Sunday, March 06, 2005

appropos of nothing

Crunching my Cheerios, I find myself wondering this morning whether having Roderigo die at the point that he does in Othello is the most dramatically effective choice. Or if indeed having him die at all is completely necessary to the story. And as I'm thinking this, some tiny leather-wing'd harpy in the back of my head is hissing, how dare you second-guess the Immortal Bard? I feel like I'm committing a serious transgression just by thinking that maybe, maybe, old Willy could have handled that whole subplot differently.

Here's what I'm thinking. It's dramatically effective to have Roderigo die because he does it, essentially, at Iago's hand. And that betrayal is powerful. Because Iago has spent the whole play seducing Roderigo (look to your purse!) with promises of the lovely Desdemona. Do this Roderigo, do that; sell all your property, go to Cyprus, attack Cassio in the bar. Hey, why don't you just kill Cassio? That will get you the girl. And then after Roderigo's been wounded by his would-be victim, Iago comes along and finishes him off. That's good stuff. And of course, Shakepeare was all about body count in the tragedies--it has always surprised me, actually, that Cassio survives Roderigo's second attack. I would have expected Shakespeare to have killed Cassio as well, bringing the casualty report up to five.

But. Body count's not nearly as impressive these days as it was even twenty years ago. And I like the idea of Roderigo being allowed to live, so he can be faced with the full horror of the carnage to which he has contributed--his crush object and her friend dead, her husband a suicide, Iago revealed in all his lies and cruelty.

I'm not suggesting that the work be drastically changed to accommodate modern tastes--at least not in this way. Some changes are very useful and interesting, such as Impact Theatre's current adaptation (warning: serious female hotness ahead) where Othello is a lesbian. And I didn't see the movie O with Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett, which is set in a modern-day high school and presents a star basketball player as "that sooty thing", but it got good reviews. But in both cases, the story's outline hasn't been changed. I'm not even saying that were I to stage a version, I'd let Roderigo live. It's entirely possible that I just haven't seen Roderigo done really well; the last two productions of Othello I've caught have both sported rather weak Roderigos. Which is odd in itself, as both actors have been much better in other shows--maybe that's just a hard role to get right? Maybe because Roderigo is so much Iago's creature that he never gets to be interesting in his own right?

I guess what I'm questioning is the original planning. I've been very sensitive to other people's writing lately, their choices of words, phrases, situations. It's both fun and a little annoying. I am starting to look at writing the way I used to watch animation or visual effects--I'm not abandoning myself to the experience so much anymore. Why does this phrase stir me, or this one leave me feeling dry and chalky? And now that I've started going there, it's like...looking at the scaffolding holding a thing up. I still appreciate Othello, but I'm looking at it from underneath, or the side, and I'm seeing the joins.

I don't really have a theory worked out here. It's just an odd thing to have this be my first really coherent thought this morning, especially the part about worrying that the Shakespeare Police are going to come and take me away. Last night's play had a bit of a body count thing going on, and much anguish over whether love or justice was more important, but I'm not sure that's why I'm thinking about Othello this morning. Which makes me wonder if I was dreaming about the play, and didn't remember that I was doing so when I woke up, two hours earlier than planned, to relieve the pressure on my walnut-sized bladder.