March 31, 2018
Today, we live in a highly polarized world. We seem to be constantly on the brink of one fight or the other and tensions between different groups are on the rise. Race relations remain strained, and minority lives are constantly at threat, whether it be socially, in the work place, or in the streets. These issues continue into our modern world, and they can often be considered 21st, 20th, or 19th century problems. However, race has always been a factor in many parts of the world. In Shakespeare’s Othello, audiences and readers see just that. Othello, written in 1603, 16 years before slaves would come to the Americas, focuses on the titular character Othello, Moorish African general, and his struggles surviving a society that has shuns him despite his success and power. In fact, in the first scene, Othello is being arrested for marrying the white Desdemona, whose father believes would only marry him if he put some sort of voodoo on her. This scene sets off immediately what will become an allegory for racial relations that continues to mirror our modern world. The National Players, who came and performed for the Asheville School, decided to make a few modern updates. For example, they use guns and metal cuffs to represent a more realistic way racial motivated violence, often by police officers, is done. The show also made sure to show the many dimensions of Othello, that he too had flaws and wasn’t perfect. In fact, they made a direct decision to make Desdemona’s abuse story line more important and how roughly moved and mistreated her maid Amelia is by the men in both of their lives. The actor playing Iago, the villain of the play, really demonstrated well the jealousy he felt for his more successful African peer. Although Shakespeare can often be seen as old or outdated, all of the themes of Othello have poignancy in today’s world. Racism and abuse still ring in our ears and they obviously were a part of Shakespeare’s life as well. The play remains a timeless piece of literature that will continue to speak to some of the hardest and most divisive themes in everyday experiences, and more modern performances and choices bring the show into a whole new light for a new audience about a 400 year-old problem.