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  • Print publication year: 1987
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Orson Welles’s Othello: A Study of Time in Shakespeare’s Tragedy

Summary

With the recent wave of scholarship on Shakespeare on film there is at least one important line of questioning still to pursue: can the film medium serve as a critical tool for interpreting or reinterpreting Shakespeare's work? Is there something to learn, to rediscover, to see in a new light when, to borrow Walter Benjamin's phrase, we have 'the ingenious guidance of the camera' leading us through the text? If, as Benjamin suggests, the camera opens up 'a new field of perception' in this age of mechanical reproduction, how can we apply his notion to the specific instance of a Shakespeare play adapted to the screen?

One film that provides a particularly exciting opportunity for a critical analysis of Shakespeare's work is Orson Welles's Othello. Of Welles's three Shakespeare films - Macbeth (1948), Othello (1952), and Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Othello has received the least critical attention and continues to be one of the most rarely seen of all cinematic adaptations of the plays. But careful study of this film illuminates a thematic aspect of the text that leads to a fresh reading of the play as a whole. Through his use of cinematic technique, Welles has produced a work that emerges as a study of time in Shakespeare's Othello. The insights to be gained from the film concerning this element of the play are of considerable importance for, and can contribute significantly to, scholarship on Shakespeare's great tragedy.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Volume 39: Shakespeare on Film and Television
  • Edited by Stanley Wells
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053167
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521327571
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