The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1445  Tuesday, 28 May 2002

From:           Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 27 May 2002 17:30:15 -0400
Subject:        Unmoored

While attending a conference in DC, I caught half of an Othello at the
Folger Shakespeare Theater.  The best, indeed the only thing one can say
for the production is that the actors spoke their lines competently.
Unfortunately, they did nothing more.  The language lay inert upon the
stage, as flat as a Kansas prairie, and about as interesting.  I have a
very low boredom threshold; mediocre Shakespeare pushes me over it in
record time; and at Intermission I quietly absconded into the Washington

In one respect, however, the production was both notable and
representative.  It showed advanced symptoms of creeping cinematization,
a malady occasioned by its hatred and fear of language.  An enormous
amount of the text was cut, just as movies ruthlessly prune dialogue in
their atavistic regress towards the condition of wordless imagery.
Sinister mood-music sounded during Iago's soliloquies, vainly seeking to
impart the emotional coloration which the actor himself was unable to
provide.  Sometimes the director began a new scene before the previous
scene was over, and then "cross-cut" between the two by raising and
lowering lights.  Since there was no thematic counterpoint in this, only
a meaningless shuttle between the finale of one scene and the exposition
of another, the device was clearly employed just to make things more
movie-like.  During the Temptation Scene, Desdemona came slinking on
upstage where the general camp, pioneers and all, proceeded to fondle
and palpate her sweet body.  This is an old trick--Trevor Nunn did
something similar in his 1969 Winter's Tale--and sensible directors have
long since forsworn it.  Yet how else can one turn all that tedious
language into voice-over narration, making the word subservient to the
image?  Finally, Othello and Iago began the Temptation Scene while
engaged in a practice swordfight.  This interpolated "action-sequence"
served the useful purpose of waking me up.  Yet it proved to be another
cinematic irrelevance, since the Scene as written does not begin with a
duel of wits or a process of thrust and parry.  Abstracted insinuation
on the one hand and anxious bewilderment on the other are not
objectively correlatized in swordplay.  As it was, the fencing merely
obscured what the characters were saying, i.e., what was really going

Movies are live-action comic books (or, if you like, graphic novels),
using only enough language to goose the images along or to furnish
word-balloons for the actors.   One regrets that this director had to
settle for theater instead of film, and for a word-rich drama like
Othello instead of the terse, action-oriented screenplay he so obviously
wanted to direct.  This was a Moor for the Fahrenheit 451 generation.

--Charles Weinstein

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