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Read Othello

Perdition catch my soul,
But I do love thee! and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.

--Othello, Act III, scene iii

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on....
O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

--Iago, Act III, scene iii

Othello, a passionate war hero, is turned against Desdemona, his innocent and generous young wife, by the machinations of the smooth-tongued and malevolent Iago.  

(A filmed version of a National Theatre of London performance of Othello will be shown at SIFF Cinema 10/28 and 11/2, 3, 4.)

Location and Logistics:  We'll be in the downstairs meeting room at the University branch of Seattle Public library at NE 50th and Roosevelt Way NE.  (This event is not sponsored by the Seattle Public Library.)  See here for directions A lot of buses go nearby, and there's free parking in the library lot or on 9th Ave NE - 2 hr parking in front of the homes on 9th  or unlimited parking along the edge of the playfield on 9th south of 50th, or a bit further north on 9th above 50th, in front of the school or church where the yellow School Load Only signs are (they aren't in effect on Sat.).

We can bring food and non-alcoholic drinks into the meeting room as long as we clean up afterwards.

This is a long play.  Between distributing parts, reading aloud, taking a break, and (optional) discussion afterwards, it will probably take most of the afternoon.  Bring a copy of the text if you have one, but if you don't, don't worry - we can share.  It's not necessary to read the play before hand, but it's helpful to be familiar with the plot.  You can see below for a synopsis and quotations, or go to

Synopsis of Othello:

The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.

--Iago, Act I, scene iii

Othello is a Moor and thus an outsider to Venice, but he is an honored general in the military there, since Venice is threatened by the Turks.  When Othello was a guest at the home of Desdemona's father, she was enthralled by his tales of hardship and adventure, and they fell in love. As the play begins, they have just been married in secret.

She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

--Othello, Act I, scene iii

That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world...
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honour and his valiant part
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.

--Desdemona, Act I, scene iii

Iago has served under Othello in battle, and is seething with resentment that he's just been passed over for promotion in favor of the polished and educated but untested Cassio.  In addition, he is fixated on the fear that he's been cuckolded by Othello or Cassio.  Under a guise of sympathetic friendship, Iago sets out to ruin them both, not caring who else will suffer as his plots unfold.

In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

--Iago, Act I, scene i

Iago breaks the news of Desdemona's elopement to her father in the most lurid and racist terms, so that her father disowns her.  When Othello is sent on a military mission to Cyprus, Desdemona goes with him.  In Cyprus, Iago stirs up Roderigo, a former suitor of Desdemona's, against Cassio, in order to provoke a drunken brawl and discredit Cassio.  An angry Othello demotes Cassio and Iago sets up his fatal plot, urging Desdemona to speak to Othello on behalf of Cassio while at the same time poisoning Othello's mind with hints that Desdemona is unfaithful to him with Cassio.  When Iago shows him "proof" of Desdemona's infidelity - a handkerchief Othello had given her, in Cassio's hands - Othello, maddened with jealousy, accuses his wife of being a whore and grieves his love.

But there, where I have garner'd up my heart,
Where either I must live, or bear no life;
The fountain from the which my current runs,
Or else dries up; to be discarded thence!

--Othello, Act IV, scene ii

Desdemona is bewildered.

What shall I do to win my lord again?
.... by this light of heaven,
I know not how I lost him. 

.... Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love.

--Desdemona, Act IV, scene ii

Othello decides that he must kill his wife, and goes that night to smother her in her bed.  He almost cannot bear to.

... but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again.
It must needs wither: I'll smell it on the tree.
[Kissing her]
Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword!

--Othello, Act V, scene ii

But despite her pleas, he kills her.  Emilia, Iago's wife and unknowing accomplice in the theft of the handkerchief, hears the noise and comes in. Realizing Iago's treachery, she denounces him and Othello both.

I hold my peace, sir? no;
No, I will speak as liberal as the north;
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak.

--Emilia, Act V, scene ii

Iago, unable to silence his wife, kills her.  Othello, shattered, kills himself.

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then, must you speak
Of one that lov'd not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe....

I kissed thee ere I killed thee, no way but this,
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.

-- Othello, Act V, scene ii

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  • Margaret

    Great! It was my first time and I was made to feel welcome. Parts were given out equitably, and everyone seemed to be able to read what they requested. We got through Othello in under 4 hours, with a break and a brief informal discussion afterwards.

    1 · October 5, 2013

    • Barbara

      Glad to have you with us, Margaret!

      October 6, 2013

  • Jeff

    Hey all, I hate to do this so last minute, and technically the day of, but I may not end up being able to make it. I'm really hoping I can but some of those good ol' life things might be getting in the way.

    October 5, 2013

    • Barbara

      We missed you!! You would have had a ton of fun, too. Hope to see you next time.

      October 6, 2013

  • Roberta M.

    There is a superb film called "A Double Life." It stars Ronald Coleman and was written originally, by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, as a Broadway play. Coleman plays a consummate Shakespearian actor who is highly praised, but in his personal life gets so far into his roles that he cannot come out again, and his wife, also a Shakespearian actor, has left him. She is still, however, playing Desdemona to his Othello. It is a serious actor's dilemma and I have never seen it dealt with so brilliantly. In fact, I have never seen it dealt with anywhere. And Othello is the perfect play for it. Cheers

    October 2, 2013

    • Barbara

      That sounds wonderful!!! Let's try to find a copy.

      October 6, 2013

  • Barbara

    We had a great (if brief) discussion) afterward. My favorite part was the juxtaposition of Othello and Pepe Le Pew. It was a revelation. As usual, great people, great time. Thanks, everyone, and WELCOME to our new people! We hope to see you again.

    October 6, 2013

    • Nancy E.

      Oh, I missed the Pepe Le Pew part, dang! Yes, welcome to all the great new folks!

      October 6, 2013

  • Roberta M.

    I too am ill today. See you next time.

    October 5, 2013

  • Caryl C

    Sorry to do this at the last minute. I'm sicker than the proverbial dog, won't be there today. Next time!!

    October 5, 2013

  • Margaret

    Yes, I'd love to attend!

    October 3, 2013

  • Jeff

    Oh my, another play with one of my dream roles, my dreamiest of dream roles in fact. Iago is SUCH a deliciously devious and tormented man. I imagine that's a role that will be shared, unless of course you'd all just LOVE to hear me read it :) I would be quite grateful to read even a bit of such a magnificent part.

    2 · September 29, 2013

    • Nancy E.

      Bottom! Hi there! I'm sure we can give you at least a part of the part! Loved your reading last time and look forward to seeing you again.

      1 · September 29, 2013

    • Jeff

      Hi Nancy! I'm really looking forward to it! It's tough to find time in my work and school schedule but I couldn't miss this one :)

      September 29, 2013

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