From Script to Screen – The Maddening World of Iago in Parker’s ‘Othello’ (1995)

July 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

From the first scene of Shakespeare’s play Othello, readers are aware of Iago’s plans to destroy Othello by ruining his relationship with Desdemona, creating a situation of dramatic irony. Readers are therefore conscious of the purpose behind Iago’s every action, how truly narcissistic and cruel ‘honest’ Iago really is. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony creates a feeling of responsibility within a reader, as we are aware of Iago’s motives but powerless to alter the events of the play. The fact the reader is in the know of Iago’s thoughts and feelings also serves to form a sort of bond between the reader and Iago, making Iago the most engaging character. Since the Oliver Parker film Othello is based upon the original play by William Shakespeare, there are not many variations in narrative. This similarity in narrative enables the film adaptation to incorporate the presence of dramatic irony in the play. Although Oliver Parker chose to reduce a considerable chunk of spoken text from the film, these areas were replaced by alternative visual representations, informing the audience of Iago’s plans without having to replicate all of Iago’s lengthy soliloquies. In this way, the director was able to incorporate elements of dramatic irony through a more visual medium.

Iago is the only character throughout the play to perform multiple soliloquies directly to the reader, speaking his thoughts as if the audience were an accomplice in his scheming. This direct communication between character and audience, a breaking of the fourth wall, creates an atmosphere of involvement in the reader, almost as if the reader were a character in the plot itself. Being the only ‘character’ aware of Iago’s true intentions, the audience becomes involuntary entangled in Iago’s plot. Use of cinematography during Iago’s soliloquies serves to further draw the audience into the story.The camera is always eye level with Iago during his soliloquies, as if the audience were a character in the film sitting with Iago in that moment. The close proximity of the camera brings about an atmosphere of conspiracy, as the audience feels physically closer and therefore more involved with Iago’s plot.Fire is often present in many of Iago’s soliloquies, causing changes in lighting, creating an allusion to the devil and adding to the presence of evil.

Othello contains multiple scenes full of contradiction, serving to symbolize Iago’s simultaneous playing of the roles of both a scheming devil and honest angel. “Poor and content is rich, and rich enough, but riches fineless is as poor as winter to him that ever fears he shall be poor” (IV.iv.172-174). This line spoken by Iago to Othello is a paradox itself, but also reflects the more general paradox of Iago comforting Othello after he had been the one to cause him sorrow. The effect of paradox is achieved through use of editing and cinematography in the film adaptation of Othello.At 35:54 the scene ends shortly after Iago ends his “How am I then a villain?” monologue with Iago covering the camera with his hand, causing the scene to black out. The next scene begins a few second after, with Iago lifting his hand off the camera lens, revealing the arrival of Roderigo. No sooner had Iago disclosed his plans to ruin Othello’s life does he promise Roderigo Desdemona’s love while the audience is clearly aware he has no intention of keeping said promise, presenting a very ironic paradox. The short transition between scenes serves to demonstrate Iago’s ability to easily switch roles, leaving Iago’s confession to evil clear in the audience’s mind as he plays the part of an angel. Another paradox is through the use of cinematography, where as Othello proclaims Iago’s honesty and embraces him, the camera turns to show Iago’s facial expression of triumph and mockery. Although Iago plays the role of faithful ensign, the camera reveals to the audience the true emotions that Othello does not know.

Every one of Iago’s soliloquies create an atmosphere of suspense, as the reader anticipates Iago’s actions, and waits for a character to discover and thwart his plans.A tone of suspense is also reinforced as readers are certainly aware of Iago’s plans, but not the effect this may have on the other characters in the play. A reader would constantly ask themselves whether Othello would believe Iago’s claims, whether Roderigo will reveal what he knows of Iago’s plans, whether Cassio would decide to throw away the handkerchief before Othello sees it, and so on. The use of background music and dialogue adds to the overall feeling suspense and build up of tension in the film adaptation of Othello. Intense and fast paced background music serves to excite the audience, putting them at the edge of their seat in a scene that otherwise wouldn’t have been as suspenseful.

Variations in volume of dialogue demonstrates levels of tension, as loud exclamations in otherwise relatively quiet scenes serve as crisis points where tension is at its highest. Lack of music may also cause suspense, which is evident in Act IV scene i, where Othello slaps Desdemona across the face. There is no music present, as background music would distract the audience from the fluctuations in dialogue. Also, the silence adds to the rising action, exaggerating the resounding crack of Othello’s slap. The lack of background music after the slap also serves to represent the general shock of both the characters in the scene as well as the audience.

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