all your family within?
IAGO
Are your doors locked?
BRABANTIO
 Why, wherefore ask you this?
IAGO
Zounds, sir, you’re robbed. For shame, put on your gown!
Your heart is burst. You have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!
BRABANTIO
 What, have you lost your wits?
RODERIGO
Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?
BRABANTIO
Not I. What are you?

At this point, I’m maintaining the formality that I think befits my status as senator. But then, once I know it’s Roderigo, it changes to “thou/thee”…

RODERIGO
 My name is Roderigo.
BRABANTIO
The worser welcome.
I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors.
In honest plainness thou hast heard me say
My daughter is not for thee.

And this all makes sense. Once I know it’s Roderigo, someone whom I believe does not have the proper status to woo my daughter (“My daughter is not for thee”), all pretense of respect is dropped, and “thou” it is. Like I said, this makes sense.

It’s when it switches back to “you” that has me stumped.

I go off-stage after he tells me that my daughter has eloped with the Moor; I return to state:

It is too true an evil. Gone she is,
And what’s to come of my despisèd time
Is naught but bitterness.—Now, Roderigo,
Where didst thou see her?—O, unhappy girl!—
With the Moor, sayst thou?—Who would be a father?—
How didst thou know ’twas she?—O, she deceives me
Past thought!—What said she to you?—Get more tapers.
Raise all my kindred.—Are they married, think you?

Note that my questions to Roderigo start with “thou” pronouns…but then suddenly shift in the last two lines (What said she to you?…think you?)…it’s back to “you.” And it stays “you” for the rest of the scene.

What the heck happens?

The only answer I can come up with is that when Brabantio realizes that Desdemona has deceived him, he’s grasping for someone whom he can trust, and the only one he can turn to is Roderigo.

It works but it’s paper-thin.

Any other theories?

2 Replies to “Friday (Non-)Film Focus: Othello (again)”

  1. This is an interesting observation–and an intriguing puzzle! I’m not sure I’d say that Brabantio feels a sudden desire to trust Roderigo, as much as he suddenly sees that he needs Roderigo to trust him. Maybe Brabantio’s switch in pronouns signals his realization that he needs to treat Roderigo more respectfully because Roderigo has information about Desdemona that Brabantio wants. If that is the case, it might also help to reinforce Brabantio’s cunning, as well as his sense (and ours!) that Roderigo is someone who’s easily manipulated.

    I sure wish I could see that production!

    1. Nice twist there: not wanting to trust Roderigo, but needing him to trust him… that’s the whole “con” man angle. It’s not that the con-man takes the confidence from the victim, but that he gives the victim his confidence and trust, which is then reciprocated.

      I wish Brabantio, in this production, had some cunning…but alas, he’s pretty doddering in this director’s interpretation. And that’s OK, I’ve never tried to actually get laughs before…

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