Questions of jealousy, rage, race, and gender run rampant in the timeless story of Othello 

Green Eyed Monster

You don’t need an adaptation of Othello to understand its classic themes

Courtesy Woolfe Street Playhouse

You don’t need an adaptation of Othello to understand its classic themes

Othello
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Thurs. Jan. 31 & Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., Sun. Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. Through Feb. 9
$20+
Woolfe Street Playhouse
34 Woolfe St.
Downtown
woolfestreetplayhouse.com

Woolfe Street Playhouse is sticking to the script for its upcoming production of Othello. Rather than adapt Shakespeare's work for the present-day, director Evan Parry decided to take a more authentic route, setting the production during the time period in which the play was written: 16th-century Venice and Cyprus.

"I think that there are messages of the play that are going to be clear to the audience regardless of whether or not you modernize," says Parry, an associate professor of theater at College of Charleston. "I don't believe it's necessary to modernize Shakespeare or contextualize Shakespeare unless you believe strongly that an audience isn't going to be able to follow the story or understand whatever issues are embedded in the story otherwise."

And theatergoers should find plenty that resonates with them in Othello, which runs Jan. 25-Feb. 9. The play focuses on the titular character, a general in the Venetian army, and his deceitful ensign, Iago. Iago loathes Othello for promoting another soldier, Cassio, to lieutenant instead of him, and much of the play revolves around the web of lies and deceit Iago creates in his quest to destroy Othello.

"If there's an emotional motive for a number of the characters of the play that we all recognize, it'd be jealousy," Parry says. "There's a lot of talk of characters to one another over the issue of jealousy. Iago, in fact, manipulates multiple characters appealing to their jealousy. So I think that's something a lot of us will recognize."

The relationship between Othello and Iago is one audiences can connect with, says Douglas Scott Streater, who plays Othello. Throughout the play, Othello is unaware of Iago's true motivations.

"I think a lot of us can relate to thinking of someone as a friend, and a close friend at that, and through time it's being revealed that, wait a minute, this person is not really a friend," Streater says. "This person is not someone who's trustworthy. This person doesn't have my best interest at heart. That's something I feel, you know, all people have had — someone who they always thought of as a friend or a family member who turned out not to be what they've seen."

Part of Iago's scheme to destroy Othello is to convince him that his new wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. It's a relationship that, from the start, outsiders view with suspicion, as Desdemona is white and Othello is a Moor, or a person of African descent. Feelings of jealousy, therefore, collide with issues of racism.

"Othello is technically a tragic love story. At its root, it's a tragic love story, but the racism is kind of the subject," Streater says. "So it's the thing that's kind of encompassing this love story, and it's forcing it in upon itself."

And the racial resentment that Othello encounters due to his marriage and position of authority echoes attitudes that still linger today.

"[The play] addresses some of the same challenges we face in society today, particularly in this climate that we're in now of xenophobia and almost a negative approach to anything that doesn't look like us," Streater says. "We're definitely in a period where it's almost been given a pass to think and operate in that way. So some of the same prejudices and bigotry that Othello faces of course in the play are seen when you turn on the news nowadays."

The portrayal and views of the women in the play, particularly Desdemona and Emilia, Iago's wife, will also prove relevant to audience members, Parry and Streater say. Both women's fates are the result of the treatment of women at the time combined with the hatred and jealousy Iago harbors toward Othello.

"The husbands in the play, including Othello, for that matter, are products of a lack of gender consciousness, a thought process whereby women were not expected to have strength or a voice of their own," Parry says. "Women were expected to be domestic and not professional. And these women have the opportunity to assert and speak for themselves, although Desdemona's story culminates in her choosing — although she suspects something horrible is going to befall her — because she loves Othello so much to be with him until the end of the story."

"One of the things that's admirable about the Desdemona character is that she is the only one who is completely honest throughout the entire play, yet she is the only one who is accused of being duplicitous," Streater says. "She's the only truthteller in the whole play, the one who stays on the same truthful path. And the way she is written, the way it is written, is, you know, it's a male-dominated society even at the time, and it involves preconceived notions that she's a woman; she has to know her place. You're supposed to be my wife. You're not supposed to worry about matters of the state. You just be my wife. We don't really want your opinion on things. Those are things that are still seen in society today."


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