Shakespeare Uncovered (2012–…): Season 2, Episode 4 - Othello with David Harewood - full transcript

David Harewood discusses William Shakespeare's Othello with Adrian Lester, Simon Russell Beale, Ian McKellen, Julia Stiles and Patrick Stewart.

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I'm gonna ask you a
very difficult question.

Could you kill the
person that you love?

400 years ago, a playwright made

his audience confront this
question when he created

one of the most famous
heroes of all times,

the military warrior Othello.

Othello kills his wife.

Why he did it makes
Othello a character

that could be walking
the streets today.

Love him or hate him, we
have to understand Othello.

If you don't understand Othello,

I don't think you
understand yourself.

♪ Want to know why I'm mad?

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♪ I'm gonna tell
you why I'm mad ♪

♪ Check it ♪

♪ 3 of the hottest hip
hop producers in town ♪

♪ Talking my album
should drop next ♪

♪ And that I should throw down ♪

♪ Now I know what I should be ♪

♪ I know what I'm worth ♪

♪ But Othello just
ignores me and says ♪

♪ "Cassio first" ♪

♪ Battle after battle
after battle with his crew ♪

♪ I murdered mad MCs
but what's Othello do? ♪

I've always considered
myself, like, a physical actor

somebody who,
uh, likes to feel quite

dynamic on... onstage.

Months or weeks
before I start to rehearse,

I get myself in the gym,
get myself physically fit,

physically prepared.

♪ Cassio's blaze, this
kid is just an actor ♪

In 1997, I got myself
in shape to play

the role of Othello.

Particularly with
Othello, I-I-I just felt

it was important that you could

see that he was a
man that was a warrior,

somebody that was capable of...
of... of horrendous acts of violence,

and for me, that kind of means

being physically imposing.

So, it's, uh, get the guns
out and get on with it.

♪ Othello's rich, but
he keeps me poor ♪

I wanted to scare the audience.

I wanted to show a
man that was, uh, both

honorable and noble,
uh, and then just slowly

ha... pinpoint how
that man changes into

a... a beastly,
angry, jealous killer.

The Moor! Trumpet!

'Tis truly so.

Meet and receive him.

Othello starts as a
wonderful love story

between two very
different people.

O, my fair warrior.

My dear Othello.

He's a respected
military general,

employed by the Venetian state.

She's a young
Venetian noblewoman.

They've eloped.

Desdemona's life is
now at Othello's side,

ready to greet him when
he returns from battle.


She is the world
to him because he's

never experienced
anything like it.

She makes his heart leap,
makes his heart skip a beat.

I mean, we all
love that feeling,

we all remember that
feeling, the first love,

and for Othello it's,
uh, it's such a powerful,

all-consuming emotion.

I don't think he's
ever experienced

anything like it before.

I cannot speak
enough of this content.

As for Desdemona,
she's utterly enchanted.

He's utterly glamorous to her.

Uh, you know, he's,
uh, he's an exotic,

glamorous man who
speaks this... with the most

wonderful eloquence
and who is besotted by her.

Ha ha ha!

This was a man
whose life had been,

at one time, full of chaos,
which might have included

all kinds of savagery,
and that what Desdemona

was in part doing was,
um, helping to remove

the chaos out of his life.

There's—there's no
problem between them

about age, about
color, about anything

about, uh, status.

They are completely as one.

It's an attraction of opposites.

Othello is a Moor, a foreigner.

Moors came from
Islamic North Africa,

and Othello has arrived in
Venice with tales of adventure.

He's wooed Desdemona
with stories of cannibals

and monsters, of
being sold into slavery,

exotic tales,

but no one knows who
this glamorous warrior

really is.

Everything in "Othello"
depends on Othello.

Who is Othello?

And you don't know.

You never get a solid
account of who Othello is.

Where is his community?

He gives 3 accounts
of his background

that are mutually contradictory.

He probably doesn't know
himself where he was born

or who his parents were.

The one thing Othello does know

is that he's an outsider.

I want to know how a
17th-century audience

would respond
to this exotic man.

What would the Elizabethans
have made of the Moors?

I mean, were there black people
around on the streets of England?

There are different
groups, uh, of black people

who are in Elizabethan England,

and we need to be careful
about how we describe them

because some are servants, uh,

some are militarily
powerful figures.

There is an awareness
of different cultures.

Were... were people traveling
throughout the Islamic world?

Yeah, there's massive
cultural exchange

between Morocco and
Elizabethan England,

and really interestingly,
uh, in 1600, I think just

at the point at which the
play is being conceived

by Shakespeare,
he meets this guy.

Wow! Now, exactly!

This guy is called
Mohammed al "Ah-nou-ri."

He is the ambassador
from Barbary.

He comes with a big retinue.

He goes, and he sees the Queen.

He grooves down
Whitehall with all his team.

People say "Oh yeah, we
saw Ah-nou-ri, the ambassador,

running around."

This, I think, is what we
should be thinking about Othello.

This is a smart,
powerful, you know, guy.

He's serious. He's important.

Apparently however,
after some weeks,

the public became uneasy
and wondered how long

this foreigner was staying.

As people start to talk
about Ah-nou-ri, uh,

wander... wandering
around London,

there are some people
who say, you know,

"We're not happy
with this character,

we're unsure about
this character."

But also, you're interested,

you're drawn to him,
and that's precisely...

That's what
Shakespeare's interested in.

He's not trying to do one
or the other with Othello.

He's saying you're
scared of this character,

but you also want to know more.

For Desdemona, Othello opened up

a whole new world.

Othello's difference is not
a problem for Desdemona.

In fact, she's attracted to it,

but that difference
is the one thing

that's gonna be used
by the one character

that drives the plot...
Honest, honest Iago.


♪ Want to know why I'm mad?

♪ Want to know why I'm mad? ♪

♪ I'm gonna tell
you why I'm mad ♪

♪ Check it ♪

Iago is Othello's friend

and military assistant.

They've worked together
and fought together,

yet Iago has a secret.

I hate the Moor!

I hate the Moor!

♪ And this is why
I hate the Moor ♪

Iago is one of Shakespeare's

most famous villains.

He's going to wreck
Othello's world,

destroy his relationship
with Desdemona,

and goad Othello into murder,

but what motivates Iago?

The disturbing truth is
that no one really knows.

♪ And this is why
I hate the Moor ♪

What is Iago?

You know, Iago is
the... in the litter box.

Iago is empty,
needy, destructive.

His contempt for other
people is profound.

♪ Every man has a fault ♪

He's not a person, he's a force.

He doesn't like
Othello's self-confidence.

He's a miserable
specimen of humanity,

Iago is, uh, but we don't know.

♪ Othello's rich, but
he keeps me poor ♪

Iago gives us a
whole list of reasons,

but are any of them genuine?

"Will you believe this?

"Will you believe it's
because he slept...

"I think he slept with my wife?

"Is it... maybe you'll
believe that... that I, too,

"love Desdemona

or that I was passed
over for the promotion."

I mean, they're all put forward,

but I think the real truth
is that this is the reality.

The reality is
that he hates him.

are a myriad of reasons why he should

behave badly and
a myriad of moments

when it's possible for him
to do whatever he wants to

do because everyone
trusts him because

he's so... such a nice chap.

So honest! Everyone keeps saying

how honest this man is.

The irony is that we
know, in the audience,

that he's not.

lago's aim is malicious, but simple...

Convince Othello that
Desdemona is having an affair

with another soldier,

but how on earth is
he going to do that?

He will exploit his trust.

The Moor is of a
free and open nature

that thinks men honest
but seem to be so.

And will as tenderly
be led by the nose

as asses are.

Othello is vulnerable
because Iago

knows his weaknesses.

Have to understand,
Othello trusts Iago.

These men know each
other, they've fought together,

been in the trenches together,

spent time together,
hours together.

Iago will now start
a psychological war

against Othello.

The Globe actors are
rehearsing the scene

where Iago begins to
sow his seed of doubt.

By the end of this, he
wants you to believe

that your wife is
cheating on you

with one of your best friends.


And he equally knows Othello,

and he equally knows
that I think that...

Yeah, he knows his weak spots.

His weak spots.

While feigning a
reluctance to talk,

Iago is going to
try and implicate

Othello's friend Michael Cassio.

Did Michael Cassio,

when you wooed my lady,

know of your love?

He did, from first to last.

Why dost thou ask?

But for a satisfaction
of my thought.

No further harm.

What of thy thought, Iago?

I did not think he had been

acquainted with her.

Aye, indeed.

Discern'st aught in that?

Is he not honest?

Honest, my lord?

My lord, for aught I know.

What dost thou think?

Think, my lord?

Iago is like a virus.

He has to use the
being which he invades,

and he knows where to burrow,

uh, in Othello's consciousness.

Yet there's more in this.

I prithee, speak to
me of thy thinkings.

As thou dost ruminate
and give thy worst

of thoughts, the worst of words!

Good my lord, pardon me.

Utter my thoughts?

Why, say they
are vile and false?

This only works
because Iago knows

Othello so well,

because he knows
what will drive him mad.

By heaven, I'll
know thy thoughts.

You cannot.

If my heart were in your hands.

Nor shall not while
it is in my custody.

And then Iago
goes in for the kill.

Oh, beware my lord of jealousy.

It is the green eyed
monster which doth mock

the meat it feeds on.

Just hearing that someone
is potentially having

an affair with your
wife or husband

is enough to send anyone crazy.

It's just the idea,

and that's all really
Iago needs, the idea,

Because once he
plants it, it grows.

In many ways, the
play is a double act

between these two characters...

Othello the general
and Iago, his assistant.

So it will only
work if they create

a convincing dynamic.

My partner in crime?

Simon Russell Beale.

I've not seen these for a while,

but I have some photographs

of our production that I want us

to look at.

When we were children!
It was 17 years ago.

17 years ago! Look at that!

Look at him!

Ha ha ha!

Actually, that costume
was a complete mistake,

but anyway, that... that's a...

That was an early preview,

and they changed the trousers.

Mine, too. That.

And that... and that again,
that was quite violent of...

Well, that's when I walked out

of rehearsal because
you had a gun in my throat,

and I'd had enough.

And you're a big man.

I'm sorry.

And the gun hurt.

Can say that after 17 years.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight,

I wanted to hear
Simon's opinion.

What... what do you think
Othello and lago's relationship is?

Iago does the simplest
trick in the book,

which is to say to another man,

"I think your wife's
having an affair,"

and I defy anybody
not have... be...

Be disturbed by
somebody saying that.


And then all he has
to do is to make sure

nobody talks to each other,

which is fairly clever,

but it's not brain surgery.

Everyone always says he's
this Machiavellian genius.

I don't think he is

because he has no idea
where it's going to end.

No. No. Because the other thing

one's got to remember about Iago

is that he puts in
this seed out of spite,

out of malice, whatever, uh,

out of frustrated ambition,

but he's not... He's
not anticipating it

ending where it's gonna end.

There's something genetic
in Iago that just wants

to mess Othello
up because Othello

represents something good.

I think it's a...
a... a very broad

genetic loathing of the good.

Once lago's got Othello thinking,

he builds on it.

He reminds him that he...
Iago... knows Venetian women

better than he does.

I know our country
disposition well.

In Venice, they do
let God see the pranks

they dare not show
their husbands.

Look to your wife.

Observe her well with Cassio.

What Iago succeeds
in doing is playing

upon the fact that he...
Iago... is the insider.

He's the Venetian.
He's lived there.

He knows the culture.

"You, Othello, are
new to this world."

keeps prodding until Othello retorts

with a list of reasons
why he... Othello...

Could never be jealous,

but it doesn't quite ring true.

Think'st thou I would
make a life of jealousy,

to follow still the
changes of the moon

with fresh suspicions?

He spends too long
in that speech saying

"Jealous, me? Jealous?

"What... what, do you
think I would be jealous?

I'm not gonna be jealous.
Why would I be jealous?"

He spends too
long talking about it,

which says to me the
lady doth protest too much.

He—he... there's
something there.

He's thought about it.

It seemed to me there
was an existing area

of vulnerability in him,
not just something that

was brought about by
his contact with Iago.

Desdemona comes.

If she be false,

o, then heaven mocks itself!

I'll not believe it!

In no time at all, Othello
has taken lago's bait.

He doesn't believe his
wife has betrayed him,

and yet that seed of
doubt has been planted.

He knows himself
in certain situations.

He knows the battlefield,

he knows how to
be a leader of men,

he understands that.

Most men understand,
uh, you know,

their role in society,

but when it comes
to emotions and love,

we start to get on shaky ground

and, uh, that's when
we become unsure,

uh, in matters of the heart.

Uh, we don't like
being vulnerable, men,

and, um, Othello is
extremely vulnerable.

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♪ I'm gonna tell
you why I'm mad ♪

♪ Check it ♪

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Othello's vulnerabilities

are at the center of the play,

and so we need to
understand what they are

and what they're not.

♪ "Cassio's first" ♪

The truth is that in a play

with a black character,
every age brings

its own racial prejudices.

For centuries, Othello was seen

as a half-civilized
black African,

easily pushed into
violence and brutality.

That's not what
Shakespeare wrote,

but racial prejudices
even meant that

for centuries it was
virtually impossible

for this half-civilized
black African to be

played by a black actor,

and even in the 20th
it's been pretty hard.

♪ I heard his latest song ♪

♪ And he belong in a boy band ♪

HARWOOD It seems quite
crazy now, when you think about it,

I was the first black
actor to play Othello

at the National Theatre.

The fact that I was
the first black actor

to play it, I tried
to just ignore it.

I tried to keep it
out of my mind, uh,

until I got in the wings
for my first entrance,

and then it hit me
like a ton of bricks

that I was gonna be
the first black actor

to walk on the National
stage playing Othello,

and momentarily, I have
to be honest with you,

momentarily, I did
forget my... com...

Completely forgot my lines

and stood in the
wings, thinking,

"I better get my act together."

So I kind of paused for a second

and got my breath back and—
And walked on and started.

I was applauded, but
not all black actors were.

Ira Aldridge was a 19th
century African-American actor,

who left his homeland behind

and became the
first black Othello ever

on the London stage.

Good to see you.

Aren't you famous?

Uh, I know you from the telly!

From telly!

Good to see you man.

After playing Shakespeare's Othello,

Adrian Lester starred in
a play about Ira Aldridge

and the audience's
reaction to Ira's

first historic performance.

What do you think it
would have been like

for him to kind of
come here and play

and be the first
Shakespearean black actor

to play Othello?

He... he really
took that... that part

and said, "This is my chance,"

and he went at it!

The ferocity, the danger.

It's reported that the
audience in the theater

went crazy.

They... they loved it, uh,
standing up, stamping,

applauding, you know,
whooping and hollering,

but the reviewers,
uh, took exception

to the fact that Ira
was really black.

It seems that in those
days, as now, reviews

could close a show.

He does the one show,
uh, opening as Othello.

The reviews come out,

he plays as Othello again,

and he's not invited back.

The theater goes
dark for the first time

in its history rather
than have him perform,

and when they did
reopen their doors,

Ira Aldridge was not
there playing Othello

or any other character
that he could play

as part of Shakespeare's canon.

He was not invited back.

Apparently, the
reviews are pretty blunt.

"We could not perceive
any fitness which Mr. Aldridge

"possessed for the assumption

"of one of the finest parts

"that was ever imagined
by Shakespeare,

except indeed that he could
play it in his own native hue."

"It is impossible
that Mr. Aldridge

"should fully comprehend
the meaning and force

of even the words he utters."

If they'd have written
that about your Othello,

how would you...
How would you feel?

Ha ha ha!

Some reviews descended to
the most appalling overt racism.

"Owing to the shape of his lips,

"it is utterly impossible for
him to pronounce English

"in such a manner as to satisfy

even the unfastidious
ears of the gallery."

"They have brought out
what Mr. Doubikins calls

a genuine nigger to act."

Say that again.

It's not even— it's not even...

Not even a fake nigger.

Not even just a nigger,
it's just a genuine...

A genuine. A real one.

That's just... that's just...

You've got to laugh.
You've got to laugh.

Outside Britain,
Aldridge would receive

some wonderful reviews,

but in the
English-speaking world,

no black actor takes the
role until Paul Robeson's

mid-20th century performance.

I think of all the
plays of Shakespeare,

"Othello" is the one
that is most implicated

in ongoing historical narrative.

The fact that Paul Robeson
could not play on a stage

with a white Desdemona
in the United States

until World War II is part
of the history of the play.

prejudice has allowed white actors

to play Othello well
into the 20th century.

Anthony Hopkins tried
to minimize the problem

by wearing a relatively
subtle shade of makeup.

Think'st thou I'd
make a life of jealousy,

to follow still the
changes of the moon

with fresh suspicions?


But for me, the real showstopper

was in 1964.

The Othello was very
deliberately blacked up.

Why? Why is this?

Think'st thou I'd
lead a life of jealousy,

to follow still the
changes of the moon

with fresh suspicions?


To be once in doubt
is once to be resolved.

Wah! Ahem.

The great Sir Larry Olivier.

Um, listen, you know,
by all accounts, uh,

onstage it was an
extraordinary performance.

No, Iago, I'll see
before I doubt.

Some of the things
he's doing technically,

in terms of voice
control, projection,

diction, and... and how
he's using the language

are extraordinary.

Having said that, uh, it
looks utterly ridiculous.

Apparently it took, uh,
Olivier something like

3 hours to get ready.

You know, he'd—he
would buff himself,

he would put a
layer of the black on

and then buff himself
and shine himself

and slowly walk around
the dressing room,

becoming more and more black,

more and more like
the animal Othello

and talking like
this, and talking...

"No Iago, I'll see
before I doubt."

I don't know any black
people who speak like that,

but in still... but still an
incredible performance.

The gods, the gods of
theater will strike me down.

Returning to the play,
lago's plot develops.

He has contrived a new
plan to convince Othello

that Cassio and Desdemona
are having an affair.

Iago made Cassio drunk,

had Othello demote him,

and then advised
Cassio to get Desdemona

to intercede for him.

Desdemona innocently agrees
to help her old friend Cassio.

Eventually, the name
Cassio conjures up

such doubts in Othello
that he can no longer bear it.

The next scene is a
turning point in the play.

Othello will demand proof,

and Iago will invent a dream.

Giveth me a living reason

why she is disloyal.

I do not like the office.

I lay with Cassio lately.

In sleep I heard him
say, "Sweet Desdemona,

let us be wary, let
us hide our loves"

then lay his leg over my thigh,

and sigh and kiss,

and then cry

"Cursed fate that
gave thee to the Moor!"


Nay, this was but his dream.

But this denoted a
foregone conclusion.

Well it is a shrewd doubt,
though it be but a dream.

And this may help
to thicken other proofs

that do demonstrate thinly.

Yeah, he—he's got a dirty mind.

He knows what it's
like to be jealous,

so he knows the
right poison to deliver.

I'll tear her all to pieces.

Oh, patience I say; your
mind perhaps may change.

Never, Iago.

The moment that Iago
undermines the attachment

to Desdemona,
Othello flips to being

very attached to Iago.

By yond marble heaven.

Iago is the only one
who understands him,

the only one who has the truth,

who's completely—
Lago's completely honest,

and Desdemona's
completely dishonest.

Othello now does
something extraordinary.

He commits to murder.

Within these 3 days,
let me hear thee say

that Cassio is not alive.

My friend is dead.

It is done at your request.

But let her live.

Damn her, lewd minx!

Oh, damn her!

The first mention of any
kind of murder or killing

is mentioned by Othello.

It's not Iago who
said, "I will kill him."

It's... it's Othello who's
come up with this.

It's his idea, and
then Iago says,

"Let her live,"

and he says, "Damn her!"

Now art thou my lieutenant.

I am your own for ever.

In a matter of minutes,

one outrageous lie has
utterly changed Othello.

Was one of the
most brilliant scenes

that Shakespeare ever wrote.

Is it realistic?

We know that people can flip.

Uh, I tend, in this case,
to trust Shakespeare,

to think that it's not simply
symbolic compression

of a long process into
a single theatrical scene

but that actually
it is possible,

uh, under certain
extraordinary circumstances,

to change someone's
view of the universe

almost instantaneously.

The speed of Othello's
decision has even caught

Iago by surprise.

Suddenly, you have
a release of tension

for Iago in a way
because Othello has

responded absolutely—
Well more than

he could have ever expected.

Do you think he's shocked
that he wants to kill Desdemona?

I think it's a—it's a surprise.

I don't think he expect...

I don't think he
expects that reaction

quite so soon or
quite so heavily.

As I say, you know,
we don't, we must never

assume that Iago knows
where this is gonna go,

and I don't think he expects
him to want to kill her.


Othello has vowed
to kill his wife,

but it was in a rage, and
now he wants tangible proof

of her betrayal.

Ever ready, Iago has
come up with a ruse.

Everything will hang
on a handkerchief.

Iago says he has seen
a precious handkerchief,

a gift Othello gave
to Desdemona,

in the hands of Cassio.

Now this is nonsense of
course, but Iago has told

his wife Emilia to
steal that handkerchief,

and she has.

Desdemona knows it's missing,

but she has no idea just how
much hangs on her finding it.

Othello is about to
put his wife to the test.

He'll ask her for it.

I have a salt and sorry
rheum offends me,

lend me thy handkerchief.

Here, my lord.

That which I gave you.
I have it not about me.


No, indeed, my lord.

That is a fault.

That handkerchief
did an Egyptian

to my mother give.

To lose it or give it
away were such perdition

as nothing else could match.

Then would to God
that I had never seen't.


Why do you speak
so startlingly and rash?

When it comes to
the handkerchief,

it doesn't seem
like a very big deal,

but she does know it
was important to him,

so I think she
thinks she will find it.

Is it lost? Is it gone? Speak.


Is it out of the way?

Heaven, bless us! Say you?

It is not lost, but
what and if it were?

Desdemona has told a fatal fib.

She cannot fetch it,

and Othello will draw
the wrong conclusion.

It seems a lot of
fuss to be made

about a handkerchief.

It's a handkerchief.

This man has, you know,
defeated nati... you know,

he leads an army, he...

A handkerchief can't
be that important.

What are you
doing? It's after hours.

The visceral fear of betrayal carries

into every generation
and has inspired

this modem language
version of the story.

Hey, D, how come you
never wear that scarf

I gave you?


Here the handkerchief
has become a scarf.

I keep it right here.

What, you lost it?

No, it's here somewhere.

You know, my mama
gave me that scarf

when she got real sick.

Said to make sure I give it...

She is entirely
devoted to this man,

and yet, any sort of
reaction to that question

just makes her look
more guilty in his eyes.

I think that you should go.

Where is my scarf?

I don't know! You lost it!

No, I'll find it later,

and if you want to be with me,

don't ever talk to me
like that again ever!

That scene is one that
famously arouses anxiety

in—in the spectators,
who want to stop it,

who want to, uh, change
the direction of the play

and can't stop it.

This is a great, great
play about the fact

the theater doesn't
allow you to intervene

and change the end.

I don't think there's
anymore powerful instance

in all of Shakespeare
of a moment in which you

feel, uh, a virtual
compulsion to get up

out of your seat and try to stop

what's going on onstage.

There is a bit of you thinks
just... just go and ask her.


"Hey, Desdemona,
darling, are..."

"Are you having"...

"Are you having an
affair with Cassio?"

And she'll go
"You complete twit!

No, of course I'm not."

But I... but then again,
I don't think anybody

would have the balls to go up

to their partner and say,

"Are you having an affair?"

It... it—it... it takes
a long time...

It takes a huge amount
of courage, doesn't it?

To get to that point.

But is he... is he
innocent about love?

Completely! He's never
been in love before, never...

And again, I say,
as I say, he doesn't

understand... it makes
him incredibly vulnerable.

Othello, the outsider,

has no one
trustworthy to talk to.

Who are his friends?

Where are the people
who endorse him

and give him validity?

Where are the people
who can vouch for him?

He has to vouch for
himself all the time.

He is profoundly alone.

what if he did have someone reliable

to advise him?

A book on Shakespeare
and relationships has been

written by Laurie Maguire.

In that situation, what would

a really good friend
have said to Othello?

How would he have talked
him down from the ledge?

A good friend would
caution and say,

"Hold your horses,"

and say, "this is
moving too fast."

So they'd put the brakes on.

They'd slow the whole pace down,

they'd slow the speed down

so that there is time to think.

Because the minute
he stops to think,

he... he would realize
it's... there's no time

for this so-called affair

to have taken place.

Yeah. Yeah.

Do you think that
Othello is predisposed

to jealousy?

Do you think he's predisposed to

believing these things?

Or is it just natural for
somebody to—to... to

follow that path once
somebody's brought

that, uh, idea into— put
that idea in their heads?

I think Othello's
predisposed to vulnerability,

and jealousy is basically
one manifestation

of vulnerability.

Uh, if you talk to
any modern counselor

and ask them "What is jealousy?

Give us a definition
of jealousy,"

they might say something
like it's anticipation of loss.

It's fear of loss.

And, in a way, you see
things that aren't there

because it relieves you
of the unbearable pain

of anticipating
what might happen,

that you might lose your wife.

And do you think
the fact that Othello is

a military man and sees
himself as a military man...

Do you think that's also
part of the problem here?

It must be, mustn't it?

Because that's part
of the difference. Yeah.

It's a completely different
worldview, mindset,

and you don't deal
with uncertainty,

and welcome to the
world of relationships.


It's uncertain day by day.

Yeah. Yeah.

After the handkerchief scene,

Othello is still
wrestling with doubt.

Halfway through the
play, he had committed

to murdering his wife,

and yet he still hasn't done it.

Othello seems to swing
between a man who has

already made up his
mind and a man who keeps

casting around for
more evidence to back up

the decisions that
he's already made.

Othello is clearly
jealous and suspicious,

but maybe he'll pull
back from killing his wife.

The minute that seems possible,

and bang, in comes Iago.

He now tells Othello
that Cassio has

as good as confessed.

Has he said anything?

He hath, my lord.

Faith that he did.

What? What?


Lie with her?

With her,

on her,

what you will.

Othello is
overwhelmed by emotion

and falls into a fit.


It's a major victory for Iago.

I suppose lago's so
fascinating because

he is so successful.

We cannot believe
he's pulled it off

or that people
should be so stupid.

Iago is a wonderful manipulator,

but Othello is just
not challenging him.

I'm going to put this
to Nicholas Hytner,

the director of the latest
National Theatre production

of the play, where Adrian
Lester played Othello.

How do you keep the tension up?

How do you—what do you think is

the most important
thing that keeps

the believability
of... of the situation?

The challenge for the
actor playing Othello

is to pull the audience
towards a sense

of identity with him.

As soon as the audience
starts thinking, uh,

"You're stupid, you're so stupid

"that I no longer
believe that that is what

any rational human
being would do,"

then you've kind
of lost the play.


But if the actor playing
Othello puts himself

in a position where
you understand

his vulnerabilities...

And sympathize.

Understand why
Iago is pushing all

the right buttons,
then you have a play.

Every Othello has to think themselves

into this man's mind,

to see that he can't
reason anymore.

He's overtaken by
the terror of betrayal.

The actor is forced
to dig into themself

and find the deep
insecurity that comes

from someone who is
so afraid of being hurt.

He would rather kill
and dispose of the threat

than feel th-that loss

and the power
of that insecurity.

is desperate to be free of his pain.

Iago is ready and
offers him a way out.

Strangle her in her bed.

Even the bed she
hath contaminated.


This time, the decision seems secure,

and yet he falters.

Othello confronts Desdemona.

Swear it!

Damn thyself.

But they can't communicate.

You long for her to
say, "No, stop! Enough!

"This is ridiculous.

"This is what really happened,

"and you're being absurd,
you're being madly jealous

for no reason," but
she never says it.

Thy young and
rose-lipped cherubim.

Aye, here, look grim as hell!

I hope my noble lord
esteems me honest.

Oh, aye.

She genuinely believes
that sh—whatever...

However he behaves,
for better or worse,

she has committed herself
to a man who is going

through some terrible
thing, and she just has to, uh,

support him and let
him behave like that

and—and endlessly
reaffirm her love

and her truthfulness
and her innocence,

but that takes an
enormous naivety.

I took you for that
cunning whore of Venice

that married with Othello.

Just when you think
we won't hear the voice

of a woman, Shakespeare
creates an extraordinary scene

between Desdemona
and her maid Emilia.

It's nighttime.

Othello has told Desdemona
to dismiss Emilia and go to bed.

Before she does, there
is an intimate scene

between the two women.

What—what do you think
about where Shakespeare...

I'm about to see the
Globe actors rehearse.

It's a very honest, open,
intelligent conversation

about the nature
of men and women.


It feels very dangerous.

Something feels quite
uncomfortable. Mm-hmm.

That we know
something's gonna happen,

that Othello has said to
Desdemona "Omiss"...

Uh, "Dismiss your attendant."

So we know that's
not right or normal.

So there's something
in there air of something

being very equal between us,

of knowing of this foreboding.


starts with the bewildered Desdemona

marveling at the very idea
that women could be unfaithful.

These men!

Dost thou in conscience think,

tell me, Emilia,
that there be women

do abuse their husbands
in such gross kind?

There be some such, no question.

Wouldst thou do such
a deed for all the world?

Why, would not you?

No, by this heavenly light!

Nor I neither by
this heavenly light.

I might do it as
well in the dark.

In troth, I think
thou wouldst not.

The more worldly Emilia
points out how everyone

is capable of infidelity.

Women are as human
as men, they are equal.

I do think it is their
husbands' faults

if wives do fall.

Let husbands know their
wives have sense like them.

They see and smell and
have their palates both

for sweet and sour,
as husbands have.

Then let them use us
well, else let them know

the ills we do, their
ills instruct us so.

Wow! Well done. Lovely.


It's—it's such,
it... it kind of...

Kind of slightly choked me
up when you started doing

your bit because it
remind—reminds you

of... it reminds
you of the play,

and it reminds you of
just how innocent, how...

Yeah, what's happened.

Absolutely. She just
doesn't understand it.

The utterly innocent
Desdemona is amazed,

but it's been a moment of
tender honesty between them.

It's the last
conversation they have.

The next moments of the play are

incredibly hard to watch.

What Iago has set in
motion seems unstoppable,

yet Othello could
still change his mind.

It's a completely
unpredictable situation.

When Othello enters the bedroom,

everything slows down.

There's a horrible kind of calm.

Put out the light

and then put out the light.

He comes upon her
in utmost vulnerability.

She's asleep,

and since most women
could be overpowered

by the men to— by their lovers,

we know our own
vulnerability at that moment.

We know that we
could be Desdemona.

Othello finally tells Desdemona

that he believes
Cassio is her lover.

What's the matter?

That handkerchief that I
so loved and gave thee,

thou gavest to Cassio.

My face?

VOICE-OVER: She denies it,

but he won't believe her.


There's this battle
going on inside of him.

"She deserves to die,

"but—but she's, but I love her.

I'm gonna kill her,
but I-I want her to live."

What he wants to
do is pick her up,

make love to her, and kiss her

and love her and... forever.

'Tis too late!

Oh, lord! Lord!

But he's full of rage.


He is in agony.

To obliterate the
reason for that agony

is to relieve himself of
the pain that he is feeling.

At this point, it's very
hard to empathize

with Othello.

There's a weird kind
of twisted love in there,

and he's doing her a favor.

He's saving her from damnation,

but when you follow
logic to that degree,

you can see that
it's not... It's not sane,

but it has to remain
logical, it has to make sense.

Desdemona is lying
lifeless on the bed

when a knock on the
door makes him realize

what he has done.

And we see a moment of despair.

What's the best?

If she come in, she'll
sure speak to my wife.

My wife!

My wife!

What wife?

I have no wife.

And it is very
poignant, the realization

"I have no wife,"

uh, and that is
certainly something

that the people that
I have worked with,

who've killed,
have talked about,

is this sudden realization
that they—they can't say,

"My wife, my mother,
my father," anymore.

But Shakespeare has written

an astonishing twist.

Desdemona comes round
for a few brief moments,

where she has the
chance to tell Emilia

who has attacked her.


She doesn't take it.

Who? Who has done this deed?


It seems that Desdemona
has accepted Othello

exactly as he was, a
man who couldn't cope

with the passions that
must come with love.

It's Desdemona who
realizes that it was

too much for him, that
she really shouldn't have

given in to her
fascination with him,

not because she
couldn't deal with it...

She could, and she shows you

that she's gonna deal with it

because of the way
she accepts her death.

She, as it were, assumes
agency and says...

In that death and says,
"I did this," because

she's understood that
he couldn't deal with it.

Finally, the truth emerges.

Othello confronts Iago,

but Iago gives
absolutely nothing.

What you know...

you know.

From this time forth, I
never will speak word.

All Shakespeare's
characters love talking.

It's their world.

So if one of them says, "I
shall never say another word,"

uh, it is an extraordinary
statement because

it means "I'm going to
not to exist anymore."

Now Othello, realizing
his terrible mistake,

takes his own life.

In dying, he joins Desdemona.

We are left trying to make sense

of what we've seen.

Do we even know who
we sympathize with?

Is there something
in Othello that makes

the disaster possible?

Of course!

But is there something
in all of us that makes

disasters possible?

Of course!

Do we actually think
that a proper Othello

would not have had the
capacity for jealousy or would not

have had the capacity for
becoming misguided or lost?

Of course not. That's
what it is to be human.

we watch, we inevitably sympathize.

After all, are we
that different?

In the end, he couldn't cope
with the inevitable uncertainty

of human relationships.

This weakness
was utterly exploited.

Othello is left in a
meaningless wasteland,

and he destroys everything.

Othello robbed
Desdemona of her life,

and in doing so, he
threw away his own.

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