Othello by William Shakespeare (1603)

Originally published 3/4/2016.

3 STARS

So once again English class took a masterpiece and ruined it.
But you already knew that.

Today I am going to set my complaints of English class aside and give my opinion on Shakespeare’s Othello.

What I Liked
This is the hardest category for me when it comes to Shakespeare.

Iago: This is one of the funnest villains I’ve ever seen, right up there with Scar and Maleficent. I’m almost tempted to call him the main character of the play, just because of how much it revolves around him. His skillful manipulation isn’t as horrifying as it is remarkable. I almost want to learn from him, in case I ever need to take revenge on someone some day!

Less Comic Relief: This may sound odd, but my preference for less comic relief really only applies to Shakespeare. I don’t find Shakespeare’s jokes funny, likely because a) they’re too hard to understand, b) they’re too outdated, or c) they’re too British. This play focused a lot less on subplots and comic relief.

I Didn’t Know the Plot Going In: People think I’m an uncultured swine or ungrateful whipper snapper whenever I say that I don’t like Shakespeare. Most people assume that I don’t like Shakespeare because I’m rebelling against my school or because I just haven’t seen it acted out properly. But no, I generally enjoy the books my school assigns, and I have seen several Shakespeare plays acted out/in movie form. I just don’t like Shakespeare. And for those of you out there who just called me a witch, I will give you my most generous explanation: I already know everything about every play. I also didn’t like Harry Potter, and I theorize in both cases that this apathy stems from the fact that I already knew what was going to happen. As far as great works of literature go, I prefer books that can teach me something or give me some great epiphany about human nature. Some people find that in Shakespeare, but I don’t. So I theorize that Shakespeare represented English culture enough that, as I’m part of that culture, I already know his lessons (don’t any of you dare say that Shakespeare was just oh so smart and just came up with all of these lessons. Nothing is made in a vacuum).

That being said, I prefer Othello over Shakespeare’s other plays because I had no idea what the plot was. I didn’t end up enjoying the plot, but for a while there was some actual suspense involved because I didn’t know how anything would play out.

What I Didn’t Like
Pretty much everything else.

The Characters:
I mentioned above that I didn’t know anything about Othello before reading/watching it. In fact, most of what I had heard turned out to be wrong. But why is Othello so obscure when some of Shakespeare’s other plays are so famous?

My theory: the characters are bad. Sure, Iago is fun to follow, and some of the characters are interesting…but nothing about them really pops. There’s no desire to write fanfiction, or read a prequel explaining someone’s backstory, or volunteer to act as that character in your English class’ rendition. Shakespeare’s strengths come in archetyping characters; even today we might say, “He’s such a Romeo”, or “You messed that up worse than Brutus”. Honestly, in a year I’m sure I’ll have forgotten everyone’s name except for Iago (and I’ll only remember his because of the bird from Aladdin).

The Plot:
Like I mentioned above, I wasn’t really impressed with how things ended up. A few people died, but no one I really cared about. No one gained anything. No civil wars ensued. The conflict didn’t even leave a little ripple on time. It’s just, “Iago manipulates Othello, he goes nuts, and people die”.

The Lack of Substance:
This is where all the huge Shakespeare fans will get mad at me. Maybe it has to do with my particular upbringing/age/world view, but I didn’t really see anything of substance in this play. I didn’t learn anything. My mind wasn’t thrown into a whirlwind of philosophical debate. I was still expecting a lot going into the play when I heard that the main character was Moorish. A Moorish protagonist in Elizabethan England? I’ve got to see this! But the very substance-full topic of racism or Muslim-Christian relations is only occasionally referenced in the play. Heck, I think that handkerchief gets more attention than the color of Othello’s skin. Though I’m sure it was a huge step forward for a playwrite to just not be racist, I wish that Shakespeare had gone a little farther with the whole ordeal. As it is, all I saw on the subject of race was, “Oh hey, those 17th century Venetians are mildly prejudiced.”

Do I recommend it overall? No. But then again, I’ve never recommended a Shakespeare play. There’s nothing particularly wrong about it. It’s just that there’s nothing particularly right about it, either.

Did you like Iago? Many of my friends didn’t like his character, but I still adore him.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Want to fight about William Shakespeare? All comments are well appreciated.


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