The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0250  Tuesday, 29 January 2002

From:           Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 28 Jan 2002 23:55:17 -0800
Subject:        Masterpiece Theater's Othello

I saw the Masterpiece Theater Othello this evening.  At the head of the
end titles was "Based on the play by William Shakespeare."  I suggest it
was as much based on Shakespeare's Othello as any random book can be
said to be "Based on the book by Noah Webster."

Certainly, the production was attractive, at least to any habitual
viewer of BBC mysteries, with uniformed bobbies, handheld video of
police abuse, politics reaching as far as 10 Downing St., and of course
a cast of fine British actors.  Eamonn Walker as John Othello was a
commanding figure as the new commissioner of the London Metropolitan
Police (Scotland Yard).  Keeley Hawes was a fetching Dessie. Christopher
Eccleston as Ben Jago looked crafty in every scene.  So the main
characters--dare I say it--looked the parts and had similar names.

But screenwriter Andrew Davies seems to have picked up

        Cliff's Notes'
        Ten-Second Theme of
        In Plain English
        In A Nutshell
        Reader's Digest Version

added some contemporary storyline (something about Roderigo/Roderick
ratting on fellow officers for a botched police raid on a drug dealer's
flat) and left the rest of Sh. behind.  First and foremost, as
Shakespeare is more poetry than plot, where was his language?  Even the
most determinedly different adaptation of Sh. preserves half the
poetry.  Even to use O for its plot, where was the realism in plotting
and characterization that a production exactly set in today's tabloid
London dictates?  And universality, the quality that even many young
kids see in Shakespeare, where did that go to?

Certainly there were correspondences and parallels from one O to the
other, but--here is the thing--none of it made much sense unless you
kept saying to yourself, "This is based on Shakespeare" and had
appropriately reverent thoughts about the Bard.  The viewer unfamiliar
with the real O would, I think, be baffled by the prosaic, stagey,
indeed unlikely drama on the little screen.

It would be as if we went to one of the Stratfords for a traditional
Othello and had to keep murmuring, "This was based on Cinzio," to derive
any meaning from it or, in the end, any satisfaction.

Al Magary
Audience member

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