Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources


All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale

Available versions

1922: Dimitri Buchowetzki

1952/1955: Orson Welles

1965: Stuart Burge

1981: Jonathan Miller

1981: Frank Melton

1989: Janet Suzman

1990: Trevor Nunn

1995: Oliver Parker

2007: Wilson Milam

2015: Iqbal Khan, Robin Lough


1992: Nikolai Serebryakov (animated)

2001: “O”

2001: Othello

2006: Omkara


2015: Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2, Episode 3

2015: Iqbal Khan, Robin Lough

This is a production filmed from one or more performances at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theater in Stratford on Avon, with the audience in view. It aims at — and succeeds in — being avant-garde and perhaps post-modern (whatever that now means). What it isn’t any longer is Othello. It takes such liberties with the narrative, apparently (just to take the dubious word of the commentary track) to see what will happen, that its connection to what Shakespeare wrote is merely occasional — that is, the presentation of something using the script of Othello as a pretext to let the dramaturges to weave whatever else they like onto its compromised frame.

Shakespeare’s lines are mostly preserved, but they have variable relevance to what’s going on onstage — sometimes virtually none. Mostly, however, the producers of the play want to remake it as something else on a modern footing. It is as if the RSC expects its audience to be able to understand only the modern, because for them cultural memory runs back no further than five years. This doesn’t merely mean a modern setting (which is questionable on its own, but a question one is not allowed to ask of the RSC), but also making sure, for example (as the commentary states), that Othello’s personal guards are the equivalent of a modern black ops team or a crack mercenary unit, as distinct from regular army. At the same time, the commentary also tells us, the producers spent months helping Iago manage his earliest entry in a boat on actual water, because, you know, I guess that’s the core of the Shakespeare experience. Water — usually a pool midstage — makes various other completely irrelevant and unaccountable appearances throughout the play. Why? Water is not particularly thematic in this play. It’s interesting, in the abstract, but in the hierarchy of observable things — what Eliot would have called the Objective Correlative (about which more at Hamlet) — it’s really negligible. Striving for these things at the expense of the rationality of the central narrative shows a contempt for the audience and a like contempt for what Shakespeare actually wrote. If that’s what they want to do, why must they father it on Shakespeare at all? Wouldn’t they be happier making another Marvel Comics movie, or at least some slapstick farce where centrifugal dramaturgy is part of the point?

It’s a play that is (we are told) largely about race—and whether it is or not, it would seem that, in emphasizing that, one would make decisions to highlight it. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not sure the play is essentially about race. That doesn’t mean that race isn’t an important component, but its central movement is about how a malevolent and largely under-motivated character has succeeded in inserting suspicion and jealous passion between a loving husband and his loving wife. This might happen to anyone of any race, surely. Othello is played by an august black actor, Hugh Quarshie. He does a fine job with the role. Iago is played by Lucian Msamati, who is also black, which at least requires some thought, and certainly doesn’t square well with his marginally racist-seeming contempt for Othello. About half the other characters in the play, in fact, are black. Is it too much to suggest that that this dilutes, to an overall nullification, the discourse that’s presumably going on here? I get the point of the Patrick Stewart version of Othello, which is racially reversed — a white Othello moving through an otherwise black society. I can see exploring these as racial issues — as historically misplaced as the twenty-first-century reading thereof might be — by manipulating the racial makeup of the cast. But this is just random, in the midst of a claim of relevance. It’s necessary to have a black Othello for a modern production, and it’s just quirky — and maybe not a bad idea — to have a black Iago. But what is the point of all the rest? (Perhaps this is the point to mention as well that the Duke of Venice has been turned into a woman — not that he [she?] is any less the Duke, but she is indisputably female, and a talented and capable actress. Is the question “Why?” forbidden?)

Whether the play is really about race or not — I hope someone will correct me if I’m obviously wrong somehow — doesn’t its significant role presuppose an observable racial distinction in the play? For one black character to be twitting another black character about being black seems, well, ludicrous. But it’s what happens here. There is a bit in the first scene in which Roderigo refers to Othello as “the thicklips” in Iago’s presence. That occasions some unscripted byplay between them. It’s even rather uncomfortably funny, as apparently Roderigo realizes that he’s committed a social gaffe thereby. But what purpose in the play does this diversion serve? Perhaps, one might suggest, it’s to show how manipulatively playful Iago is. He goes along with it, while still apparently stockpiling guile for later. And it does that. But it doesn’t cohere in a larger matrix of meaning. The makers of this play have repeatedly failed to answer the question “Why?” about most of their more or less random innovations. The production is an undifferentiated pile of Random Bright Ideas that apparently nobody was grown-up enough to say no to or to challenge, or to reconcile to one another. The whole arch postmodern mess is mapped onto the script of Othello. It might as well be a Donald Duck cartoon.

When the managers of a theater forget that their chief task — first, last, and always — is to present the story forcefully and coherently, they apparently begin to believe that the point of their profession is instead to create an ostentatious display of their own cleverness, often framed as dramatic effects for their own sake. It may not wholly destroy the play, but it does, I think, cause it to sag under the weight of gratuitous baggage. I suppose one might argue that this is all a high-minded attempt to demonstrate to a skeptical world that, even when it is grossly mishandled and aggressively subverted, Shakespeare’s dramatic content will still somehow shine through. It’s that robust. And so it is — but do we need such exhibitionist twaddle to assure us of that? Isn’t letting it shine through a congruent framework likely to create the better experience for the audience?

All my complaints notwithstanding, I think it only fair to say that pretty much all the actors in this addled production carry their own roles with a lot more dignity and depth than the production conceit deserves. Like most of the successful Iagos, Msamati offers us someone who is at least superficially engaging and kind of fun, until we see what his game is, and the last thing we see in the film is the image of him chuckling to himself, like a devil or a lunatic — or both. Quarshie’s Othello is grand, dignified, and complex. Though I am never persuaded that someone with such dignity and Aristotelian megalopsychia would be capable of murdering his wife in a way so meticulously planned and yet without anything like real moral consideration (especially on the merely circumstantial evidence of a handkerchief), finding that vertiginous balance in his character is one of the real tricks in carrying the part off at all — it’s one of the most fragile edges in Shakespeare’s characterization, and it’s a very tricky one to negotiate.

I personally found Desdemona less engaging than many another. Though her performance was adequate to get us across the finish line, so to speak, she seems often too embittered (justifiably from a modern point of view, surely) for someone who will immediately turn around and protest how much she loves her husband in the midst of his torrent of abuse. Such point-valued reversals suggest that she’s not so much the victim of Iago and her own misplaced trust as of a bipolar disorder. Don’t misunderstand: one can surely deplore the fact that she makes herself into a doomed doormat for love, but she’s not the first woman ever to have done so, and to turn her into a liberated twenty-first-century woman with a sense of her own agency leaves the characterization desperately split between what she might have been and what she was. The playwright wrote the what-she-was part. The dramaturge ought to respect it. She’s a part of the story not to serve as a role model for modern women in precarious relationships, but to show what her unfortunate place in this particular narrative has led to. It is important to realize that both she and her husband have, in his phrase, loved not wisely but too well — his folly lay in his jealousy and suspicion, and hers in her credulity and blind, unsupported faith.

This play, one of Shakespeare’s very greatest, offers a sober and cautionary examination of what loving not wisely but too well might look like. There are several other pairings that can be described that way as well. It’s a tough piece of dramatic writing. It can take a fair amount of abuse, in fact, and we’re usually willing to put up with that in the interest of getting to the core, though I question that it really needs to be maximized. Instead we get a bit about boats, and a vanishing pool, and lots of hip modern military garb and martial-arts moves, klaxxons sounding offstage, with knives and handguns used interchangeably, and only as much of the colossal characters as the dramaturges were incapable of burying beneath a mound of their own precious and fatuous reductionism.

Bianca: Scarlett Brookes

Brabantio: Brian Protheroe

Cassio: Jacob Fortune-Lloyd

Cypriot Comms Officer: Rina Mahoney

Cypriot Soldiers: Jay Saighal, Rina Mahoney

Desdemona: Joanna Vanderham

Duke of Venice: Nadia Albina

Emilia: Ayesha Dharker

Gentleman: Jay Saighal

Gratiano: Gwilym Lloyd

Iago: Lucian Msamati

Lodovico: Tim Samuels

Montano: David Ajao

Othello: Hugh Quarshie

Othello’s Guard: Ken Nwosu

Roderigo: James Corrigan

Venetian Comms Officer: Eva Feiler

Venetian Guard: Guy Hughes

Venetian Soldier: Owen Findlay