Thursday, 14 March 2013

Othello. 20 Recommended Resources on Shakespeare's Tragedy

Part 1: Introductions for younger readers and viewers

Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Othello summary. 9 mins 14 sec

Cliffs Notes. 7 mins 45 sec

This Short Animated Version of the Play is an excellent taster if you have but a small appetite

Part 2:

If you consider that reciting or performing Shakespeare requires a stiff, posh, upper class, drama-school  British accent, think again. 

Prof David Crystal demonstrates 'authentic' Original Pronunciation

Part 3:

Essential viewing for advanced students is a classic production from the BBC, directed by Jonathan Miller.

This is a Claustrophobic and Complete version which is highly recommended. This made-for-TV production features Anthony Hopkins as Othello, with Bob Hoskins as the treacherous, jealousy-ridden soldier Iago. 3 hrs 23 mins. Available here.

Classic film (1952). Orson Welles' daring and visually adventurous production of William Shakespeare's classic play. Welles, one of the greatest directors ever, revered Shakespeare and was determined to bring his own versions of the Bard's work to the silver screen, though the studios resisted the idea. Without studio funding, Welles struggled for three years to make "Othello" with his own money.

The film won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and critical acclaim but was rarely seen for many years. Over $1 million dollars in restoration work was spent, including re recording the score and re creating the sound effects, as well as updating the audio to digital. "Othello" remains a testament to Welles' legendary genius.

Film (1995). Director: Oliver Parker. Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh, Irène Jacob. Takes some liberties but haunting and effective none the less.

Short excerpt from Laurence Olivier's 1965 film version

Othello's final speech. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Actors include Ian McKellen, Imogen Stubbs and Willard White. 1989

Another Production: The 'Complete Play' in performance. 1 hr 38 mins

International Productions:

A play by Indu Art Theatre & Film Society. Director: Yasin Khan. Dramatic tension and atmospheric production with strong acting.

Highly recommended AUDIO only selections: 

Paul Robeson's Broadway Othello, directed by Margaret Webster, ran from 1943 to 1945. It presented a black actor in the title role for the first time in the 20th century. It remains the longest running Shakespeare play ever staged in the United States. This audio taping was recorded in studio during the summer of 1944 and is available in its entirety from Pearl Plays & Poets (Pavilion Records). Act V, Scene 2. Here. Othello - Paul Robeson Desdemona - Uta Hagen Iago - Jose Ferrer Emilia - Edith King Cassio - Alexander Scourby. Available here.

Also highly recommended for clarity and excellent production values is this Complete Audio production from the Donmar Warehouse, London, UK, 2008:

AUDIO Essays

Sadly these might be available solely for British-resident students to listen in:

As part of the Shakespeare Unlocked season on the BBC, writers from Sierra Leone, Brazil, India, Iran and China explain why a playwright from sixteenth century Stratford resonates so powerfully in their own countries. With Eldred Jones, Aimara Resende, Poonam Trivedi, Narguess Farzad and Yong Li Lan. In this third essay Professor Eldred Jones explains that Shakespeare took from Africa as much as Africa has taken from him. These essays explore Shakespeare's place on the global stage; with writers and scholars from around the world explaining his importance within their own culture. There are references to Hamlet and Othello in Iranian literature for example - as well as in African and Chinese works. Othello was first translated into Persian 170 years ago by a Persian prince because the themes of jealousy and honour struck a chord with the Iranian psyche. Authors the world over have recognised a profound affinity between Shakespeare's themes and their own traditional culture, be in it Chinese, Indian or African. Link.

Web Resources

Web English teacher: William Shakespeare, Othello. Lesson plans and other teaching resources. Here.

Universal Teacher. Quality online resources. Here.

Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classic Edition. A 17-page pdf file. Here.

More Academic Resources. Here. 

Wikipedia Entry:


Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othello and Iago respectively, in a scene from the 1995 version of Othello.
 Shot between 1948 and 1952, Orson Welles directed The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), produced as a black-and-white film noir. The film stars Welles as Othello and Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona. The troubled production was filmed over the course of three years as Welles' time and money permitted, in Mogador, Morocco and Venice. Lack of funds (and costumes) forced Roderigo's death scene to be shot in a Turkish bath with performers wearing only large, ragged towels. The film won the Palme D'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival. Rather than focusing on racial mis-matching, the film plays on a difference between Desdemona and Othello in age, size and personal attractiveness. The film noir colouring of the picture minimised any commentary on Othello's blackness, to the point that the critic F. R. Leavis wrote that the film made no reference to Othello's colour.

Unlike Welles's film, Laurence Olivier's Othello (1965), based on John Dexter's National Theatre Company's production, brings issues of race to the fore, with Olivier putting on an 'African accent' and entering in a large 'ethnic' necklace and a dressing gown. He commented, however, that he did "not dare to play the Moor as a full-blooded negro". One contemporary critic found the coloration too much, commenting that Olivier was "blacker than black, almost blue" .

Trevor Nunn's 1989 version filmed at Stratford, cast black opera singer Willard White in the leading role, opposite Ian McKellen's Iago.

The first major screen production casting a black actor as Othello would not come until 1995 with Laurence Fishburne opposite Kenneth Branagh's Iago (not that there have been many major screen productions of Othello, most film versions to date have been filmed stage productions). It was made during the O. J. Simpson trial and commentators such as Cartmell draw parallels between the two whodunit murder stories, and wonder if the film's release was not a little to do with the publicity surrounding the film star's drama.

Malayalam film Kaliyattam is an adapted version of Othello against the backdrop of the Hindu Theyyam performance. In 1998, Suresh Gopi received the National Film Award for Best Actor, and Jayaraj the award for Best Director for their work on the film.

Omkara is a version in Hindi set in Uttar Pradesh, starring Ajay Devgan as Omkara (Othello), Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi (Iago), Kareena Kapoor as Dolly (Desdemona), Vivek Oberoi as Kesu (Cassio), Bipasha Basu as Billo (Bianca) and Konkona Sen Sharma as Indu (Emilia). The film was directed by Vishal Bhardwaj who earlier adapted Shakespeare's Macbeth as Maqbool. All characters in the film share the same letter or sound in their first name as in the original Shakespeare classic. It is one of the few mainstream Indian movies to contain uncensored profanity.

Other film adaptations


Graphic novels

Othello, an adaptation by Oscar Zarate, Oval Projects Ltd (1985). It was reprinted in 2005 by Can of Worms Press and includes the complete text of the play.

In January 2009, a manga adaptation was published in the United Kingdom, with art by Ryuta Osada. It is part of the Manga Shakespeare series by Richard Appiganesi, and is set in Venice in carnival season.


1 comment:

  1. Drop me a line to tell which audiovisual resources on Shakespeare have been most effective in your teaching or learning about Shakespeare. Dr Ian McCormick.