Race in Five Film Versions of Shakespeare's Othello Essay example

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William Shakespeare's Othello is only moderately interested in questions of race and racism. For Shakespeare, Othello's blackness was mainly a plot device. Though the bard did demonstrate concerns about racial and religious prejudice, in Othello and The Merchant of Venice, his interest in the tragedy of the Moor was principally psychological. For Shakespeare and his contemporary audience, Othello was about jealousy, hatred, and vindictiveness.

The play has aged well, as have all Shakespeare's plays, but not, perhaps, in the ways Shakespeare's contemporaries would have predicted. In Shakespeare's time, it would have been acceptable for Othello to kill his wife, had she truly been unfaithful. What made Othello a tragic criminal to
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Douglas Brode states, "Wells was fully aware that Shakespeare had been a pre-Freudian psychologist" (154). Brode adds that, in the early 1950s when the psychological film was at its peak, Othello served Welles' interest in Freudian psychology (154-155).

According to Michael MacLiammoir, who plays Iago to Welles' lead, Welles believed Iago was impotent and a closet homosexual who married Emilia, played by Faye Compton, as his cover so he could pass for heterosexual. In his published diary of the making of the film, Put Money in Thy Purse, MacLiammoir goes on to say that Welles' Iago has a hero's crush on Othello, and becomes upset and jealous as a hurt lover when Othello gives a promotion to Cassio, played by Michael Laurence, instead of him. To add insult to injury, Othello is rumored to have slept with a frustrated Emilia. In Welles version, both the director and Iago buy this motive. When Iago sees Othello and Cassio, played by Derek Jacobi, joined together as brothers, it is too much for Iago. According to Brode, Welles was adamant that MacLiammoir, appear, with the help of makeup and performance, to be castrated (155).

Welles shot Othello on location in North Africa and Europe, and his use of camera angles and the outdoor scenery is striking, as Jack F. Forgens notes:

Shapes on the screen are less and less easily recognizable: compositions are tense, full of diagonals and faces are obscured, crossed with shadows, or

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