University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Othello Portia and Desdemona
Othello, Portia and DesdemonaIntroductionThey say art lives forever, while some say that nothing lasts forever, but nothing is as timeless in literature as the works of one William Shakespeare and his play, A midsummer Nights Dream. The plays have two different versions that follow the play closely, but they are as dissimilar as night and day. The first production of this play opened the New York City Ballet in April, 1964 at the New York State Theater. The second was a BBC production in 1981.
These plays are different as much as they are similar. For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, the scene is mainly set up in the forest. In the 1981 version, the woods are fairly vague, which indicates a backdrop that has been painted? Even with color, there seems to lack the element of life and suspense. A similarly painted moon hangs on the backdrop of a similarly painted sky which makes things look more static and less lively. This version of the BCC Company focuses more on the development of characters rather than on the blend of character with a realistic backdrop. The Hollywood version of the play has tall and dark trees that make the forest seem haunted. The scene is big and to some extent overwhelming. In the 1980s things returned to a more conservative trend.
Puck, for example, is a mysterious goblin or fairy who is full of mischief and riddles. The BBC version shows him to be a teenager who is darker than he is humorous. He also has pitch black hair and also wears fangs, which makes him a scary character in the play. In the Hollywood version of the play, Puck is a small boy rather than the presumed magical fairy. Although they speak the same lines, they have completely different attitudes. For example, in the BBC version, he sounds as if he is fed up while, in the Hollywood version, he sounds very much amused.
Another distinct difference in the production of the play in both eras is in the mode of dressing of the characters. Hermia, for example, can be portrayed as either weak or strong depending on the director. In the 1981 version of it, she is portrayed as a strong and sweet lady full of emotions. She is passionate and she is in touch with her feelings. However, she is dressed in attire from the 1600s while, in the 1964 version, she is dressed in attire from the middle ages. In the 1964 version, she looks more like a fairy tale character. This way, she is not portrayed as a strong woman but a gentle and sweet eye candy. In the 1060s, women were viewed differently than they were in the 1980s. In the 1980s, women could have some opinion regarding their lives and issues that affected them.
Another distinct difference in both plays is the fact that love was viewed differently by the society in both eras. Demetrius is in love with Hermia and at the same time, trying hard to get rid of Helena who has fallen in love with him, which angers him. In the 1981 version, he has dark hair and a goatee and in some way resembles a musketeer. When Puck bestows some magic on him, he suddenly becomes sweet and understanding and at the same time determined to get what he wants. In the 1964 version, he has no facial hair and he is more than perturbed by the persistence of Helena on her cause.
Here, he pushes her away gently unlike the brutal way he puts her off in the 1981 version. This only shows two eras that the dramatic expressions and dismissals of love were taken differently. In the 1981 version, Helena is whiney and very confused. She dresses just like Hermia, but she is not quite as pretty as she is. In the 1964 version of the same play, she sounds very heartbroken and sad. In 1981, Helena made a speech that is more or less dramatic and demanding of attention according to recent times and cultures. In the 1964 version, she starts as a girl whose heart has been broken but ends up getting angry towards the end of her speech. This reflects on both cultures at the time whereby, in the 1980s, women could express their views, which included sudden outbursts. In the 1964 era, women were more conservative of their words and not much could trigger outbursts that were looked down upon.
It is noteworthy that more distinct differences in both productions are not only limited to characters. They are also present in the overall scenes. For example, a big fight that happens in the forest was more physical in the 1981 version of the play. They splash severally in the puddles and often get in each others’ faces and the end, Hermia is both hurt and appalled. Helena, on the other hand, is confused. In the 1964 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the forest fight is more in a lively spirit and jest as compared to the previous aggressive play. Here, Helena does more scorning and Hermia gets angry at her for this.
In conclusion, it is my personal opinion as a lover of plays, that the BBC version of 1981 best captures modern situations and responses to a situation such as anger and love. On the other hand, the Hollywood version of 1964 best depicts the Elizabethan times when life was less complicated and women had limited voices. Now, they just yell, scorn and dismiss in public even the most private of issues.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is rife with different themes, spectacular in fact but all the more, precise in their execution. The theme of abused women stands out in its own right, especially when Ophelia comes to question. Trust is the most formidable show of humility besides love in Shakespeare’s plays, but they each stand out in his or her own right. Trust and love becomes the joy and the demise of many female characters in Shakespeare’s plays. However strong they feel for each other, some die at the hands of their spouses while some lose the meaning of the word love.
Just like Lavina, Ophelia is a victim to much abuse from the men that she trusts in her life. The act of trusting and depending on the men in her life costs Ophelia her sanity and ultimately her life. Both Ophelia’s irreconcilable attachment to Polonius and Hamlet as individuals, and holding on to the values of chastity and sensual love as ultimate goals leads to her demise. Both Ophelia and Lavina have a similarity in that they are both motherless and have been cared for by their fathers. Ophelia is obedient and pretty much naive, much like most female characters in Shakespearean books and plays. Even in the midst of her madness, she still keeps the simplicity and the purity that characterizes her.
Lavina, daughter to Titus Andronicus is the quintessential good girl of the Shakespearean times. She is chaste, obedient and very quiet as was required of her, exactly like Ophelia. She is raped and thereafter mutilated by Chiron and Demetrius who cut her tongue off and her hands so that she is unable to identify them either in writing or speech. Just like Ophelia is used as a pawn by Polonius and subsequently held in a hall where she spends most days, Lavina is denied the right to speak by her abusers. It is true to say that their naivety is the main cause for their tragedy that comes in untimely yet crude fashions. If they had known better, they would have stayed clear and taken caution.
Desdemona is one of the characters in Shakespeare’s Othello. She is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father by the unforgivable act of eloping with Othello. He is a man several years her senior who is later deployed to Cyprus to serve the Republic of Venice, and Desdemona accompanies him. As time goes by, Othello’s ensign, Lago manipulates him to believing that Desdemona is an adulteress, and in the final act, Othello murders her. Portia, on the other hand, is an also a beautiful and gracious, yet rich heiress whose father has imposed conditions for her hand in marriage. Her father insists that her suitors choose one of three boxes, either of gold, silver or lead. These suitors are mainly princess from other lands, but Portia is in love with Bassanio who is not royalty. Portia’s father had imposed these conditions for marriage just to make sure that her daughter would be loved for who she was and not because of her wealth.
Much like Desdemona and Portia, Jessica breaks her father’s heart when she steals from him and elopes with her lover Lancelot. Desdemona elopes with her lover and gets married in the absence of her father, Portia does not follow the rules her father sets out for her condition in marriage, and Jessica steals and elopes with her father’s ducats and servant. It is a betrayal by daughters to their fathers who seem to control to them, even from the grave. However, these fathers are more concerned about the financial well-being of their daughters’ futures rather than their happiness. The norm of love in Shakespearean writings may be described as being a passion the kindles the heart and brain and makes somebody as senseless as the day he or she was born. Girls like Hermia, Desdemona, Imogen, Portia, Jessica, Juliet and Anne Page all look forward to marriage without turning their affections elsewhere.
Religion is a major theme that appears in Shakespeare’s Othello. Enmity is created on both the religious and economic fronts. Since the Turks are Moslems, Othello has no regard for them and even insults them by calling one of them ‘a circumcised dog.’ He is a Christian by religion and as well, fights for Christians. The incident of the handkerchief obsesses Othello and the anger connects him to a pre-Christian or a pre-Moslem belief. At first, he says that he is going to chop Desdemona into bits but later prepares to kill her as a sacrifice. Once he realizes what he has done, he takes his own life as he once killed the Turk (he is executing the Turk he sees that he has become who is anti-Christian). During the Shakespearean times, England was mainly protestant while Spain was a Catholic nation.
However, after the invasion of Spain, Catholics gained ground and more English converted. Although it is not clearly known which denomination, Shakespeare was following the Catholic secretly, while it is believed that he was a member of the newly formed Anglican Church. Before the time of his birth, the Elizabeth Religious Settlement served the Church of England exclusively and, therefore, the Roman Catholic Church was surprises. Scholars claim that there was evidence that Shakespeare’s family were secretly Catholic followers and that he took up the line.
The likeness of Othello to Shakespeare is that they both have a secret admiration of the religion that is loathed and looked down upon. Othello saw himself as a Moslem after he killed Desdemona, while Shakespeare is a secret follower of the Catholics.
Character defines a man; wisdom defines great men while love defines a lot of things, inclusive of idiocrity and naivety among men. Love has brought great men to their knees while the same love has elevated other men to unimaginable heights. Material wealth has been acquired through many unscrupulous actions but the best of them has been through love. Some have inherited it; some have worked for it while some have married into it. In this life, it is only normal for a woman to marry into riches, but in the Merchant of Venice, the tables have turned. Bassanio, a poor fellow has his sights on a beautiful heiress, primarily not for her beauty, but for the fortune that is her name. He explains to Antonio that in Belmont, there’s a lady who has been richly left, who is fair and nothing about her has been undervalued. He uses words such as value to indicate his intention to get her hand in marriage, and become part of the wealthy.
Bassanio sets out to impress Portia in a bid to win her hand in marriage but he has to borrow money from his friend, Antonio. He asks that Antonio thinks of his lending as an investment into the future, because Bassanio was sure of winning her hand and becoming the husband of a rich lady. When Portia is informed of the arrival of Bassanio, the young Venetian, she and Nerrisa rush to see him, giddy like school girls. She has affection for the young lad but she cannot break the rules for her hand in marriage. She has to let him play the game like all other suitors have done and if he would lose, he would lose her forever, and he would not e allowed to marry another lady.
At first, Bassanio’s love for wealth and a lavish lifestyle trumps any feeling that he might have had for Portia initially but after her realizes this, affection for her grows. When the prince of Morocco fails to win Portia’s hand, she is more than happy and wishes that all men of such color face the same fate. However, the request to play music when Bassanio is about to pick a casket is features as witty and out of sheer love. The song she plays only leads to the choice that Bassanio makes, as Portia secretly directs him with the words of her song. Why Bassanio chose the Lead casket instead of the golden one is something of a mystery of the heart. If Bassanio would have listened to his head, he should have chosen the golden or the silver casket because he was in so much debt. He did not value Portia as a regular woman, but the girl born with a silver or golden spoon.
The song that Portia sings while he chooses the casket is the only indication that Bassanio would have made the wrong choice had he not heard it. In addition to that, the arrival of Bassanio had made Portia inclined to delay his choosing of the casket so that they would have had a few moments together. The brief moments that they were together made Bassanio realize that he indeed wanted to spend his life with Portia and he would listen to her. With this in mind, Portia secretly guides him to pick the lead casket which is the right one.
In relation to Othello, The Merchant of Venice is quite a love story. With Portia and Jessica and Desdemona in Othello and The Merchant of Venice respectively, all ladies have rich fathers who seem quite controlling of their daughters, even form the grave, as is Portia’s case. However, all ladies have rich fathers but their suitors are clearly not of the same social class. They are also dedicated to their mates, regardless of the outcome. In Othello, interracial marriage ends in death or suicide while in The Merchant of Venice, Portia ends up being happy while Jessica converts to Christianity and also leads a happy life with her spouse. In Othello, Desdemona is obedient and even accompanies her husband to battle, knowing that she is needed in some way. Portia on the other hand Guides Bassanio into choosing the right casket because she understands that he only has one chance to prove his worth.
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