The film adaptation of the play Othello by William Shakespeare is a very successful movie tie-in of this piece of classic literature that has been around for decades. Othello is one of Shakespeare’s renowned masterpieces, a love story which ends up as a tragedy. Although it is said that a truly faithful adaptation of a novel or a work in a different medium is not really possible, this movie gives a significant example of an adaptation that gives a fairly faithful reproduction of the play’s storyline.
In Act I Scene 1 of the play, the first scene shows Roderigo and Iago arguing about the former’s failure in winning Desdemona’s heart despite Iago receiving a substantial amount from Roderigo, and that now, alas, Othello and Desdemona have gotten married. In the movie, this scene appears later on as the process of intersecting is employed. The first few scenes of the film portray a seemingly illicit tryst which takes place in the night, a court meeting of leaders, and a marriage between a white woman and a black man which is sealed with a kiss.
It is only after these sequences are presented that the argument between Iago and Roderigo is shown, that is, after initially establishing the background of why the argument between them came about. Intersecting is also seen in the way Iago and Othello are shown in the film as conniving to kill both Desdemona and Cassio. This is further dramatized when they seal their partnership with a blood compact as illustrated in the movie a few moments before Othello promotes Iago to become his lieutenant.
Somehow, this sequence also hints at the possible homosexual tendencies of Iago – as he says the lines: “I am your own forever” while glancing lovingly at Othello, thereby giving the viewer an idea of the reasons behind Iago’s actions. And then again, towards the end of the film, when Othello has already been disarmed, Cassio is shown secretly handing over a knife to his former master, perhaps giving him a way to escape his inopportune fate. In a way, this just demonstrates that Cassio is indeed a loyal servant of Othello, which the latter realizes quite late, because of the misplaced trust which he establishes with Iago.
But then, again, this only gives Othello the resolve to use this weapon to end his life because of what he did to his wife. On the other hand, Act I Scene 2 depicts Iago warning Othello that Brabanzio may propose a divorce, followed by Cassio’s arrival to inform Othello that he is being summoned by the Duke, and then the confrontation scene between Brabanzio and Othello. The movie adaptation resorts to the process of borrowing this time, as these scenes are shortened, and somehow compressed, but still altogether included.
The presentation was altered in some way, and yet the essence of this sub-plot was captured in a short screen time of approximately 2 minutes. The same is notable in Act II Scene 1 when a storm supposedly takes place which facilitates the defeat of the Turks. The troops at Cyprus were getting worried because of Othello’s delayed return, and this is highlighted in the play. In the movie, however, these scenes are downplayed, condensed and merely narrated, yet still included in the plot.
The apprehensiveness of Desdemona about the delayed return of her husband was not much felt, and yet the beginnings of Iago’s plot to create a tapestry of lies around Cassio and Desdemona’s possible relationship was given more emphasis. This somehow served to draw attention to Othello and Desdemona’s relationship and how from a very ideal union, it soured to become a misfortune. Some other ideas which were borrowed from the original play and incorporated into the movie adaptation were Desdemona’s handkerchief and how it became the object of jealousy, the foreboding song “Willow” and Othello’s fit of epilepsy.
Alternatively, in the last scene of Act I, Brabanzio relates his dilemma to the Duke about his daughter being stolen from him with the use of witchcraft, pointing to Othello as the person who committed this act. Othello is given the chance to explain, which is later on confirmed by Desdemona herself. Thus, Othello’s marriage becomes justified and the explanation narrated by the accused was well-taken by the Duke. After arriving at a resolution to their squabble, Othello is sent to Cyprus on a mission, and Desdemona requests the Duke to allow her to join her husband having been just married.
All these sequences are displayed in the movie version and are accurately presented as the film further unfolds, and can easily be described as illustrating fidelity of transformation. Likewise, the scenes pertaining to Iago and the numerous ways by which he portrayed his role of the antagonist in this movie are well-represented. The actor who played the character of Iago was definitely hateful as the traitor friend to Roderigo and Othello, an effective manipulator of people, and an outstanding liar to almost everyone in the cast.
Iago definitely abhorred Othello, but in both the play and the film, the underlying reason for this hatred is not delved upon and up until the end, Iago does not apologize for his misdeeds. Although reference to Iago’s suspicions about Othello’s possible involvement with his wife Emilia are left out and never tackled, as well as Iago’s secret lustful desires for Desdemona as cited in the play, the main plot pertaining to Othello and Desdemona’s relationship and the complications that transpire, was truthfully demonstrated and adhered to.
Fidelity of transformation is also seen in the way Act II Scene 3 is presented in the movie since all the essential scenes in the play are also recounted from the time Cassio assumes guardship at Cyprus while Othello consummated his marriage to Desdemona, to the brawl with Roderigo, up to the time Cassio is stripped off his rank after engaging in a duel with Governor Montano. Iago’s soliloquys were also retained, further rendering the film as a precise reproduction of this classic literary piece.
It is also noticeable that the clown in Act III Scene 1 and the whole of Scene 2 were dropped, but since the main plot about Othello’s love story was still retained, it did not have a significant effect on the main storyline. From Act III Scene 3 up to the last act and scene, the complications of Othello’s jealousy over the imagined relationship of his wife Desdemona with his lieutenant Cassio are gradually revealed and given more weight.
It is apparent that the director of the film wanted to focus on the tragedy in the story more than any other of the play’s sub-plots, hence, more than half of the movie’s running time was devoted to the conflict building up – conflict based on the context of “man against man” and “man against himself”, up until the story’s climax and gloomy ending. Othello’s jealousy was more imagined than real but it was lamentable because he allowed Iago to exploit and manipulate his thoughts and feelings for Desdemona, which was effectively portrayed and delivered to the viewer in this film.
As a whole, the movie version of Othello was a success as an adaptation due to the use of different types of approaches in its presentation. The essential portions of the play were retained, and the translations and transposition of scenes and sequences did not affect the plot so much because the story’s progression was clear and crisp, and the original dialogues retained for the most part.
The plot of the movie adhered to Othello and Desdemona’s love story in the play, which was captured as poignantly as it should have been staged before a live audience. With this trend of transforming the play into a more accessible and readily available type of media catering to the mass audience, it will not be surprising to see more such adaptations in the offing. Works Cited Barron, D & Parker, O. 1995. Othello. United Kingdom & United States: Columbia Pictures.
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