You might not realize this, but very well-known movie “O” is actually based on an obscure 17th century play called “Othello”. I find this one of Shakespeare’s oddest tragedies, alongside Romeo and Juliet because for whatever reason, the ones in which someone is looking for social mobility, usurpation, or some other high office seeking or in the case of King Lear, already being king, feel less Shakespeare to me. I also think it’s weird because for whatever, people don’t talk about it as much as I think it deserves. Just my perceptions, which could be wrong. I guess it’s also possible that along with the Merchant of Venice there’s some skating very quickly past the Othello parts of Shakespeare because of history of race after his death (it wasn’t great during it or anything, but since has been especially bad). And of course, there’s the very very very very very very unfortunate casting Othello over the years. Here’s some examples:
On the plus side, here’s an pre-Victorian portrait of Othello from Henry Perronet Briggs.
Here’s a portrait of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, a Courtier and perhaps the inspiration for the role.
Here’s a list of actors who have portrayed him on stage and film —
Paul Robeson – great!
Ira Aldridge – perfect!
Edwin Booth – uh oh….
John Gielgud…..Laurence Olivier……Patrick Stewart in a race-reversal version….and well you get it.
It’s unfortunate obviously because not only is the play brilliant, the playing off of each other between Iago and Othello is more compelling and present and centered than Othello and Desdemona. Apparently a lot of performances will switch off Othello and Iago, which is pretty awesome. I could imagine a (carefully thought-through) version in which one actor plays both, or the actors switch halfway through or back and forth.