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Othello and Domestic Violence

Posted by on Monday, October 10, 2016 in Blog posts.

For the past three weeks, VUTheatre brought Othello by William Shakespeare to life in Neely Auditorium. The play is centered around a jealous soldier, Iago, plotting to ruin the life of his commanding officer, Othello. VUTheatre adds a twist to the interpretation by mixing both Renaissance elements and street art into the costumes, music and environment. The vivid performance transported the audience into the Venetian army by utilizing contemporary sound effects and vibrant colorful lights. Although the play is about 500 years old, many of the themes weaved throughout it are still relevant and applicable to this day. The play illuminates the horrors of domestic violence by using a more modern adaptation.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Othello consists of many scenes with domestic violence. Coincidence? I think not. Domestic violence is a serious issue that is prevalent throughout America. Every 9 seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten. Every minute, an average of 20 women in the United States are physically abused by a partner (Alabama News 2016). Othello forces the audience to acknowledge this critical problem by presenting it before them. Although many of the audience members were already familiar with Othello, the room still filled with shock and disgust when the characters were unjustly attacked. Imagining the scenes in your head while reading the play is completely different than actually seeing it in a performance. Although I knew Othello was going to slap Desdemona, I was not prepared for it. The sound from the actual slap pierced my ears and forced my mind to remember the scene long after the play. For me, many of the violent scenes were finally brought into reality at the performance. Often during these scenes, there was no music being played and the only sound were from the characters. This exemplifies the violent acts because you can hear every slap, push and scream. Watching the altercations occur is several times more impactful than just reading the words on a page because it’s difficult to imagine every detail. In the play, you can see their facial expressions, body posture, and other reactions that you don’t usually consider.

The constant reports of domestic violence in the media desensitizes people from these situations. Sure, many people will read about it and feel terrible that it occurred, but many people won’t do anything to change the problem. Perhaps a few people may share articles on Facebook, but actually taking action to improve the situation in America is rare. Solely reading about domestic violence may not enrage readers to the point of actually mobilizing for change. I believe Othello was performed during this month to force the reality of the situation upon the audience – ultimately bringing these articles to life.

Although about half a millennium old, Othello is still able to relate to today’s issues. Report after report of violence – whether domestic or not – has desensitize the American people. Articles of domestic abuse, although shock us, does not incite the same emotion it initially did when we were children. As children, we believed the world was perfect and it was hard to digest hearing about these events. Othello allowed the audience to get a better glimpse of the real world. Othello rejuvenates these issues and encourages us to mobilize and do something to stop this problem in society.

Works Cited:

“October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Alabama News.” Alabama News. N.p., 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.

7 Comments on “Othello and Domestic Violence”

It is extremely fascinating that the author talks about Othello and leads this topic to domestic violence. The author not only descries the performance of Othello, but also explains the purpose brought from the play; illumination of domestic violence in the United States. The author mentions that watching the play and reading the play are totally different. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine all the details in the book. However, theatre is strongly related to the perception of liveness, and it can bring a tight connection with audiences. Every slap, push and scream can be heard and seen. People can vividly feel it that seems like they are involved in that situation. As a result, even though I knew Othello was going to kill Desdemona on bed, I was still shocked when I actually saw it in theatre. I can directly feel the violence. Thus, those straight connections help people to easily feel the violence acts in the play. In addition, audiences think and reflect their own life after watching the play. Thus, through watching Othello, audiences can more clearly identify the importance of domestic violence in everyday life. The author explains that though many people feel that domestic violence is terrible, few of them actually do something to change this problem. However, Othello brings this reality upon the audience and gives them a direct influence. As a result, through building the connection between audiences and actors, Othello successfully emphasizes the domestic violence, as a noticeable issue, in the society.

Jingwei Ren on October 16th, 2016 at 8:45 pm

VUTheatre’s production of Othello highlights the domestic violence presented in the play written by William Shakespeare, with Desdemona playing the main role of victim. In an attempt to encourage the audience to become more proactive about domestic violence, VUTheatre’s Othello portrays Desdemona as a powerless character whose main function is to absorb men’s anger. Due to this portrayal, the audience can have interpersonal connections with her during the live performance. This is apparent in the scene where Othello slaps Desdemona in front of other characters. While Othello reads the letter, the lighting turns into a very bright white color that reflect off of his clothes, making his presence more salient. The lighting stays focused on Othello, which makes him appear as a powerful figure because the audience pays more attention to his presence. Once he slaps her, Desdemona kneels down on the ground, physically placing herself in a lower position than Othello. Othello then circles around her and raises his voice at her, making her appear as if she is just an object that will help him alleviate his anger towards her. She cannot do anything but helplessly watch him vent his frustration at her. I continued to get this sense of power discrepancy between these two characters in the scene where Othello smothers Desdemona on her bed. Othello begins this scene by slowly walking through the aisle, putting himself very near the audience. On the other hand, Desdemona sleeps on the opposite side of the stage. Because Othello stood so close to me, I was overwhelmed by his power, and was forced to empathize with Desdemona for her lack of power to change her fate. Due to this exaggerated portrayal of Desdemona as a weak character, I wanted to help her stay emotionally stable. I felt I should take responsibility to not only raise awareness of domestic violence, but also to take action to prevent it.

jeoungh on October 16th, 2016 at 10:33 pm

It is truly amazing that Shakespeare’s wok can be still related to current social issues such as domestic violence. Domestic violence is a very important issue right now, and many believe it should be disappeared. We grew up in society where domestic violence has been spotlighted and even dealt in courts. When Othello executed domestic violence to Desdemona, just like how the writer felt it, it was somewhat unbearable scene to me because I also believe that domestic violence should be eliminated. From watching the Othello, I was amazed that Shakespeare saw the domestic violence as the problem and showed how it can lead one’s life or people’s lives to despair. It is true that because medias presented the problem of domestic violence numerous times that many people/society became desensitized to the problem of domestic violence. However, seeing it from different angle like watching Othello, which was written more than 500 years ago, opened my eyes up and see the importance of eliminating domestic violence. Due to desensitization of such problem, current society does not thing about that problem anymore. However, seeing it from different angle such as from plays, movies, songs, or even any forms of art works, it can reconnect people to the importance of eliminating the problem and begin the action to eliminate the such issue.

Myungbum Lee on October 17th, 2016 at 10:09 pm

We have spoken many times about, “Why this play now?” Though Othello is a play that has been around for a long time, and has been read, performed, and taught over and over again, the themes within it will always be relevant. When I watched the play, I did not immediately think about domestic violence, but now I realize it is something that is addressed. I thought VUT’s interpretation had a blurred time period, with costumes that could point to modern times, but also had hints of renaissance wear. The theme music, a catchy hip-hop type beat, also helped bring the play into the current time period, while the script stuck mainly to Shakespeare’s older English. This uncertain time setting helps the viewer realize that domestic violence is an everyday problem. It happens now, and it has happened in the past. It is something that will keep happening in the future.

The set design also helped those in the audience feel more connected to the story due to the bare bones set, and open space. I, personally, felt very close to the actors, and that helped me become more immersed in the storyline. Because I felt more like someone hiding in the background watching everything that was going on rather than an audience member, it was more painful for me to see Othello treat Desdemona in a way that I would not ever want to see someone be treated. To be so close to it when he slapped her, and hear the sound echo through the building made me feel that much more hurt for her. I also felt helpless for Desdemona when Othello walked in while Desdemona was sleeping because I felt his powerful presence so close to me, and knew what he wanted to use that power for. Being able to be so close to the actors helped me feel every emotion and part of the play that much more.

The choices made in the production of this play highlighted the issue of domestic violence in a way that made the audience members more likely to get a small sense of what it would feel like to be in that situation. Though we can’t say we have experienced it, to be able to feel sympathy for someone else because the actions and emotions are so close to you is a step in the right direction.

Alysha Rattansi on October 17th, 2016 at 10:25 pm

This post is very well written and really asks the question: Why this production here and now? As the author expands, domestic violence and sexual assault have really become forefront issues that Vanderbilt community has had to address over the past few years with News/media coverage and a stronger understanding and awareness of the issues. With the scenes of domestic abuse where Othello slaps Desdemona, where Iago manipulates Emilia into getting the handkerchief by constantly putting her down, and most of all where Othello kills his wife because he thinks she is sleeping with someone else, violence against women had been a common theme throughout time. What I think is even more interesting is the intersectionality the with this and race. Race has also become another major issue at Vanderbilt University with the strong influence of the Hidden Dores campaign to promote visibility of minorities and the Black men and women by police officers across the country. In the play, Othello is almost forced to kill his wife by the influence of the people around him. Similarly in society, Black men and women are forced to behave certain ways in order to cater to the pressures around them. Further, the lack of intervention for the abuse of Desdemona is similar to the lack of bystander intervention in today’s community. All in all, I believe this post is a very thorough account of the relevance of the production.

Nikisha Sisodiya on October 17th, 2016 at 11:57 pm

This is a very interesting interpretation. I have never really thought of “Othello” as a commentary on domestic violence but I can see where you’re coming from.
Othello’s violence towards Desdemona isn’t just accepted by those around him. Characters such as Ludovico condemn him for it and are kind to Desdemona, but don’t take any action to stop it from happening again. What is frustrating about this play is that so many people knew what was going on, but the people who had the power to help remained bystanders. One message that could be taken from this is that if you see (or really even suspect) something happening you have a moral obligation to step in and help before something irreversible happens.

Olivia Peel on October 23rd, 2016 at 1:30 pm


I completely agree with this idea. I’ve actually seen Othello staged four times now, and each time I am affected by the scenes of domestic violence with undiminished poignancy. I am also intrigued that, though you alluded to it, you never mentioned the bed-chamber scene directly, but you did mention the slap. I don’t know if you did this because the slap affected you more than the bed-chamber scene, but it definitely did for me. I’m not sure why, but every time I experience Desdemona being slapped I have a visceral reaction, compared to a much milder reaction when she is violently strangled in bed by her husband. I’m not really sure why this is, but if I had to guess, I’d probably go to what you touched on about the media desensitizing us to murder. We are simply used to death by many means in media, but the pure disrespect of a slap in public by a recently loving husband? That is shocking, even to us.

essinec on November 8th, 2016 at 10:05 pm

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