Maybe you’ve seen Shakespeare in the news recently, with the whole “refudiate” situation and Sarah Palin.  While I did hear about that, the most important reference to Shakespeare is my new class on post-1603 Shakespeare.  I’m terrifically excited, and am in love with my new Bevington collected works.  It’s huge, and takes up 75% of my messenger bag, but it’s beautiful.

We’re reading Othello (and seeing an outside performance August 1), Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear.  The professor’s area of interest is in gender and sexuality studies, and so the overarching theme will be *drumroll* gender roles and sexuality!  I find that extremely interesting, as I take every opportunity to explore women’s roles in antiquity and the Middle Ages and am a proud feminist myself thanks to Gustavus.  (No, I wasn’t indoctrinated, or anything, but I experienced how my female friends and classmates view the world as professionals, independent people, gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, atheist, etc.  Plus, the red “This is what a Gustavus feminist looks like” didn’t hurt either…  I still have fond memories of a male poli sci professor speaking to the senior class wearing one of these under his robes and flashing it like Clark Kent becoming Superman.)

Anyway, it will be a nice change from SQB and an uninformed, interruptive instructor.

I’ve begun to read the first play for Monday, Othello.  It’s so beautiful, and the marriage between Othello and Desdemona begins better than any marriage I’ve read about recently (The Miller’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lanval, etc.).  Those marriages begin either with the man in total domination over the woman, the woman in complete control over the man, or a marriage of “equals” to the depressed extreme as in the marriage between Averagus and Dorigen.  Othello and Desdemona love each other in the Christian way and in Venus’ way.  It’s true love mixed with passion.  Of course, Iago comes to stir those flames of passion, creating doubt and destruction by the end, but the beginning is good, right?  The issues of the Moor’s bestial qualities corrupting the pure, white, Venetian virtue of Desdemona is interesting.  (“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is topping your white ewe.”  Othello, 1. 1)  Disturbing, but interesting.  Language is carefully used to convey meaning, and I think my maturity since last reading any Shakespeare, my viewing of several plays last summer, and the Bevington’s notes all make me very aware of language.

Chasseriau's Othello and Desdemona in Venice, 1850

And that brings me to a nice stopping point before I go on another lecture about the importance of the text and construction of language…  To sum up, the text is important.  The author uses it carefully as a whole work and in pieces, ultimately creating a text larger than the sum of its parts.  You should appreciate the text.  Please?

Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth ‘scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history.

But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
Othello, 1. 3 (both)

I understand a fury in your words,
But not the words.
Othello, 4. 2

Movie note: The Kenneth Bragnagh Othello is breathtaking, with Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Bragnagh as Iago.  Stage Beauty with Billy Crudup and Clair Danes focuses on the staging of Othello just as women were being allowed on the stage.  For a true and good version of Othello, pick of Bragnagh.  For a commentary on the gender roles of Renaissance England and the evolution of staging, Stage Beauty is entertaining.

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