Desdemona: Reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello deconstructs gender and race at Melbourne Festival

By Alison Croggin for ABC, 17 October

American novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s revision of the Shakespeare classic Othello is a brave deconstruction of otherness; of American race relationships and the politics of gender.

Sometimes it seems that the entire Western canon turns on the deaths of women. Again and again, women face two choices: they must be domesticated in marriage, their autonomy sacrificed for social harmony, or they must die.

Sometimes, as in Shakespeare’s Othello, marriage and death become explicitly the same thing.

No argument, these women die beautifully.

Feminine abjection, as Catherine Clement argues in her groundbreaking critique Opera: The Undoing Of Women, is central to our cathartic enjoyment, and the aesthetic pleasure of their suffering and death expresses a dark truth about the roots of our culture.

Innocent but betrayed, like Desdemona, or guilty and haunted, like Lady Macbeth, their suffocated lives play out in the background of dramas in which the disturbance of their existences are at once admitted and smoothed out into patriarchal order.

In <i>Desdemona</i>, an imaginative excavation of Shakespeare’s Othello, co-written by Morrison and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traore, this profound structure of emotional expectation is challenged.

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