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This paper considers the similarities and differences between two versions of Othello; the play itself, and the 1995 film version directed by Oliver Parker. The plot remains the same, as do the characters, and the setting as Parker chooses to film it as the original time period and locations. Parker does however update it in other ways, and those updates are what provide some of the differences between the two. The areas in which the play and film differ are: the interpretation of the character Iago; the use of fantasy sequences; and the fact that Parker adaptation has cut much of the text. The first is probably the one of greatest importance. Rather than altering the story the director effectively employs his cinematic tools to convey the depth of emotion and conflict experienced by both Othello and Iago. The use of dream sequencing makes Othello’s agony over the proposed affair tangible and accessible to the audience in a way that his monologue in the play is unable to achieve. Similarly, Iago’s direct and menacing soliloquies with the audience via the camera conveys his Machiavellian intentions to destroy Othello with much more meaning.
The film begins by showing the secrecy of the marriage between Othello and Desdemona. They marry at night and when all are sleeping. Also scenes of them kissing as Othello tells of his feelings for her to the Senators. This scene helps build upon the passionate love felt between Othello and Desdemona. It also allows us to see his arrogance in his status and deserving of Desdemona. You see how his confidence and pride are what he identifies himself with. But the expression of Iago’s feeling toward Othello in the film are very similar as to the book version expression of it. “I hate the Moor” is clear enough, but Iago is alone when he says it, so he doesn’t reveal the depth of his loathing to anyone. However, in the play’s very first scene Roderigo says “Thou toldst me thou didst hold him in they hate” to which Iago replies “Despise me if I do not” (Othello. 1.1). We don’t see this in the film. In the film however, we see the how when Iago is coming up with his plan to destroy Othello he uses chess pieces. Once he has devised his plan to use Cassio as the pawn, he situates the black King and white Queen pieces as and inserts a White Knight in between the two. This shows his mischievous nature developing as the fireplace in the background and use of lightening helps to build the feeling of his wickedness. All the while you see how he is everyone’s friend and so helpful. And then again peeling a fruit with his dagger watching Cassio and Desdemona and uttering detestable words. “Honest Iago” he is called by Othello, as he hugs him and looks into the camera with an expression of “I just fooled him”. This difference in the split personality if you will, is much easier felt in the film with his facial expressions and the music that is played in the background. You also see the use of armour and horses that illustrate how honourably and noble Othello is. He comes across as being so brave as they win the Turks. This help set up the disbelief felt as you see Othello engulfed by weakness of pride and naivety.
Other changes include the overt sexuality displayed by Laurence Fishburne, who shares a fairly explicit sex scene with Irene Jacob, his Desdemona. In the play it seems the two have not had much time together and the relationship seems very chaste; here it is sexually charged. The movie continues to show scenes of Othello and Desdemona having intercourse. This is I believe a way to modernize the version to appeal to another audience. That sexuality also comes into play in the use of the fantasy sequences in which Othello dreams of finding Desdemona and Cassio together in bed. This never happened in the play-they are both entirely innocent-but in the film, Othello is dreaming and we see what he sees: the camera shows us Desdemona, nude, from the back; as she sits up and turns around, she reveals Cassio who is looking up in surprise. Then Othello sits up in bed, sweat pouring down his face, and we realize he’s had a nightmare. In using these fantasy sequences, Parker has given concrete form to Othello’s worst fears. This is precisely what he is afraid of, that Desdemona doesn’t really love him and has taken Cassio as her lover. By showing us the couple, the affair begins to seem less like an impossibility; we see that such a thing might actually happen, particularly as Desdemona is kind and Cassio is young. However, Shakespeare makes it clear that although Cassio cares for Desdemona, he would never overstep the bounds; and although she is fond of him, her great love is Othello. We see how Desdemona’s respect for Cassio is interpreted by Othello as something deeper.
However, having the visual image of the two of them before his eyes makes Othello’s fears and obsession take on a real shape. He is no longer suspicious of something he cannot describe, he has seen it in his dreams, and as he broods on these visions, he becomes easier and easier for Iago to manipulate. All too real then Othello remembers what Desdemona’s father said to him. “She has deceived her father, and may thee”. That is all the confirmation he needs to begin the real consideration that this may be real. Parker’s inclusion of the fantasy scenes gives an extra dimension to the story. We see how Othello is agonizing over the possibility that Desdemona has fooled him. As the movie progresses and we see the use of the handkerchief, the building up of the search for the truth is being blinded by what Othello is using to confirm his fantasies.
Iago’s manipulation of the handkerchief is the turning point in the film as well as in the play. The film illustrate the intensity of the trance and epilepsy Othello is feeling as he see Bianca give the handkerchief to Cassio. But when Emilia give Iago the handkerchief there is a difference from the play version. In the play, Iago simple takes it from Emilia as he walks in after Desdemona and Othello leave the room. However, in the film she brings it to him in bed and when he discovers she has taken it he is aroused. He is ready to perform but stops to give his soliloquy on how this with seal the deal. He smells it, then throws it up in the air. The scene changes to Cassio looking out the window as the handkerchief falls into his hands. These differences in how the handkerchief is used illustrate the progression of Iago’s plan. The passing on from one sequence of a plan to the next. passion that became too intense and became the ultimate crime of passion.
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