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Published: 11-11-2019

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Othello and O the Movie: a Comparative Analysis of Two Works

Literature can be viewed as a manifestation of the context it is composed in, whilst retaining universal elements such as the human knowledge. While human emotions such as jealousy remain universal regardless of context, attitudes and values must be continually challenged and questioned in order for society to progress and evolve. This is reflected in Shakespeare’s Othello and Tim Blake Nelson’s ‘O’ which both share universal components whilst indicating the progression of society. Even though retaining Shakespeare’s intended reflection on the duality of human nature and the fallibilities one can succumb to when fuelled by darker aspects of one’s psyche, for instance, jealousy, Nelson shifts Shakespeare’s 16th Century views in order to communicate to a contemporary audience by exploring modern day views with regards to morality, hierarchy and gender.

In the course of the Elizabethan Era, a non-secular atmosphere fostered a blind trust in its authoritative figures, who had been typically involved with the church. Elizabethans valued clarity and believed in binary opposites such as a distinct line between great and evil, while modern day Americans valued truth or more specifically, justice. There was small space for interpretation of criminal actions, and in turn, tiny interpretation of textual characters, such as Iago who is portrayed as the quintessential Machiavellian villain who is painted as relentless and inherently evil by way of his dialogue. Iago’s schemes are revealed to the audience in the type of soliloquies and asides, exactly where he is typically in the shadows or taking element in a clandestine meeting with Roderigo. Iago exclaims “Divinity of hell! When devils will the blackest sins out on, they do recommend at 1st with heavenly shows, as I do now.”, accompanying the present religious imagery and proves that he is aware of his inherent darkness but does not seem to care. Shakespeare fuels the Elizabethans’ insular belief by generating overt villains with no motive for cruelty and no want for redemption.

The explicit line between great and poor that is valued by Elizabethans are blurred in the modern day American context, in which Nelson’s antagonist, Hugo provokes sympathy from the audience, in contrast with Shakespeare’s purely evil Iago who lacks a plausible motivation for his actions. Nelson enables the audience to empathise with the villain Hugo, when he supplies a voice more than. Closeups of white pigeons in the opening scene which starts the sustained motif of birds during the film. Hugo confides in the audience, “All my life, I usually wanted to fly. I often wanted to live like a hawk. I know you are not supposed to be jealous of anything, but… to take flight, to soar above everything and absolutely everyone, now that is living.”, expressing his need to be noticed and understood. Nelson humanises the villain by painting a sad broken image of the common American teenager, additional fuelling the 21st Century’s audiences thirst and curiosity about the motivations for crime and truth behind criminal actions. This provides insight to his character and captures the human emotion of jealousy which inevitably draws out savageness in specifically the most vulnerable individuals, sympathised in a planet that values rational believed over blind faith.

Shakespeare accommodates his Elizabethan audience’s belief in the Fantastic Chain of Becoming, an archaic idea that promotes white superiority above animals and ethnic minorities, consecutively. Interracial marriage, such as Othello and Desdemona’s marriage is met with controversy by the Venetian public, foreshadowing the impending fate of the two characters who disrupted the Great Chain of Getting. Their difference in class is illustrated by way of the recurring black and white imagery, which juxtaposes Othello and Desdemona and furthers the notion that they are binary opposites and do not belong collectively. In spite of the reliable status of the ‘noble moor’ he has achieved in Venetian society, it was insinuated that his ‘blackness’ was a sign of inferiority as Othello is regarded to be ‘far a lot more fair than black’. Othello’s supposed racial inferiority is taken advantage by a spiteful Iago who taints Othello’s noble image with racial slurs such as ‘thick lips’ and animalistic imagery as ‘black ram’ as an attempt to establish Othello’s location at the bottom of the hierarchy. This racial prejudice is mocked in O, when Odin and Desi exchange sexual comments, ‘you’d let me dress you up and play black buck got loose in the large residence.’ which offers a cynical view of slavery from decades earlier in America.

Paralleling the Elizabethan Era, the modern American context in which O is set, has its own hierarchy and racial prejudices. Odin, Nelson’s equivalent of Shakespeare’s Othello, is the sole black student in a prestigious academy in South Carolina. Paralleling Othello, Odin is also depicted as a respectable man who holds significantly energy, by being the captain of the basketball team. Even though O is set in secular society exactly where insular beliefs such as the Wonderful Chain of Becoming are defunct, there are lingering racial undercurrents in the early 21st Century American society. Odin is represented as various in terms of look as effectively as mentality via the viewpoint of Hugo, who compares Odin to a lone hawk, whilst comparing the rest of the students to a flock of white pigeons. Bird imagery is sustained through the film with close up shots of the hawk juxtaposing with shots of Odin, attributing their similarity. Prior to Odin commits suicide, he makes a speech, equivalent to Othello’s soliloquy, “I ain’t no different than none of you all. My mom ain’t no crackhead. I wasn’t no gang banger…. You tell ‘em exactly where I’m from didn’t make me do this” to acknowledge his awareness of the damaging connotations surrounding black culture and as a final plea to the audience to comprehend that his inherent savageness was a element of who he was, and is also a portion of everyone else and that it was not his culture that caused him to act violent. Both texts, regardless of being set in differing contexts, address the hierarchy and status inside their own settings. While critiquing blind prejudices and judgement of villains and sympathetic heroes, the message remains the identical about humanity’s capacity to do greatness but to also unleash our intrinsic barbarism when triggered with jealousy, major to inevitable demise.

In contrast to the Elizabethan woman’s expected function of subservient homemaker in a patriarchal society, Shakespeare creates two intellectuals and slightly far more outspoken albeit nonetheless restricted, female characters who do not naïvely comply with the males in their lives. Desdemona defies the Elizabethan female archetype by outright denying Othello’s accusations, “I by no means did offend you in my life, never ever loved Cassio but with such common warranty of heaven as I may well love. I never ever gave him token” but with out questioning her husband’s masculinity. This is contrasted with the characters of Desi and Emily, who often defy their boyfriends in the name of self-respect or righteousness. “What? If you’re asking me if I’m cheating on you, get some balls, and ask! You’re the only particular person I’ve ever been with and you are the only particular person I want to be with! And if you want to be with me you never ever talk to me like that once more, ever!” Desi responds to Odin’s false accusations and delivers a clear message that she is not to be disrespected. A reflection of the American egalitarian society which promotes equal power and rights of women is depicted by way of the characterisation of Desi and Emily, nonetheless, this refreshing independence is proved to be destructive in each Shakespeare’s Othello and Nelson’s O, as their independence and rebellion lead to death. Emily, like Emilia originally compliant to her significant other, retaliates when she discovers that Odin has killed Desi as a result of Hugo’s lies. “Tell me Odin is lying.” Emily starts to realise that Hugo was accountable. “Tell me you didn’t say Desi was cheating on him! That is a lie! Desi and Michael!? Shut the f**k up Emily”, Emily does not listen to Hugo’s demands and is shot as a result of her rebellion, paralleling Emilia’s manner of death in Othello.

Even though at their core both Othello and O show the same demise that humanity is susceptible to, the execution varies according to the context. The perspectives relating to the moral grey region of humanity, the social hierarchy and the role of ladies has been transformed from Elizabethan era Venice to early 21st/late 20th Century America.
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