Of all Shakespeare’s great tragedies, “Othello” is probably the most straightforward in terms of plot and subject. The play, which on Thursday, Aug. 30, begins a 3 1/2-week run at the Grove Shakespeare Festival, chronicles the swift downfall of a man consumed with jealousy.
Othello’s doom is sealed when he begins to believe false stories accusing his bride, Desdemona, of infidelity.
He kills her, discovers too late that she was innocent and commits suicide. As he accurately says of himself, he is a man who “lov’d not wisely but too well . . . one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, (was) perplex’d in the extreme.”
“Othello,” which was written probably between 1602 and 1604, is also a stark tale of the corruption of good by evil as personified through two people: Othello, a proud, victorious general whose open, trusting nature has not been hardened by war, and Iago, a cynical, battle-scarred career soldier so embittered at being passed over for promotion that he seeks Othello’s ruin by planting the rumors about Desdemona and assiduously cultivating them.
Iago, who has the most lines in the play, is by far its most complicated figure as well.
In that respect, “Othello” can also be seen as a psychological character study of a Machiavellian opportunist unequaled in the entire Shakespeare canon except by Richard III. And, like Richard, who tells us right from the beginning in his famous opening soliloquy that he is “determined to prove a villain,” Iago warns us of his duplicity in the opening scene of “Othello”:
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end;
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ‘tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.
Although “Othello” is strictly a domestic tragedy, with virtually no attention paid to its effect on matters of state, it nevertheless revolves around a military mission in which Othello is sent by the Duke of Venice to defend its outpost on Cyprus against a Turkish invasion.
Accordingly, director David Herman says he has updated the Grove production to post-Napoleonic times to underscore the texture of life in an isolated garrison, where most of “Othello” takes place.
Michael Morgan, who has appeared on television in “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Guiding Light,” will play Othello.
Gary Armagnac, seen earlier this season at the Grove as Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing” and as Jacques in “As You Like It,” will play Iago.
Susan Doupe, who made her Grove debut last season as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” will play Desdemona.
The Grove Shakespeare Festival production of “Othello.”
Through Sept. 22, Thursdays to Sundays at 8:30 p.m.
The outdoor Festival Amphitheatre, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove.
Off Route 22, take Euclid Street exit going north.
$16 to $23. Student, senior and group discounts available.
Where to call