Othello is a tragedy so complex and beautifully worded that it is universally regarded as one of the most finely crafted, powerful plays ever created for the stage. It is a terrifying story of murder and suicide, a hotbed of sexual jealousy and aggressive ambition, a hurricane of lust and lost humanity spinning in the winds of war. It is a blood-chilling thriller with horrific twists and turns, a tale of blind hatred and visionary love. It seeks for truth and finds dishonesty, leaving beloved characters bleeding on the cold and senseless stones.
Othello is a magnificent warrior and statesman descended from african kings, commanding authority, nobility of spirit and elegance of mind. The villainous iago is a meta-theatrical, hate-filled player who contrives to seduce even the audience to embrace and justify his peculiar point of view. The diabolic ensign exacts horrific revenge as he torments the once-honorable Othello into desolation, ruin, and death.
For Iago, a highly intelligent, insinuating demi-devil “who knows all qualities with a learned spirit of human dealings,” even the suspicion of his wife Emilia’s adultery makes him think himself the victim, and imagine himself an heroic “revenger.” He wreaks havoc against his wife, against his master Othello and against the virtuous Desdemona, while enjoying a sense of smug superiority:
So will i turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.
I feel very fortunate to have directed this brilliant cast in this beautiful setting for this fantastic company and to have worked with such a talented team of designers and hardworking, excellent crew and staff. It takes a consummate cast to fulfill these titanic roles and I am thrilled to have had the honor of watching Peter Macon and Geoff Kent lead this inspired ensemble. I am especially grateful to CSF Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr for the opportunity to work here, and to the people of Boulder for an absolutely wonderful visit in your gorgeous community.
Othello is a classic, one of the great plays of all time, a piece of work that I believe is as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s day. i am deeply grateful that you have decided to take this harrowing journey with us. I hope that you enjoy our production.
Thank you so much for coming!
—Lisa Wolpe, director
Iago, a standard-bearer for the military general Othello, and Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman, vent their frustration concerning recent events. Othello has married Desdemona and promoted his lieutenant Cassio over Iago. Iago confesses his hatred for his master, and convinces Roderigo to keep trying to win the heart of Desdemona. Iago moves underhandedly to expose Desdemona and Othello’s marriage to her father, the Venetian noble Brabantio. Othello is called upon to explain the marriage, and Desdemona confirms how she fell in love with him. Shortly after the Duchess of Venice recognizes their marriage, Othello is needed for military duty and sent across the sea to address a rumored attacked from the Turkish army on the island of Cyprus. Desdemona asks to follow othello and they depart.
In Cyprus, it is discovered that the Turkish ships have perished, and Iago seizes his opportunity to exact revenge on Cassio and Othello. Iago encourages Cassio to drink at the celebration of the Turkish defeat, and Cassio begins an inebriated brawl. Othello must dismiss him from his military position. Iago steps in to convince Cassio that through pleading with Desdemona, he might gain favor again with Othello. Meanwhile, Iago’s wife, Emilia, has obeyed Iago’s instructions to steal dDsdemona’s prized handkerchief, a gift from Othello. Iago plants the token in Cassio’s room, and suggests to Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio.
Although initially in disbelief, Othello is ultimately convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity and strangles her in their bed. Emilia enters upon hearing Desdemona’s desperate cries and pieces together the truth for Othello. Iago steps in to kill Emilia for revealing Desdemona’s innocence, and Othello takes his own life at the realization of his actions. Iago is taken prisoner, but has achieved all of the destruction he promised at the beginning of the play.
—Bianca Gordon, dramaturg
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s production of Othello places concerns around gender at the forefront of the audience’s attention, alongside problems of race and class, the traditional markers of the outsider in this play. Othello is an outsider for being a “moor” of North Africa, while Iago feels isolated and enraged over his status and lack of promotion. Director Lisa Wolpe’s production uses gender as a lens through which we may explore characters in new ways and investigate women as outsiders.
Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber points out that “race, class, and gender become crisis points when they categorize something, or someone, as different, and also out of place.” Othello situates several females in such “out of place” and uncommon positions. Desdemona shocks her father and secretly marries Othello. Emilia unknowingly plays a crucial role in Iago’s plot against Desdemona.
And in CSF’s production, the Duke of Venice is a powerful duchess. Although scholars believeOthello was written in 1603 and first performed in front of King James in 1604, the control and composure of a Venetian duchess echoes the figure of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Elizabeth, as a female sovereign, governed through a privy council. Similarly, the duchess is introduced to the audience while discussing the Turkish attack on Cyprus with a council of senators. The duchess and her council are interrupted by Brabantio bringing a case against Othello for marrying his daughter. The duchess acts decisively, yet not as the male patriarch Brabantio expects, when she affirms Desdemona and Othello’s marriage. Brabantio will appeal to the men of the council, but the duchess maintains her power. The duchess even goes so far as to speak on behalf of Othello’s goodness to Brabantio; “your son-in-law is far more fair than black,” before redirecting Othello away from Desdemona and into the rumored conflict in Cyprus.
Tensions between the order of Venice and the confusion of Cyprus are another way this production explores questions surrounding gender. The name Cyprus originated from the Greek word Kypris, another name for the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite is commonly known as the goddess of love, beauty and marriage. The connotation of sexual passion in the name Cyprus is particularly drawn out on stage when the characters celebrate the demise of the Turkish ships with a huge party. This party sparks the underlying dangers of the freedoms in the Cyprus wilderness. Ultimately, Cyprus is the location where Othello unravels the compelling tragedies for female outsiders who suffer in the confusion between order and chaos.
—Bianca Gordon, dramaturg
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