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Community Responses to Othello: A Reflection by Katherine Peterlin

Community Responses to Othello

STC’s vision is to create theatre that ignites a dialogue and that connects classic works to our modern world—this vision is especially true for Ron Daniels’ production of OthelloIn the context of world events, this tragedy is one of the classics that seems most timely, relevant and urgent.

For that reason, we have invited some members of our community to craft responses to Othello and to all of the questions this production poses in whatever form calls to them—whether that means poems, songs, pictures, essays, stories or anything in between. We hope these responses, which will be published online throughout the run of the show, will help further the dialogue between STC and the community and help provide our audiences with another lens to view this current production.

Now, without further introduction, please enjoy the response to Othello from community member Katherine Peterlin:

A Post-Show Reflection

Even though it is more than 400 years old, Othello is one of those great classics that is able to be consistently relevant.  Adjustments in casting or setting can highlight different elements of the story, but the essential components remain.  Unfortunately, the classic and universal themes of Othello are not exactly representative of the best of humanity.  Jealousy, revenge and distrust of the “other” take center stage and feed the narrative, producing tragic ends.

Iago, feeling wronged by Othello, uses the full force of his considerable powers to wreak carefully planned havoc on the unsuspecting people around him, without a care for the consequences.  While it is easy to play him as a beard-twirling villain, Jonno Roberts’ Iago is cold and calculating, manipulating the audience in the same way that he manipulates everyone else. Like others around me, I found myself leaning forward, totally engaged, as he addressed the crowd justifying his actions, framing himself as a victim, and mocking the ignorance of those around him.  He pulls you in, and the next thing you know, you are laughing at Roderigo’s gullible nature and the dramatic irony of Cassio’s trust. Through his speeches, it becomes clear that Iago’s hatred of Othello stems from his own jealousy.  He resents the fact that Othello promoted Cassio over him, believes that Othello slept with his wife and cringes at the idea that a foreigner—whom he considers inferior—has the success and recognition that he has been denied.  It is a personal vendetta, and he makes the audience complicit.

Othello’s foreigner status is central from the very beginning.  Faran Tahir’s “Moor” is distinct, both racially and culturally, from the other characters who populate the play.  He is accepted in his role as a military leader, but when he acts outside of that role by marrying Desdemona, he is treated with disdain and threatened with violence.  The reality of what kind of person Othello is becomes secondary to how he is seen.  Though an active and talented member of Venetian society who has started to assimilate, he is never fully accepted—and it makes him all the more susceptible to the machinations of Iago, the one person he feels that he can trust.

It is a bleak, but not unfamiliar, picture.  Truth becomes secondary to suspicion.  A charismatic individual in a position of responsibility sows disaster by playing off the fears, and exploiting the weaknesses, of those around him.  An outsider, treated with suspicion, falls prey to a schemer who isolates him and incites him to violence.  In the end, everyone realizes they have been manipulated, but the damage has already been done.  Ron Daniels’ production finds modern relevance prompting discussions about status, xenophobia and the dangers of supposition masquerading as truth.  In the spirit of all good art, it tells you not what to think, but gives you something to think about.

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Katherine Peterlin is a member of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Young Professionals Consortium. A native of Amenia, New York, she has called D.C. home for the last 14 years. Katherine has spent the majority of her professional career in a series of positions with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council. Prior to joining the federal government, she worked as an Associate Producer and Assistant Editor at the National Geographic Society. Katherine holds a B.A. in International Politics from American University and is an M.A. candidate in Strategic Communications, also at American University.

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