From the time of the earliest written historical records, male dominance was paramount. Shakespeare himself casted male actors to play female roles because women at the time were not allowed on stage. However, his perception of women did not conform to that of society. In his sonnets, for example, he perceived women to be crucial to his existence and to hold great significance in life. In the play Othello we are clearly shown the difference between good and evil.
Desdemona and Othello represent good and they are shown to have human sensibilities and this is evident in the two productions of the play one which is a RSC production and the other is the Oliver Parker version. Iago the villain of the play is shown to be evil and this is represented in the two productions mainly through his voice projection and his facial expressions. The play centralizes the downfall of the protagonist, Othello.
In Shakespeare’s times men would have played the roles of women and as a result audiences may not have taken their roles seriously. We are introduced to the character of Desdemona in Act 1 Scene 3 beginning with her father, Brabantio views of her.. The scene itself begins with excitement of the news of the events in Cyprus and then we get Brabantio entering with his anger. The atmosphere is one of tension and this is represented evidently in both productions of the play. His anger is directed at his daughter’s choice of husband, Othello.
Brabantio makes accusations at Othello by saying that Desdemona has been, ” abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted By spells and medicine bought of mountebanks” Brabantio is suggesting here that Desdemona’s love for Othello is unnatural and this is further reinforced when he says; ”For nature so preposterously to err Being not deficient blind or lame of sense Sans witchcraft could not” Brabantio perceptions of his daughter are that of innocence and purity represented through the images of nature he describes.
However the image, which Othello describes, is different to that which Brabantio presents and is further represented by Desdemona herself when she appears on stage. Othello’s love for Desdemona is passionate, true and genuine. This is represented particularly at the end of the Act 1 Scene 3 as Othello has to leave for Cyprus, Brabantio says, “Look to her Moor, if thou hast eyes to see She has deceived her father and may thee” Brabantio here attempts to put doubt into Othello’s mind about a deception Desdemona may impose on him as she has done to her father, Othello replies, My life upon her faith, Honest Iago These lines can encapsulate the whole play as Othello puts his life on the fact that his wife will be faithful, he also shows his that he has trusted the wrong person to look after his wife, Iago who manipulates the goodness of the two characters and eventually brings the tragedy of the play. The audience’s perception of Desdemona is revealed through the language and other characters describing her.
We then see Desdemona and we realize that Brabantio does not know his daughter very well, she does indeed possess qualities of innocence and purity but she also holds more assertive qualities, which are revealed in both productions mainly through appearance and voice. Her appearance on stage in both productions shows a sharp contrast to Brabantio on stage. The atmosphere of the scene is neutralized and calm. The effect therefore demonstrates the calming nature of women and Desdemona represents this well. This innocence and purity is shown very clearly in both productions of the play.
Desdemona is shown to be very young in comparison to Othello. This represents her innocence because she seems to be a youth compared to Othello and suggests that she does not know what is right or wrong. From both productions we can see that Desdemona is represented as beautiful adding to her purity. There are clear differences in the two productions of the visual interpretations of beauty and how it is represented. In the RSC production we can clearly see this from the way in which Desdemona is presented in the room. Firstly, as she enters the room there seems to be calmness in both productions creating a soothing atmosphere.
Secondly, she enters wearing a shawl over her hair and in Elizabethan times this was a sense of respect and beauty to cover your hair and still is to some people. In the Oliver Parker production she is represented in a modern version and therefore represents beauty in a different way, in which we would expect to see beauty today. We can see the difference in the way Desdemona is dressed in both productions. In the RSC production she is wearing dull coloured clothing covering her from top to bottom. This is done to show us the audience that Desdemona does not try to look beautiful as she just is.
In the Oliver Parker film, Desdemona costume is plain yet colorful, which enhances her beauty. This again is done to attract the modern audience and to represent her beauty through what a modern audience would expect. Both productions represent the character of Desdemona through her appearance as being very innocent, which initially suggests that Brabantio is right. However, we discover that although she is beautiful she is also has intellect and confidence about her, which gives us as an audience a deeper insight into her character revealed in both productions through her affirmative voice.
Shakespeare represents Desdemona as being confident. We can see this by the speech she makes to her father in front of her father, her husband, the Duke and all the senators when she declares her love for Othello. This is not what we initially expect to see from Desdemona. She begins her speech by initially complimenting her father as being a good father, “My life and education both do learn me how to respect you” And she goes on further to say, “Your love and education both do learn me how to respect you ”
She compliments her father and demonstrates whole-heartedly her love for him, although she has defied him by marrying Othello. In addition to her speech she admits her love for Othello and goes on to say that she is bound now to her husband and uses the example of the relationship between her father and mother to reinforce her argument, ” I am hitherto your daughter; but here’s my husband And so much duty as my mother show’d. Evidently we see her language although it is quite simple and straightforward it is also very effective. We can see the manipulation of language Desdemona uses.
She does not manipulate language for evil purposes as Iago does through the play, but shows genuine caring characteristics that she does not want to hurt anyone and if she has done then to ease their pain, especially her fathers. This also reinforces Wilson Knight’s view of Desdemona that she has ‘an individual feminine charm and simplicity’ . We see these facets of her character later in the play just before her death she challenges Othello as she challenged her father in this scene with the directness and straightforward language; And have you no mercy too! I never did offend you in my life; never loved Cassio the feminine charm and simplicity is clearly evident here. In both of the productions Desdemona delivers her love for her husband in a similar manner. Desdemona comes to the center of the room. This immediately focuses the attention on her and becomes the focal point. Furthermore, her speech about her love for Othello is delivered in front of dozens of males on stage, which suggests and portrays she is strong headed and confident, qualities not expected of women at that time.
It is here we can see that Bayley’s view of Desdemona in his book ‘Tragedy and Consciousness’ is evident, that is Desdemona ‘has committed herself to love’. In both productions when Desdemona is speaking to her father there is firm eye contact between the two. This demonstrates along with her speech to the audience as well as the characters on stage, that Desdemona is not ashamed of her actions otherwise she would have her eyes on the floor, in shame. It also shows very clearly Desdemona is an assertive and confident, characteristics, which her father failed to mention when describing her.
In both productions we see that Desdemona is in the middle of a feud as she is standing at points in the middle with her father on one side and Othello on the other. Her delivery of these lines in both productions of he play is passionate and genuine, revealed through her voice and also her facial expressions One of the contrasts of the two productions of this particular scene are the size of the rooms. In the RSC production Desdemona enters a room where there is low-key lighting and the room is very small.
In the Oliver Parker film, the room is large with the Duke present and many senators and it is also very colorful using high key lighting. This particular difference demonstrates the difference the type of audience the two medias are trying to attract. In film you can have as many people as you like in one particular scene as the camera shots are manipulated. It adds to dramatic effect of film of the moving images. Whereas a theatre performance the movement of actors is restricted to the space available and is not the in same capacity as film.
Both productions had the dramatic effect as they achieved the seriousness of this scene to the audience, through the role of Desdemona and her speech in Act 1 Scene 3. By placing Desdemona in the center of the room and her body language, costume, her tone of voice, her actions all adds to the dramatic effect desired which was that there was a woman who wants to be liberated. In conclusion we can see that there are contrasts and similarities between the two productions of the play Othello, and their presentation of Desdemona in Act 1 Scene 3.
The two productions demonstrate on different levels the character of Desdemona and both I feel are effective in defining her role. The scene in relation to the whole play is significant in terms of dramatic irony and effect as it sets up the wheels of evil to work its hands on the good. However, to a modern audience the play I feel seems quite tedious in its attempt to suggest that one man can manipulate the good characteristics so easily of so many others. Despite this the play does highlight the depressing divisions in society that have been passed down and exist within modern society based on race and caste.