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TOPIC: Sir Salman's Shakespeare

Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1232

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Not that I normally turn to the characters of a novel for insights into the characters of Shakespeare's plays, but . . .

Seeing as Sir Salmon (whoops - Sir loin all over again - make that Salman) has just been 'Sired', I dug out of the local British library a copy of 'Fury' - one of the more recent novels of a novelist I enjoyed reading when I lived in countries you could get hold of his books.

There, in the very first chapter, you have a 'doctoral thesis' on the importance of the inexplicable in Shakespeare - and as one character strokes the others finely wrought breast . . .
“. . . at the heart of each of the great tragedies were unanswerable questions about love . . .”

“Why did Hamlet, loving his father . . . delay his revenge while, loved by Ophelia, he destroyed her instead?”

'”and why was Macbeth, a man's man (sic) who loved his king and country, so easily led by the erotic but loveless Lady M. . . .?”

And now the really interesting one!
Othello lacked 'emotional intelligence'. “Othello's incredible stupidity about love, the moronic scale of the jealousy which leads him to murder” was because “Othello doesn't love Desdemona” - the books italics.
‘What?’ a thousand love-lorn loons honk!

But be patient – one thing experience has taught me is that quality writers putting such odd statements into the mouths of their characters usually have something hidden up their sleeves. Rushdie is no exception – he goes on:

He says he loves her
“. . . but it can’t be true. Because if he loved her, the murder makes no sense. For me, Desdemona is Othello’s trophy wife, his most valuable and status-giving possession, the physical proof of his rise in a white man’s world.”

Ugh?

So, Othello is just a ‘Material Man’! Makes some sort of sense to me – especially at this end of the capitalist revolution, dot booms and bubbles all over the place (not to mention gold wearing Russian oligarchs, and the less wealthy, but no less ostentatious Romanian BMW-ers).

The ‘Black-eyed Peas’ song and video – ‘My Lumps’ - pops up at this point too. Although I never trust that lot to not be doing a deconstruction on the world – far too intelligent for their own good.

Rushdie’s character hasn’t finished there though:

Othello, as a Moor, is of the Islamic moral universe –
“whose polarities are honour and shame. Desdemona’s death is an ‘honour killing’. She didn’t have to be guilty. The accusation was enough. The attack on her virtue was incompatible with Othello’s honour.”

And a nagging suspicion that this is a ‘true reading’ for the contemporary world creeps in – gone are the Romantics at last – get real.

And houses of cards come crashing down.

Could Rushdie have opened up a new, rich vein worth pursuing – an Islamic Othello? Forget all the Christian focused culture clash papers – turn it on its head – Othello is a modern Muslim.

Honour killings are not just taking place in the streets of Lebanon – they are happening in today’s UK. They are not even Muslim-only territory – read Zorba the Greek and you’ll get a real sense of the rural Balkan world today – Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim. I won’t do more than touch on the hopefully resolved ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland.

I’ll leave you with some more thoughts on Shakespeare, our contemporary’s, character – thoughts I find deeply disturbing but so potent, reflective of much of the so-called love relationships of the modern world:
“She’s not even a person to him. He has reified her. She’s his Oscar-Barbie statuette. His doll.”

All quotes from Salman Rushdie, Fury, chap 1, Vintage 2002.
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Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1244

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akfarrar wrote:
Not that I normally turn to the characters of a novel for insights into the characters of Shakespeare's plays, but . . .
And a good thing too :)

I've heard Rushdie is a brilliant mind and author, but surely he has it wrong if he can find the following in Othello:
Othello lacked 'emotional intelligence'. “Othello's incredible stupidity about love, the moronic scale of the jealousy which leads him to murder” was because “Othello doesn't love Desdemona” For me, Desdemona is Othello’s trophy wife, his most valuable and status-giving possession, the physical proof of his rise in a white man’s world.”
Yes to "Othello's incredible stupidity about love, (and) the moronic scale of the jealousy which leads him to murder” but surely that is the proper end to his analysis. Othello is an immature first time lover who stupidly fails to understand his wife and morbidly refuses to give countenance to her words. Is he insecure, weak, foolish in his dependence on Iago, yes to all, does he really consider Desdemona his trophy wife and their marriage confined by Sharia law, I think not. If he had, wouldn't her guilt require a confession or four witnesses and her death be by a stoning rather than strangulation? I'm kidding of course, WS would have been quite something had he been familiar with Koranic law; surely we can agree this is a story that is centered on immature, callow jealousy and manipulative malevolence.
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Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1246

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I've heard Rushdie is a brilliant mind and author, but surely he has it wrong if he can find the following in Othello

Point is it is the character, not Rushdie who finds this.

I certainly don't think that the 'idea' would stand up in Shakespeare's time (although it is surprising how much of the Koran was understood - Luther translated parts into German and the Turks were a force to be reckoned with) - although, living in the Balkans, I never cease to be amazed at the 'attitudes' of people which fit so comfortably into Elizabethan literature but which we ignore as alien to modern Western ideas.

I do think a modern production could easily utilise the idea: after all, the play needs fresh blood to keep it alive.
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Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1247

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akfarrar wrote:
Point is it is the character, not Rushdie who finds this.
I understand that and should have said so.
I do think a modern production could easily utilise the idea: after all, the play needs fresh blood to keep it alive.
I like a different take on a play if it is done well, but while you can substitute guns for swords, I wonder how you would stage the play to show contemporary Islamic principles as guiding Othello's behavior?

Btw, I believe Othello could be successfully staged as written and in an historically traditional fashion for many, many more years than either of us will be around to see it. ;)
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Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1248

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This is actually an area where I've explored quite a bit. Years ago, I performed the role of Othello in an all-black cast where Othello was Jewish man in an Islamic society. The setting was Ceuta instead of Cyprus and there were a lot of Islamic references we could extract or interpret from the play. There was even an islamic prayer to start off the second act.

There are obvious allusions to the fact that Othello still doesn't feel fully accepted by he society he lives in, despite the fact his devotion and military service are beyond compare. There's no doubt he loves his wife, but there has to be something in his mind about how it would be another "notch on his belt" to further compensate for his "shortcomings".

"Haply for I am white and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have..."

Or his ego..

"Or for I am declined into the vale of years..."
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Sir Salman's Shakespeare 9 years 5 months ago #1249

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The setting was Ceuta instead of Cyprus and there were a lot of Islamic references we could extract or interpret from the play. There was even an islamic prayer to start off the second act.

Having lived in Gazimagusa (where Othello, had he really existed, would have killed his wife) I have to say you didn't need to move the location - it is very much a Muslim city!

Of interest to some might be these articles:

Shakespeare the Muslim and the Collapse of the West
http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=15701

Shakespeare & Islam:
http://www.arabnews.com/?page=21§ion=0&article=61386&d=2&m=4&y=2005

Strange bedfellows:
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1353597,00.html[/url]
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