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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: July ::
Re: Othello/Desdemona
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0797.  Monday, 28 July 1997.

[1]     From:   David Phillips <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jul 1997 11:37:43 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0788  Re: Othello; Stewart

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jul 1997 20:10:06 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 8.0788  Re: Othello/Desdemona Ages


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Phillips <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jul 1997 11:37:43 -0400
Subject: 8.0788  Re: Othello; Stewart
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0788  Re: Othello; Stewart
I
Those interested in the consummation debate would do well to consult the
following: Nelson & Haines' "Othello's Unconsummated Marriage."
<italic>Essays in Criticism</italic> 1983 January (vol. 33) and Nathan's
"Othello's Marriage is Consummated." <italic>Cahiers
Elisabethians</italic> 1988 (vol. 34). Also, Lynda Boose in "Othello's
Handkerchief . . ." (ELR 5 and in Barthelemy's Critical Essays on
Shakespeare's Othello) makes a good argument through her focus on the
handkerchief and blood-stained wedding sheets.

I tend to favor the argument that the marriage has been consummated.
What, after all, have Desdemona and Othello been doing during Iago and
Cassio's conversation in 2.3 after Cassio is dismissed? That scene
begins before 10 P.M. and lasts until dawn, with Othello and Desdemona
entering somewhere (I would guess) between 10 and midnight. For an
interesting article on time in Othello, see Wentersdorf's "The Time
Problem in Othello: A Reconsideration."  SHJW 1985.

All the best,
David

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jul 1997 20:10:06 +0100
Subject: Re: Othello/Desdemona Ages
Comment:        SHK 8.0788  Re: Othello/Desdemona Ages

>As to whether Othello is played old today, the difficulty I have with
>the idea that he might by "around forty-five or so" is just that old
>question of what age would have appeared "advanced into the vale of
>years" to that audience compared with ours. I am convinced that
>*disparity* in age is more important than the absolute ages of either
>Desdemona or Othello. Still, for the purpose of strongly making the
>point about disparate ages today, (what issues would arise today if
>Desdemona were played as a twelve-year old?) wouldn't it be better if,
>in performance, Othello didn't look too virile and strapping to have
>such doubts about his sexual prowess?  Active generalship on one hand
>does not require advanced years; on the other hand a general may lead
>long after physical strength is diminished; history provided examples of
>both.

Age of sexual consent is a key issue not only in 'Othello', of course;
crucially it is raised in 'R and J': having just produced the show with
R and J played by actors more or less the exact age Shakespeare calls
for (J=14.5 years / R= 17 years), I can vouch for the visual / sexual
frisson and validity of the gamble on stage. They simply looked
absolutely right, and made the central dynamic of the play work so well
and tragically. I think Desdemona is indeed young - many curled darlings
have been pursuing her. She is overly-protected by Brabantio, and his
shock and even disgust at the notion of her apparent sexual precocity is
I imagine echoed in 90% of all fathers faced with suitors for their
apparently sexually innocent offspring? BUT she is seen in important and
distinguished company, apparently runs the house (Mrs Brabantio
conspicuous by her absence?), and certainly feels strong enough to shock
her father, and challenge him in public before the Doge himself, so
12?........... I think not. Maybe 17/18+? She's certainly older than
Juliet, isn't she? Lot of the Act V Miranda in her?  Othello's age is
more interesting: 40+? Declined into the vale of years - yet that's not
much? What does that mean? Not far into the vale? Or does the vale of
years really matter? I agree with James that the key issue is disparity
of ages: that is what Iago exploits. BUT he also exploits Othello's
sexual insecurity about his own sexual attractiveness, maybe even
experience? I'm afraid that a 40 year old can be just as tentative about
his / her charms as an adolescent when bowled over by what is clearly a
major passion, and age has very little to do with a sense of security
about sexual identity in that context!!  Shakespeare touches a ruefully
raw nerve there, I feel!! Above all, the physical disparity on stage is
important, however: too big, and he looks like a cradle-snatcher, she
dangerously like a lovesick Lolita, or at least runaway child-bride, and
there is for our own super-sensitive age the unpleasant sensation of
child-abuse? Of course, the Elizabethans would have had no such qualms
at all. But we, like Brabantio, might find the idea of such a pair
making the beast with two backs a bit yukky? I think as a producer I'd
go for a 40/20 age range? She would be old enough to feel confident of
her own sexual identity, old enough to feel daddy's chains clogging, and
certainly alive enough to life to find Othello's stories
status/experience exciting, and he would be already successful, but had
spent all his main years building a reputation that shuts out the notion
of relationships that end in marriage, certainly to someone of such
high-status as Desdemona? I'd be very unhappy with playing her as overly
young, or Othello ditto, OR Othello as overly old: he must be
convincingly sexually active/attractive to make the grip between the two
lovers valid for the audience, and the outrage we feel as Iago unhinges
it all totally disgraceful and tragic? If either party is too young /
old, then all we might feel is what a relief! Hope there's something
here to chew on?

Stuart Manger
 

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