Southeast Missouri State University student publication

The tragic downfall of Othello

Friday, April 5, 2019

River Campus students have been busy the past few months with back-to-back theatre showcases. The upcoming show, “Othello,”is premiering April 24 at the River Campus.

The play follows the tragic downfall of Othello, a Moor and a mercenary who becomes a general of the Venetian armies during the time of the Italian Renaissance. The play has been taught in schools for decades for its prominent themes of love, jealousy, deceit and race.

Besides being an ongoing director of student-led productions, such as “Othello,” Bart Williams is a professor that teaches acting movement and stage combat at the River Campus. Williams has background in both classical theatre and musical and has experience either acting in or directing Shakespeare’s many plays. Shakespeare was known for his metrical pattern and loaded sentences that can make it hard to understand for people reading it. Since deciding to put on the play, Williams has gone through an uncut version of the original “Othello” play, and hand-selected parts of the play he wanted to use.

“What we are using is an adapted script based on the first folio of ‘Othello’ from 1623,” Williams said.

The process for approaching such a challenging script was new for many of the students. Williams noted how only three students have been in a Shakespeare play prior to Othello, leaving very few who are familiar with the process of learning the playwriter’s language and stylistics. Actors have been rehearsing for the past few weeks, all the while studying Shakespeare’s style.

Despite the fact the play is frequently taught, Williams believes Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on stage rather than translated or interpreted in a classroom. Senior Dempsey Hankins, who plays Desdemona, a pure Christian woman and Othello’s love interest in the play, agreed with Williams’ claim.

“It was meant to be spoken, it was meant to be performed. So, you get a better understanding of the meter and the rhyme as you speak it,” Hankins said.

Williams even admitted to having a “storyboard” or timeline of the action in the play to make sure everyone is on the same page and aware of what emotion to convey at what point.

Although the play is essentially the same, Williams not only makes the plot his own by including a new spin to the story, but adds a new perspective to a play that has been interpreted time and time again. Williams’ version of Othello brings back the fluidity of gender roles within a play. In the late 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were very popular, only men acted in the plays, which included female characters as well. Williams casted a male for a female character and a female for a male character.

Junior Jade Sause plays Bianca, a woman of the night and Cassio’s girlfriend, and senior Alex Burke plays Cassio, Bianca’s boyfriend and a victim of the main antagonist, Iago’s deceit. In the beginning of the show, Williams has added a prologue to help the audience make sense of the new version. The prologue explains how the original Cassio has died, leaving his sister Cassia with the opportunity to make sure his legacy continues, along with the help of Bianca.

In Williams’ version of the play, there are more black individuals than usual adaptations of the play. The two main characters, Othello and Iago, are played by junior Trenden Everett and senior Jay Wade. Throughout the play Iago’s jealousy wreaks havoc on many of the characters and all the while uses racial slurs about Othello. Both Everett and Wade agree Iago being black adds complexity to the play.

Students will put on their first showcase of "Othello" at 7:30 p.m. April 24.