I adore going to the Folger Shakespeare Theatre on Capitol Street in DC. Their productions are always inventive and wonderfully true to the text. On Sunday I went down to hear Othello. (I was seated right on the aisle of their little Elizabethan theatre and almost had Cassio on my lap at one point — very exciting!)
Shakespeare’s five great tragedies are all such an exercise in “what if” or “if only”. If only Friar John had traveled more swiftly, Romeo would have known that Juliet was drugged not dead. What if Lady Macbeth hadn’t goaded her husband to be so ambitious? If only Lear and his two older daughters had been less pig-headed, that whole tragedy could have been avoided. What if Hamlet had not been so indecisive? What if Othello had trusted in the fidelity of Desdemona rather than the circumstantial evidence insinuated by Iago?
Frankly, Othello drives me crazy. How can he go from being a loving husband and brave warrior to being so manipulated by Iago and consumed by jealousy? But, of course, Shakespeare was way ahead of his time with his psychological ideas, and, if one thinks of the slights that Othello suffered as a Moor, then it’s believable (even understandable) that he would be thin-skinned and insecure.
It’s a painfully thought-provoking work and, whether it’s Shakespeare’s play or the Verdi/Boito adaptation for opera, I always feel humbled by it.