“Oh, beware, my Lord of jealousy!”
That emotion is at the core of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, and he goes on to characterise it as that “green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”.
Mill Productions was delighted to present a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, for senior cycle school students in October 2022. This timeless tragedy is an astonishing tale of fierce passions and murderous ambition – a thrilling examination of the power of love and the destructiveness of suspicion.
When Othello, the highly regarded general, secretly marries Desdemona, jealousies around their pairing and Othello’s rise to prominence are unleashed, piling secret upon secret, and betrayal upon betrayal. Within a claustrophobic and overwhelming environment and haunted by the seeds of destruction that are sown by Iago, Shakespeare’s master manipulator, Othello becomes weighed down with grief and suspicion. His is not so much a journey, but a rapid descent from majestic dignity to deluded rage. It is a domestic tragedy that explodes in a furious riot of pain and anguish.
Shakespeare’s tragedy is centred on his title character’s passionate love for and marriage with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator. Othello is a Moor, and while most modern productions assume he is from Africa, he does not say where he was born. When Shakespeare wrote the play 400 years ago, Moors may have come from Africa, but they could also be from the Middle East, or from Spain. Othello is also a successful, valiant, and highly regarded army general with proven military abilities in the service of Venice. However, the slippery slope of his decline begins at the hands of his ensign, Iago, who is consumed with an obsession for control and power over others, and his anger at failing to receive the promotion he expected.
Based on lies concocted by Iago, Othello believes that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. He loses confidence and is haunted by doubt and despair. When blind jealousy is added to that heady mix of emotions, he smothers her to death. And when he finally learns that he has murdered her based on falsehoods, Othello takes his own life. At the end of the play, Iago is found out and condemned to death for his crimes.
A highly accessible contemporary show, faithful to the text
This fast paced and visually engaging production, while remaining faithful to the original text, was designed to find contemporary resonances with Leaving Certificate students. Strong central performances from an excellent cast in a muscular, visceral and highly accessible show made this a satisfying ‘Othello’ for all audiences – the school groups that came to the theatre during the day and the audience that enjoyed the evening performance.
The Mill Productions presentation of Shakespeare’s play, in an edited version of the original text directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, was its first production on stage before an audience in dlr Mill Theatre since the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began at the end of March 2020.
The role of Othello was played by Benjamin Lafayette, leading an ensemble of actors, including: Malcolm Adams, Ethan Dillon, Jenny Fennessy, Sarah Foley, Michael J Ford, Ruairi Leneghan, Eilish McLaughlin and Ben Waddell.
Costume design by Florentina Burcea
Set Design by Gerard Bourke
Lighting Design by Kris Mooney
Sound & Music Design by Declan Brennan
Set Construction by Tom Ronayne
Produced for Mill Productions by Karen Carleton
Photography by Declan Brennan
Venice and Cyprus – worlds apart
Shakespeare’s choice of Venice as a prime location for ‘Othello’ stems from the fact that the city was seen to be very influential. To many in England, Venice was a model of republican government and, for some, it was an attractive alternative to Elizabeth’s reign. On the other hand, there were those who saw it as a corrupt and lecherous city. Rather than sitting on either side of the fence between those two views, by setting scenes in Venice, Shakespeare was probably more interested in the relationship between Christian and non-Christian cultures.
At the time when the play was written, Venice was a flourishing place, economically and culturally. Venice had gained control of the trade market between Europe and neighbouring regions to the east and south. The influence, which the city gained in the Middle Ages, allowed Venice to thrive as a cultural epicentre within Europe, where many artists and musicians flourished as a result of increased access to resources.
The second half Othello takes place in Cyprus, a country with which Venice was frequently at war. It would have represented something foreign and very different to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The play does not have much detail about Cyprus, but it seems that Shakespeare intended his audience to see the island as an alternative to Venice – a place with a similar Christian behavioural code; but where violence was commonplace, partly due to the attempts by Venetians to overtake the island.