The Trouble with Othello, with Hugh Quarshie

We welcomed Hugh Quarshie soon after his highly acclaimed Othello with the Royal Shakespeare Company.


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Hugh’s interpretation of the role & the fact that Iago was also played by a black actor, made this RSC production the most talked about “Shakespeare” of recent times.

For white audiences of the Elizabethan age, the encounter with black characters was mediated through fiction, predominantly plays. The prevailing conventions associated Moors or Blackamoors with turbulence and violence, a threat to the established order, morally, sexually and politically. Hugh Quarshie argues that although in the first part of Othello, Shakespeare departs from the convention, in the second part, he reverts to it dramatically and the character of Othello never really escapes the conventions which governed the representation of the Black Man. Does Shakespeare suggest that Othello behaves as he does because he is black? And, if so does that make Othello a racist play and Shakespeare a bigot?

Click for Hugh's article at the British Library website

Hugh will argue that, though they are weaker now, those old conventions have endured and he will try to explain and justify his own decision to play Othello. Hugh has written:

“Not being a Bardolator, despite having appeared in several productions of his plays, I am not convinced that Shakespeare is an unequivocally reliable guide in the exploration of human nature; and I fear that we may see the world and ourselves through the distorting prism of his plays. And so I took some persuading before agreeing to take on the role of Othello. This was in large part because of my reservations about the character and about the play. I had seen many fine actors take on the role but never quite been convinced of his transformation from a man of reason, sound judgement and nobility of mind into an emotionally incontinent, insecure, homicidal obsessive in the space of a single scene.

[Click for Hugh's article](http://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/playing-othello#sthash.iCqVJPbj.dpuf) at the British Library website

We will play extracts from Hugh’s Othello, particularly from Act 3 scene 3, the so-called “Temptation Scene”.


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Hugh will argue that, though they are weaker now, those old conventions have endured and he will try to explain and justify his own decision to play Othello. Hugh has written:

“Not being a Bardolator, despite having appeared in several productions of his plays, I am not convinced that Shakespeare is an unequivocally reliable guide in the exploration of human nature; and I fear that we may see the world and ourselves through the distorting prism of his plays. And so I took some persuading before agreeing to take on the role of Othello. This was in large part because of my reservations about the character and about the play. I had seen many fine actors take on the role but never quite been convinced of his transformation from a man of reason, sound judgement and nobility of mind into an emotionally incontinent, insecure, homicidal obsessive in the space of a single scene.

We will play extracts from Hugh’s Othello, particularly from Act 3 scene 3, the so-called “Temptation Scene”.




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John le Carré: 'If you want to know why international crooks and their eminently respectable financial advisors walk tall and only the little people pay taxes, this is the ideal book for you. Every politician and moneyman on the planet should read it, but they won't because it's actually about them.'

2016Martin Keeley