By David Anson, Head of English
The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s play Othello was on Hallowmas Day, November 1, 1604. James I had been king for just over 18 months and he had very recently overseen the Treaty of London which concluded 19 years of conflict between England and Spain. It was a time of great change, a time of unification and much longed for peace.
On Wednesday, Bedales English Literature A Level students were joined on Microsoft Teams by fellow Bohunt English Literature students to take part in a short lecture programme organised by myself and Deana Buchan, Head of English at Bohunt. We were joined remotely by Dr Kath Diamond, a Renaissance specialist who lectures at Goldsmith’s College and Queen Mary and Westfield, and who delivered a fascinating lecture on ‘Turning in Othello’.
Amongst other things, Kath’s lecture recognises the significance of this period of political and cultural change in Jacobean London and the bearing it has upon the action and motifs to be found within a play which presents a ‘spiralling vortex of change’. The play opens in the turmoil and business of a bustling Venice, centre of trade and commerce and the seat of much public debate and discussion about the ongoing war with the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus. It narrows to the defeat of the Turkish army before narrowing again to the private matters of Othello’s marriage to Desdemona and then ends with yet a further narrowing to the marital bed; site of Desdemona and Othello’s tragic end and loaded with much dramatic symbolism. The play is a play of change and a play of turmoil that leaves both its contemporary and 21st century audience somewhat unsettled (though for different reasons) and yearning for the kind of peace and order that a king like James, Shakespeare’s patron, ought to bring at the start of his reign.
The students then explored the way the masculine and the feminine may be considered in the play through shorter presentations led by myself and Deana; a useful foundation for further classroom discussion. At a time when we can’t take our students to the theatre or to lecture programmes, this was a superb opportunity for both 6.1 and 6.2 to revisit their study of Othello and it ushers in the start of more exciting joint projects between Bohunt and Bedales that Deana and I hope to be able to realise in face to face events next year.