Olivia and I decamped at the interval due to heat, impending murders, and in deference to her desire to see the big city after being cooped up in Stratford all week. So my thoughts of the Globe’s Othello end with 3.3, perhaps the most brutal and brilliant scene Shakespeare ever wrote, which takes the Moor from happy husband to sworn homicide. I would have liked to have seen the close, but I know how it ends!
One thing I love about the Globe in London is the differences among the various seats. Seeing Othello on the first week of Mark Rylance’s return to the Globe as Iago meant we were up in the corner of the second balcony, looking often enough down at the bald spot on Rylance’s head and missing “I am not that I am” (1.1) entirely because he was standing behind one of the on-stage columns at that point. But we had a great view of the upper stage, and we weren’t roasting in the yard, nor at risk of being run down by either of two fantastically bulky boat-wagons, complete with masts and sails, on which first Iago and Desdemona and later Othello made ship-born entrances to Cyprus in 2.1. I usually love standing at the Globe, but it wan’t bad to be under cover in the blazing heat.
(I wonder if the sudden downpour that caught Olivia and me on our way back to Southwark might have caught the play not yet finished. What would torrential rain do to Othello’s putting out the light?)
We rushed down from Stratford so I could see Rylance’s Iago, and I was intrigued by his performance. Two decades older than Andre Holland’s dashing Othello, Rylance’s Iago emphasized service and humility — though the audience hissed back at him when he protested, “what’s he that says I play the villain?” (2.3). Rylance played the audience expertly, and especially in the long & doom-laden 3.3, his patient construction of Iago’s false reluctance — his echoes, negations, leaving the stage and then returning to it — built into devastating power. I’ve always felt that the line with which Iago closes 3.3 — “I am your own forever,” he says to his general — carries the full weight of all the broken lives to come. In Rylance’s delivery, the ominous force of that line deepened and made palpable the slow, at times delicate, always careful, even fragile, playing that grew up into the over declaration.
Andre Holland was one of the most winning Othello’s I’ve half-seen. In particular in the long speech about his adventures with the Anthropophagi and the men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders (1.3), he played the crowd as expertly as Rylance’s Iago. I wondered about whether Holland was too beautiful to be fearsome in his murderous guise — maybe some later reviews will answer that for me — but I loved his charisma and open-ness, which things, of course, make him vulnerable to Iago.
I thought quite a bit, perhaps in a slightly political way, about youth being preyed upon by age: Steffan Donnelley’s Roderigo, like Holland’s Othello and also Aaron Pierre’s Cassio, were so much younger that they seemed to depend on Iago as the voice of experience. Like the youth of 2018, these figures are poorly served by their elders. Both Cassio and Roderigo may well be young, depending on casting, but in the text the Moor starts to complain about having “declined / Into the vale of years” (3.3), before admitted “but that’s not much” (3.3). I loved what I saw of Holland’s Othello, and I wonder how he transformed himself into the irrational madman of act 4 and the focused killer of 5.1.
The other performance that I feel I can’t well judge based on the first half only is Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona. Before she recognized her husband’s jealousy and got thrown into a tragedy, Desdemona presented herself as a very successful comic heroine, choosing her husband, avoiding her angry father, even talking her way through the Doge’s desire to employ her husband on his wedding night. I liked Warbeck’s performance, but again I wonder what happened with it when everything shatters.
I’ll not get to see that second half this summer, I’m afraid, since we go home on Sunday — but there’s always GlobeTV!