|graphic courtesy of topaz winters|
so what is #litlove?It's a collaborative post series that happens every two months. It debuted in December 2014, featuring myself and four other lovely writer/bloggers, dubbed ATTAC:
#LitLove is our chance to spout our love for the written word in all its forms, and it happens once every two months. It was born from a feverish Twitter fangirling session (as so many good things are) and then put into action. We've got a veritable army of ideas cooking, and we plan to spotlight everything from authors to tropes in the future.Previously, we've featured brilliant middle grade authors Kate DiCamillo and Roald Dahl. Today, though, we're shifting our focus a bit. We'll be looking into our takes on arguably the most famous playwright of all time—the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.So, um, pretty darn famous.
I have to marvel at the audacity and power of Shakespeare as a writer. Honestly, all of us writers do. He invented words, twisted them to fit into new places with new purpose. He retold old tales and filled them with vivacity and emotion, and he wrote to appeal to both the masses and to royalty. His plays are hilarious, heart-rending, gorgeous, terrifying, and most of all, universal. Shakespeare finds things within us all and brings them to light in astounding ways—things we love about ourselves, things we'd rather not see in ourselves, things we're afraid to talk about, things we talk about too much. Once I found myself embedded in some of his work, I could truly see that his eminence is justified. To date, I've read Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter's Tale in some form or other, and I look forward to delving deeper into Shakespeare for the rest of my life.
othello, an intro
Othello, a Moorish captain, secretly falls in love with and marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. While the two live happily at first, a spurned suitor of Desdemona’s and Iago, an ambitious officer under Othello’s command, plan to tear the couple apart out of revenge for perceived slights suffered at their hands.Of course, that doesn't even begin to do it justice. Othello is a play rife with complexities and emotional richness on every part of the moral spectrum. It's about the seeds of doubt and envy that grow to impossible and frightening proportions. It's about the extremes that humans will go to if they're pushed in just the right ways, the scary little flaws in all of us that can be exploited and make us into monsters if we aren't careful enough.
Plus we have a very interesting exploration of racism, as Othello's ethnicity is constantly brought up and 'otherized' by his peers, and the relationship between Othello's identity and his achievements is fascinating to read about. While I'm not totally sure if this was Shakespeare's intent, I think it makes the play that much more rewarding.
Combine those meaty themes with the Bard's trademark superbly realistic characters, stunning backdrop of a setting, and mind-blowing skill with language, and you know you've got a winner of a play.
(Also: I've always loved the tragedies so much more than the comedies for some reason. *pretends not to see the weird way everyone's looking at me*)
(Also: one of the most truly disturbing villains I have ever encountered in literature. Iago is brilliant and terrifying and I can't get him out of my head but at the same time he really needs to get out of my head.)
what this play means to me
But we quickly see that his personality, so perfect for war but so unsuited to peacetime and high society, starts to work against him.
All that he could be, all that he never becomes because of both his own failings and the predatory nature of his surroundings, is heartbreaking. In the beginning, we see that he's an honorable, good man with some very deep fault lines in his character. By the end, his life's work, his hard-won victory, has been reduced to rubble, and we ask: whose fault is this?
And the thing that really gets me about Othello is that it could be his own.
I think one of his own lines says it best: 'I am not what I am.'
One of Othello's strongest aspects is that it tackles a very, very difficult theme head-on by fully engaging with and picking apart the distinctions between one's image to the public, one's image to close friends and family, and one's true self. This appearance vs. reality divide is really shocking but very real and relevant. Iago's real talent is that he can manipulate this boundary and twist it to his own advantage by appealing to emotions like jealousy, the 'green-eyed monster'.
And all the while, you're thinking "why? why would he go to these lengths to ruin these people's lives?" and I think literature scholars have been trying for the past four centuries or so to figure that out. It's a tough nut to crack.
Throughout the play, Desdemona is objectified, even by her own husband, who refers to her once as 'monumental alabaster'. On the outside, she seems so polished and put-together, with no incendiary opinions of her own to voice, and she appeals to my personal curiosity because there must be so much going on underneath that whole socially-acceptable mask she puts on every day. Thus we get a subtle but extremely important view into how Desdemona lives with her own façade.
The one moment she shows any clear, definite defiance (although this is certainly up for debate) is when she deliberately disobeys her father in order to marry Othello. I feel like this isn't talked about enough: Desdemona, the individual. Desdemona, the human, capable of passion and emotion just like anyone else. That's what draws me to her—that single lapse, that solitary but vital decision that eventually spirals into her own end.
My favorite moment for Emilia—and one of my favorites in the entire play—is her speech on the relationships between women and men that she gives to Desdemona. It's such a progressive speech for the time and contains a lot of great feminist principles. We see that she has a fierce devotion to Desdemona and a lot of wry wisdom, and she resents the fact that society tries to contain her.