May 2013 session
International School of Milan
English A language and literature HL
Task 2: Reader, culture and text
Prescribed question: If the text had been written in a different time or place or language or for a different audience, how and why might it differ?
Specific question: If Othello had been set in a modern era, how would it differ?
Title of text: Othello
Task is related to course section
Pt 4: Literature- Critical Study, The individual, Community and Identity
Task focus: The aim of this essay is to analyse how Shakespeare’s play Othello would differ if it had been set in a politically correct and modern society such as ours.
If Othello had been set in a modern era, how would it differ?
The play Othello is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare in around 1603. The story has four central characters: Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Cassio. Othello or “the moor” is a black general, admired for his superb leadership skills. He falls in love with Desdemona, and against Brabantio’s will they elope before embarking on a campaign against the Turks. However, in Cyprus, a storm destroys the Turkish fleet and the real battle turns out to be the one of Iago against Othello. Iago’s hatred for Othello is mainly caused by his anger at missing out on a promotion added to his racism. This leads to his revenge on the protagonist. In this assessment, I am going to analyse how the play would have differed if it had been set in a modern era.
The play opens with a heated discussion between Iago and Roderigo. Iago complains about Othello’s decision to promote Cassio as lieutenant. He confesses that he only remains in service of the general in order to succeed in his evil plan: “ I follow him to serve my turn upon him” act 1 sc 1 l. 42. Othello is described as “the moor”. This epithet often substitutes his actual name “Othello”. Moreover, Roderigo describes Othello’s with terms such as: “thick lips”, “old black ram” and “devil” Act 1.sc 1. An Elizabethan audience would not have frowned upon the use of these terms, not finding them disturbing, offensive as it would be in our politically correct, multicultural and mobile society where distances between cultures and races have been significantly reduced. It also important to point out that there were few blacks in London during that period; there is evidence to prove this as the rise of black settlements in London occurred only during the 17th- 18th Century. Christianity further exacerbated these racial ideas as it linked the colour white to goodness and the colour black to the devil and sin. Shakespeare shows that he was open and a brave writer who was willing to stand apart from his society, choosing to make a black individual his protagonist. This choice makes him the tragic hero who the audience is encouraged to sympathize with.
The second difference that rises between an Elizabethan Othello and a hypothetical modern Othello is the power men have over women. This can be seen immediately in Act 1 Scene 3 with regards to Brabantio and Desdemona. Othello’s true love for Desdemona is not accepted by Desdemona’s father, who accuses him of having used witchcraft to control Desdemona’s feelings.
“She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted
By spells […]
For nature so preposterously to err,
Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense
Sans witchcraft could not” Act 1 Scene 3 lines 59 -64
Not only does Brabantio believes that Desdemona belongs to him as if she was of his property, her elopement disturbs him even more knowing that Othello is black. Brabantio cannot fathom how the beautiful and gentle Desdemona is attracted to the black Othello. The only way he can justify this relationship is by accusing Othello of having practiced spells against her. These accusations can be seen as typical of that time- average Londoners, such as those who attended and enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays, had very little...