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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fixing a Hole #1: Othello

One of the biggest factors in my recent decision to buy a Kindle (which is pretty cool, even if I did walk past a bookstore and feel a sort of sadness that I had no real reason to walk in to it, or really walk into any bookstore again; the Germans need to come up with an extremely lengthy word for this sensation) was that you can download pretty much any book in the public domain for free.

This dovetails quite nicely with my ongoing plan to plug up the holes in the dam that is my education. I consider my time as an English major mostly ill-spent, and I am willing to accept some of the blame and all of the responsibility for correcting the problem. While I will be using the Kindle to read a variety of recent-to-new fiction (I plan to start Kevin Wilson’s debut novel The Family Fang tonight) I will balance these contemporary works out, and defray the cost of the Kindle, through free editions of the classics that for a variety of reasons I never encountered in my schooling. After each, I plan on reviewing the work, and also commenting on the reasons I have missed it to date, and whether or not the experience of reading it would have been improved by being in a classroom full of English majors.

I’m taking the title of this series from the song by The Beatles. “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in/And stops my mind from wandering/Where it will go.” The first in the series is Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello.

How I Missed It: This one’s mostly on me. I’ve read more than half of Shakespeare’s plays, but not this tragedy. My high school assigned one Shakespeare play a year, but they were Romeo and Juliet (ugh!), Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet. I signed up for Shakespeare I my junior year of college, which covered 19 of the 38 plays in one semester, but opted out of Shakespeare II.

What’d I Think: Honestly? I’m not sure. It was alright I guess, and I don’t think I had much trouble understanding the language or the plot, it’s just I’ve always heard Othello mentioned in the upper echelon of Shakespeare’s plays, but that was not my experience. Perhaps I should watch a staging of the play as well. On the page (or screen) Othello seems fairly simplistic. Iago is mad about being passed over for a promotion (a pain I know all too well) and decides to enact his revenge by turning Othello against Cassio, the person who got the job instead. He does this through cunningly convincing Othello that his new wife is cheating on him with Cassio.

While the plotting is tight, the play seemed to be bogged down by an extremely simple moral. Jealousy is insidious and bad. At times it felt more like I was reading one of Aesop’s Fables. Of course, part of the pleasure of reading Shakespeare is encountering those coined phrases which have become part of the lexicon, and here we have several, such as “the beast with two backs”, “jealousy, that green-eyed monster”, “wear my heart upon my sleeve”, and “crocodile tears” are just a few.

Do You Wish You’d Read it in Class?: Actually, it might have helped a lot. I’m sure there are themes and symbols I’m missing by doing a quick read while on a commuter bus, and thinking more deeply on the play may have improved my opinion of it. I think there would also be a benefit to hearing parts of the play read aloud, which is of course often a part of lectures on Shakespeare.

Further Fixes Required?: Well, there are still quite a few Shakespeare plays I’ve yet to read. Perhaps the most notable is The Tempest.

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