Between the Lines: In black and white: Actor Ben Onwukwe on the ethical difficulties of Shakespeare's Othello

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The Independent Culture
'It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul;

Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars]

It is the cause. Yet I'll not shed her blood

Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,

And smooth as monumental alabaster.

Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men.

Put out the light, and then put out the light.'

From Othello, Act V, sc 2

'I'VE ALWAYS been a bit ambivalent towards Othello. It is a part of Shakespeare's oeuvre which divides critics and punters alike. Is it the original racist play? Should your politically correct post-colonial-era black actor be associated with this humiliating sambo tract? After all, this negro is so credulous, naive and paranoid. Is he Uncle Tom's ancestor? None of these questions is even worth considering, in my point of view, as it does not help to cleave 20th-century perceptions of race and class on a drama from the Elizabethan world - it obscures and ultimately precludes serious attention to the actual essence of the tragedy. Of course, the play is hijacked by Iago who is the one with the pathological mission: he's the man racked with jealousy, which he slowly drip feeds into the ear of his general. In the not-too-distant past, I had a stab at portraying Othello ('a baritone stick insect' was one of the kinder comments) and it was the 'bed scene' that did it for me. There is a serenity and clarity at this point and the beauty of the drive of the protagonist's words has a delicious purity. This is a man so utterly resolved to carry out this act that that one is moved beyond tears.'

Ben Onwukwe is appearing in 'The Best Man' at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, which opens on Friday (081-680 4060)

(Photograph omitted)

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