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Star Trek TAS: Season 1, Episode Five “More Tribbles, More Troubles”

Stardate: 5392.4 (2269)
Original Air Date: October 6, 1973
Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Hal Sutherland       

“If we’ve got to have tribbles, it’s best if all our tribbles are little ones.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The return of tribbles! The Enterprise has been assigned to transport two robot grain ships to Sherman’s Planet, which has been struck by crop failures and famine. They contain a seed shipment of Quintotriticale, which is vital to the survival of the colonists on Sherman’s Planet. However, while en route, the Enterprise intercepts a Klingon battle cruiser chasing a smaller “Scout” vessel (the Klingon ship is led by Captain Koloth).

The Enterprise rescues the lone pilot fleeing the Klingons, and he turns out to be none other than deep space trader Cyrano Jones! As it turns out he has committed “ecological sabotage” against the Klingons for stealing a “Glommer,” an odd little creature that is the chief predator of the tribbles. Captain Koloth unleashes a new secret weapon –a “stasis field”—which disables the Enterprise and its weaponry. However, the stasis field is also a power drain for the Klingons.

Unable to use the Enterprise, Uhura realizes the robot ships are not trapped by the stasis field and the Enterprise sends two filled with tribbles over to the Klingons (Cyrano Jones has genetically engineered this batch of tribbles so they cannot reproduce). Then Kirk negotiates a deal –he sends the Glommer over to the Klingons in exchange for lifting the stasis field. However, in a silly twist, these larger tribbles are actually revealed to be small colonies of the furry creatures. Thankfully, Dr. McCoy discovers a work-around in the end –an injection of neothylene which breaks the tribbles down into their individual units with slower metabolic rates.  


My Thoughts on “One of Our Planets Is Missing”

This episode offers an amusing bit of light comedy, a funny addendum to “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It gives a nod to Trekkies by reanimating several characters from TOS: Cyrano Jones, Captain Koloth, and of course tribbles. Despite being a bit silly, I still had fun with this episode.   


Writer

David Gerrold (1944-present) was an early fan of the Star Trek, who was encouraged by Gene Roddenberry to submit scripts for the show (he ultimately submitted a total of five scripts). The first script he submitted was entitled “Tomorrow Was Yesterday,” a sixty-page script about the Enterprise discovering a ship launched from Earth centuries earlier (it was never made into an episode). He later wrote several Star Trek books –both novels and memoirs. He also wrote for a variety of classic science fiction shows such as Land of the Lost, Babylon 5, Sliders, and The Twilight Zone (the reboot). Gerrold wrote the Hugo and Nebula-award winning novelette “The Martian Child.” His other celebrated science fiction novels include The Man Who Folded Himself (1973), and the Hugo and Nebula-nominated When HARLIE Was One (1972). Gerrold remained friends with DC Fontana hence why he was invited to participate in the Animated Series, as well. He wrote two episodes of TAS “More Tribbles, More Troubles” and “Bem.”  


Star Trek Trivia:

  • Stanley Adams reprises his role from “The Trouble With Tribbles” as the voice of Cyrano Jones in this episode. He was one of three returning guest stars to portray the same character in both their original and animated appearances.
  • This TAS episode was originally pitched as a TOS third season sequel to “The Trouble With Tribbles” but it was scrapped by Fred Freiberger.
  • In this episode, Kirk notes that Cyrano Jones is currently in violation of three federation mandates and forty-seven local ones.
  • The Klingon character Captain Koloth also previously appeared in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
  • Despite initially being voiced by William Campbell, Koloth is voiced by James Doohan in this episode.
  • David Gerrold later praised both of Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of his two episodes for TAS. However, he also expressed dissatisfaction with the final script for “More Tribbles, More Troubles.”
  • David Gerrold makes an almost unnoticed animated cameo in this episode –a joke idea that was amusingly incorporated into the episode by Filmation. Gerrold can be seen briefly manning the transporter controls. For a long period of time, there was a rumor that Gerrold also voiced the other Klingon, Korax, however he later corrected the record and noted that James Doohan voiced Korax.
  • There is a running joke in this episode wherein increasingly larger tribbles keep sitting in Kirk’s captain’s chair as the episode progresses.
  • The robot grain ships in this episode is the first instance of a new Federation ship in the series, and they later became the inspiration for the Antares-type ships that appeared in the remastered TOS episodes.
  • The dialogue from this episode’s script was recorded with the full regular cast in attendance (the first time they had reunited since filming of the original series
  • According to the stardate in this episode, it takes place right before “Spock’s Brain.”
  • Director Hal Sutherland (1929-2014) directed all episodes of the first season of TAS. He gained early career recognition working on large Disney animation movies before switching to Filmation where he worked on TAS, as well as Flash Gordon, Batman, and Superman animated shows. Notably, pink is a recurring color in TAS. This is because Sutherland was colorblind and thought he was actually selecting the color grey.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek TAS: Season 1, Episode Four “The Lorelei Signal”

Stardate: 5483.7 (2269)
Original Air Date: September 29, 1973
Writer: Margaret Armen
Director: Hal Sutherland       

“What are you doing?”
“Taking command of this ship!”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Enterprise is en route to an unfamiliar sector of space where a series of earth ships have disappeared mysteriously over the last 150 years. Recent discussions with the Klingon and Romulan empires have revealed that a starship has disappeared precisely every 27.346 star years. Suddenly, the Enterprise receives a sub-space radio signal that sounds like a strange form of music, and Spock realizes the ship is being probed by the Taurean system which is located some ten or twenty lightyears away. The Enterprise heads toward the system at warp 7, arriving at the second planet in the Taurean System where Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Lt. Carver form a landing party to investigate the surface where an extraordinarily advanced civilization has been constructed.

However, Uhura begins to grow suspicious. She notices that all the men have been affected by the signals being emitted from this planet, and they begin having enticing hallucinations. Her readings of the planet also contradict what Spock is finding. While Scotty helms the ship, his mind also begins to drift away into a euphoric state as he sings an old traditional Welsh song “Yr Hufen Melyn” (“The Yellow Cream”). Thus, Uhura takes command of the ship.

Meanwhile on the planet’s surface, the landing party encounters a race of humanoid women led by Theela (Majel Barrett) who verbally communicates with their technology via tonal control (i.e. singing a musical note) and the women sedate the Enterprise crewmen using a powerful nectar causing weakness in men. Life-force transferring headbands are placed onto the heads of the crewmen which glow when the female Taureans are near. However, thanks to some quick thinking by Spock, the crew break out of imprisonment, and they are rescued by Uhura’s all-female rescue party, thanks to Spock’s ability to telepathically communicate with Nurse Chapel.

The headbands have each drained much of the life-force from the crewmen, their skin appears frail, wrinkled, and baggy, however they are able to be fully reconstructed via the Enterprise transporter. And in the end the crew are able to actually help the female Taureans –who were previously eternal prisoners unable to age or produce children. Much to their delight, the Enterprise promises to send another Federation ship to bring the female humanoids to a new planet where they may live normal lives.


My Thoughts on “The Lorelei Signal”

While it goes without saying that the animation is a bit stilted and choppy, thus far these episodes of TAS are still fun examples of classic Trek, perhaps this is owing to DC Fontana’s attention and care for the series. In “The Lorelei Signal,” we revisit a science fiction version of the sirens’ song which initially appeared in classical mythology (Homer’s Odyssey). I was particularly struck by the idea of tonal communication to access advanced alien machinery –a fascinating concept which will appear again in future iterations of Star Trek. This is also a great Uhura episode as she takes over command of the ship, and I should also note that TAS allows for some extraordinary set designs like the plant life on the surface of the second Taurean planet.


Writer

Margaret Armen (1921-2003) worked from home writing articles for various newspapers while raising her young son. She started writing for several television shows, especially westerns, before writing three episodes of Star Trek TOS: “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” and “The Cloud Minders.” She also wrote two episodes of TAS “The Lorelei Signal” and “The Ambergris Element.” Armen was invited to write for TAS by DC Fontana.


Star Trek Trivia:

  • The title of this episode is a reference to an old Germanic legend (“The Legend of Lorelei”) and also it alludes to the mythological sirens in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • This episode was similar to treatment written by Gene Roddenberry for the Original Series entitled “The Venus Planet.”
  • In addition to her normal role as Nurse Chapel, Majel Barrett performed the voice of Theela, the head of the Taurean women.
  • Nichelle Nichols supplies the voice of security officer Lt. Davison in addition to that of Lt. Uhura.
  • James Doohan adds the voice of Lt. Carver to his usual role of Chief Engineer Scott.
  • This episode features an amusing sequence in which Doohan sings part of an old Welsh folk song, “Yr Hufen Melyn” (“The Yellow Cream”) as the Enterprise drifts by the planet, in a segment that lasts over half a minute.
  • Nichelle Nichols was apparently thrilled that Uhura was offered the chance to command the Enterprise in this episode.
  • This episode has one of the closest examples of “Beam me up, Scotty” –a phrase which Kirk never actually says. In this episode, he says, “Beam us up, Scotty.”
  • Director Hal Sutherland (1929-2014) directed all episodes of the first season of TAS. He gained early career recognition working on large Disney animation movies before switching to Filmation where he worked on TAS, as well as Flash Gordon, Batman, and Superman animated shows. Notably, pink is a recurring color in TAS. This is because Sutherland was colorblind and thought he was actually selecting the color grey.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) Review

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) Director: Colin Trevorrow

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The painful (and hopefully final) installment in the Jurassic Park franchise has at last been pushed over the finish line by Universal Pictures. Raising no eyebrows, Jurassic World: Dominion plays out like the last gasp of a story that simply has nothing else to yield. It is just another action flick, rife with nostalgia-bait which checks the box and fills the financial quotas –albeit with about as much depth and creativity as a corporate board room. Additionally, a familiar group of cardboard characters return in this film led by Chris Pratt as Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing –however, many of the characters from the original film also reprise their roles: Laura Dern returns as Dr. Sattler, Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, and Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant. Sadly, none of these characters are expanded upon or explored in any memorable way. Everything about this movie just conveys a general sense of perfunctory malaise.

Dominion attempts to portray an epic, world-ending cataclysm –giant locusts which will apparently lead to a worldwide famine, however, none of it really feels very threatening. Even the dinosaurs feel muted and almost human –I rolled my eyes when Owen Grady rescues a baby raptor and returns it to his beloved “Blue” and she shares a touching moment of thanks with him. There are plenty of other similar situations. Like most modern franchise blockbusters, there is a great deal of absolutely incredible CGI special effects in this film, however the script and performances are simply atrocious.  

Dominion takes place four years after the previous film (Fallen Kingdom). Dinosaurs now freely roam across the world and, as alluded to in the last film, a young girl has been cloned. Her name is Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) and there are poachers hunting her down so she is hiding out at a remote mountain cabin. There is also a killer locust plague on the loose and an evil corporation named Biosyn is running a dark underground black market dinosaur trade –in other words, there are lots of sub-plots happening at once! The head of Biosyn –a clumsy man who bears striking resemblance to Tim Cook, current CEO of Apple—is an awkward, nervous, uncharismatic figure with no clear agenda. I guess he is just intended to be evil. The script dictates that he is actually intended to be Lous Dodgson (Campbell Scott), a character who bribed Wayne Knight in the first Jurassic Park film, however Wayne died before delivering the infamous canister… so how did Dodgson receive the delivery? At any rate, with so many characters and meandering side plots, everything barely has enough space for a surface-level glimpse before quickly shifting to another dinosaur chase scene. After the heroes save the day with relatively few obstacles in the way, the end of the film declares it’s now time for humans to live in harmony with dinosaurs, which strikes me as the opposite message of the first film. At any rate, with various narrative retcons, secret cloning facilities, and loads of unsatisfying nostalgia-bait, perhaps it’s time to finally close this chapter of the Jurassic Park saga. Still, if you’re looking for a vapid summer blockbuster with a dose of color-tinted cynicism and predictable action sequences, I guess you could still do worse than Jurassic Park: Dominion, but not by much. Broadly speaking, I’d say it is marginally better than its predecessor, Fallen Kingdom.  

Click here to return to my survey of the Jurassic Park series.   

Ancient Valor and Modern Humility: A Reading of Othello

In Shakespeare’s Othello, we are whisked off to the sixteenth century cosmopolitan empire of Venice as it wrestles with an ongoing military conflict against the Ottoman Turks. The setting is the Mediterranean world which serves as a backdrop for the war between the East and West, and on a much deeper level, it conveys the longstanding dispute between classical antiquity and modern culture. In the war between Venice and the Ottomans, I took note of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), a particularly hard-fought naval battle where Miguel Cervantes once served (author of the ever-illuminating Don Quixote) before he was captured and enslaved. For Shakespeare’s Venice in Othello, these kinds of battles are a common occurrence along the outer Venetian colonies, and since war is a horrifying teacher of many things, the setting of Othello provides a unique testing ground for Shakespeare to explore a characteristically modern moral conflict, the likes of which can also be found in Hamlet and Macbeth. In all three plays, Shakespeare takes us to the geographic outer periphery of Europe, each of which which forms a triangulation along the extant borderlands of the Continent: Hamlet (Northeast in Denmark), Macbeth (West in Scotland), and Othello (South in the Mediterranean). In Hamlet, our young protagonist is driven mad by the impossibility of heroic revenge in a modern context, in Macbeth, our older classical war hero is compelled to commit the grave crime of regicide, and in Othello, an aging Turkish mercenary is consumed by delusions that his young bride has been unfaithful. In each play, the tragic hero is confronted by various competing notions of The Good which are then found to be tragically irreconcilable.

Now, to examine The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Who is Othello? He is a Moor from North Africa, perhaps approaching his older years or at least middle-aged. His mother has died some time ago. After many years of fighting on the Turkish battlefield, he has developed an impenetrable reputation as a warrior, even though in the play we do not actually witness any of his military successes in action. For example, at the very moment Othello is set to confront the Turks on the high seas, the Turkish fleet is destroyed not by military conquest, but rather by a foul tempest. Thus, we rely exclusively on Othello’s reputation alone to verify his military valor. Notably, the idea of reputation and rumor serve as key themes in the play.

Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain, 1880

Like Macbeth or Hamlet, Othello represents a classical hero tragically confronted with his placelessness within modern Christian civilization. He is regularly addressed as “noble Othello” or “valiant Othello” who has a “constant nature” which is “all sufficient.” Of course, this stands in stark contrast to the “wealthy curl’d darlings” of Venice, a city devoid of thumos and lacking the warrior spirit. We may surmise that Othello takes place during the Ottoman-Venetian War (1570-1573), which was only a few short decades before Shakespeare’s Othello was first performed. Therefore this play represents one of the closest time periods to Shakespeare’s own contemporary age. In the play, Venice is portrayed as a prosperous commercial hub filled with financiers and businessmen –a cosmopolitan pleasure capital that allows for relatively open sexual tolerance (in contrast to the austere Ottoman Turks). Venice is a republic which controls the commercial shipping lanes between North Africa (to the south) and Europe (to the north) as well as the Silk Road (to the east). As such, Venice has devolved into a vast seafaring empire, claiming colonies like Corfu, Crete, and Cyprus, the latter of which is a key strategic military outpost perched along the Mediterranean. Cyprus serves as a disputed territory in Othello –a borderland region caught between opposing worlds, the Christian West and the Ottoman East. It is in this context that we are asked to consider the play.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are often rife with just such a metaphorical borderland, a confluence of ideas and a conflict of values. Shakespeare’s own age, the Renaissance, was a unique moment that found itself looking both backward and forward at the same time, not unlike the Roman god Janus. With nostalgia, it gazed back at the majesty of the ancients (i.e. ancient Greece and Rome) and at the same time, it hailed a newfound philosophic optimism for the dominant modern Christian ethos in the hopes that it could somehow be harmonized with the virtues of classical antiquity. Within this duality, we see a tragedy begin to emerge as this apparent contradiction is shown to be impossible, at least for Othello who echoes the conflict in both Hamlet and Macbeth. In each play, Shakespeare exposes the tragic impossibility of two opposing value systems, which suggests that the true spirit of classical antiquity cannot be revived– and as such, the Renaissance comes to light as a uniquely tragic era. The greatest values in Venice can be either meekness and humility (the Christian ideal), or else pride and magnanimity (the classical ideal). Will Venice decide to be compassionate or valorous? In Othello, Venice attempts to maintain the former while importing the latter from abroad.

Perhaps written in 1601-1602, Othello may well have been influenced by an August 1600 visit from the ambassador of the King of Barbary to meet with Queen Elizabeth I for a ‘half year’s abode in London.’ His delegation very likely witnessed a performance by Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, during the Christmas season of 1600-1601. Perhaps this meeting inspired the character of Othello, and it may have even sparked the “willow” folksong once sung by Desdemona’s maid named Barbary, which Desdemona uses as her death song. Shakespeare also likely consulted John Leo’s A Geographical Historie of Africa (1600), along with Pliny’s Historie of the World (1601), and Sir Lewis Lewkenor’s The Commonwealth and Government of Venice (1599).

Additionally, Shakespeare’s other chief source for Othello was likely a 1565 prose story by Italian writer Giambattista Giraldi (nicknamed “Cinthio”) entitled “Un Capitano Moro” (“A Moorish Captain”) as found in Gli Hecatommithi (1565), a collection of tales a la Boccaccio’s Decameron. The original story is something akin to morality play warning European women against the dangers of marrying foreign men because they are temperamental and unaccustomed to the virtues of Western culture. While generally regarded as a vice in our own present cosmopolitan age, this notion of inalterable racialized “otherness” is central to Othello’s character. He is a militaristic Turk in search of an entry point into the high culture of Venice, a city which has lost its capacity to successfully defend itself and so it employs a foreign mercenary to fight its war against the Turks. And while, Othello is welcomed into Venice as a commander, he is never fully embraced as a Venetian –he remains foreign, exotic, strange, and “other.” Yet it is precisely his permanent status as a stranger which beckons Desdemona to fall in love with him. She loves the myth of this great-souled man, a warrior who proudly declares himself in possession of a “perfect soul” –unlike the tender commercial businessmen of Venice.

Whereas Othello desires to become fully Venetian by embracing the city’s senatorial bureaucracy, he views Desdemona as his point of entry into the dignified material comfort of Western society (Desdemona’s father is Senator Brabantio, her cousin is Lodovico, and her uncle is Gratiano –are all prominent members of Venice), however, in contrast, Desdemona sees Othello as her way out of Venice. She has grown unimpressed by the wealthy tradesmen of Venice, and she longs for excitement. She is infatuated with Othello’s tall tales of faraway lands, cannibals, and Anthropophagi (or “man-eaters” in the vein of Homer’s Odyssey) –do we trust Othello’s story-telling? Perhaps not, he may simply be a weaver of yarns in the vein of Odysseus. Regardless, Desdemona falls in love with the idea of Othello, and above all, she yearns for him to remain a Turk. While Othello longs for safety in Venice, Desdemona yearns for Turkish adventure. Thus, their marriage is troubled from the start. Perhaps their marriage would have collapsed with or without the conniving aid of Iago. In truth, their matrimony actually occurs prior to the start of the play –offstage and in secret– and already we can see Othello’s foibles begin to unfold. Why does he not seek her father Brabantio’s blessing for Desdemona’s hand in marriage? Surely, to secretly marry the morally-upstanding daughter of a prominent Venetian senator would have raised quite a stir in the city, and also it may have led to a fraught political relationship between Othello (Venice’s military commander) and his superiors in the Senate, including his new father-in-law. Despite having a reputation of being a great warrior, Othello is not a particularly shrewd politician, nor is he a strong judge of character. Love and war make for strange bedfellows when disharmoniously united within a man like Othello. He does not seem to understand the delicate art of statecraft. In the case of lies and deception, Othello is impressionable, almost like a child. However, during the heat of battle, Othello is not fooled when the Turks make a deceptive military maneuver –they feign a landing at Rhodes when, in truth, they make haste for Cyprus to launch an invasion. Yet, on the other hand, Othello is quite easily swindled by the whims of Iago, whom he routinely regards as an “honest” man. In the former instance, he is able to see through the fog of war clearly, but somehow he cannot see not through the deceptions of his own ensign.  

Who is Iago? He is a Venetian soldier, presently serving as Othello’s ensign (or “ancient”). He has been fighting the Turks for at least several years during which time he has witnessed Othello’s skills in fighting both ‘Christians and heathens’ in places like Cyprus and Rhodes, among others. In other words, Iago has witnessed Othello in battle prior to his defection to Venice, and perhaps Iago has become aware of Othello’s deep paranoia of betrayal, as Othello, himself, has essentially betrayed the Ottomans. At any rate, Iago is a deeply envious person (in the spirit of Nietzschean ressentiment) and he is a schemer who hides his true intentions (“I am not what I am” –is his infamous inversion of the Biblical God’s declaration). Iago begins the play by expressing dissatisfaction at being passed over for the position of Othello’s lieutenant in favor of a soft-handed Florentine, Michael Cassio, a bookish “arithmetician” who has hardly seen the field of battle (in fact, he has “never set a squadron in the field nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster”). Cassio’s somewhat possessive mistress (not his wife) named Bianca lurks frequently in his shadow. Iago despises Cassio. In addition to his existing grievances, Iago claims there were “three great ones” in Venice who supported his bid for lieutenant, but Othello still chose Cassio for the position instead. With this in mind, I might suggest that Othello’s selection of an inexperienced, non-Venetian lieutenant, like Cassio, is yet another instance of his lack of tact. Othello may be a great warrior, despite being a clumsy politic. Iago observes these failings, and he concocts an elaborate ploy in which to ensnare Cassio in the hopes of taking over as lieutenant. However, he does not stop there. Why? Because Iago is bitterly resentful. He longs not only to witness the advent of his own personal fortunes, but rather he hopes to bring down a great-souled man like Othello, and in doing so, he hopes to witness the ruination of a classical hero. Iago represents a uniquely modern source of rage, or wrath –a brand of vengeance which seeks a scorched earth path of destruction because “we cannot all be masters.” His steady diet of revenge is a perverted form of justice which comes by means of certain excesses and deprivations –it is the nasty presence of schadenfreude which gives him a vicious, discontented soul that ‘gnaws at his innards.’

The people surrounding Iago become mere pawns in his nihilistic plot –including poor Roderigo and his impossible love for Desdemona, but also, and perhaps most strikingly, Iago’s own wife, Emilia, who serves as a mere cog in his ugly machinations. Even prior to his plans, the marriage of Iago and Emilia seems to ring hollow – Iago believes his wife Emilia is too loose-lipped, and, in general, he believes women are deceptive creatures “who rise to play, and go to bed to work.” In some respects, he echoes Hamlet in their mutual suspicion of women whose attractive exterior betrays an evil interior. In turn, Emilia, claims men are mere stomachs which consume and belch up women –both spouses carry a most vulgar prejudice against the opposite sex. While serving as Desdemona’s handmaid, Emilia suggests there is indeed a price she would accept to cheat on her husband, because ‘every small vice has its price.’ Unlike Desdemona, Emilia had chosen a customary and acceptable husband in Iago, the Venetian military ensign, and when Desdemona’s cousin Lodovico arrives, Emilia claims she knows “a lady in Venice who would walk barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.” Here, again, we see the loose sexual mores of Venice on display. However, Emilia still obeys her husband’s whims, going so far as to steal Desdemona’s prized handkerchief (“her first remembrance from the Moor”) which Othello later explains was an important keepsake from his dying mother, a gift from an Egyptian which carries mysterious supernatural powers –its magic will offer an amiable marriage to its possessor. The handkerchief was apparently crafted by a sibyl using the silk from hallowed worms and mummified maidens. Do we believe Othello? A skeptical reader might suggest Othello is again spinning elaborate yarns. However, if this account of the handkerchief is true, perhaps there was witchcraft involved in Othello’s courtship of Desdemona after all –an accusation her fearful father once leveled. Regardless, the handkerchief comes to symbolize the collapsing marriage between Othello and Desdemona, especially Othello’s growing rejection of domestication and his reassertion of his heroic spirit. Continually fed an unfolding web of lies from Iago, Othello is driven mad at the thought that his wife has been unfaithful. On the field of battle, Othello is accustomed to simply taking what he pleases a la Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, however a marriage requires listening, compromise, and mutual subordination. Building on his initial transgression (taking Desdemona as his bride without the blessing of her father) Othello suddenly snaps after discovering her handkerchief is missing, and he berates and smacks Desdemona in front of a delegation of Venetians, yielding audible shock from the gentle senators. In a mere three day’s time, Othello has been turned against his wife and has devolved into an epileptic marital tyrant. He is convinced that Desdemona must die, so as to prevent her infidelity from ever occurring again –evil must be rooted out from the earth. In spite of being born a Turk, Othello assumes the garb of the Christian West and becomes intoxicated by the resentful, envious spirit of Iago’s embodiment of its greatest extreme. His perceived victimhood is transformed into righteous vengeance.

The murder of Desdemona comes in spite of the fact that Othello is driven mad by pure mania and suspicion, rather than true evidence of infidelity. At first, he plans to poison her, but even that is too weak a punishment for Iago to accept (recall the poisonings in Hamlet), and so Othello suffocates Desdemona instead –snuffing out her light in a most uncharacteristic fashion for a brutal warlord. In the end, Roderigo is murdered, Cassio is wounded (“by and by a fool, presently a beast!”), Emilia is killed, Iago is wounded, and Othello sorrowfully commits suicide when he realizes the horrid truth. He asks that the Venetians remember him not as a villain, but as their hero (he reminds the Venetians of a time that he smote a Turk at Aleppo). He dies while kissing his late bride, a brief reclamation of the heroic ethos as Othello shows that he would rather die than live with the shame of dishonour (perhaps not unlike Ajax as portrayed in Sophocles’s Ajax). In life, Othello struggled to distinguish love from war, and friends from enemies, but in death, Othello manages to claw back a piece of his ragged reputation (“who can control his fate?”). Cassio is then given command in Cyprus (how might this relate to the popular rule of Montano, governor of Cyprus?), Iago is led away to be tortured, and Lodovico returns to the senate in Venice. The empire of Venice continues onward, only without a heroic leader at the helm.  

Of course, history has brought to light what has happened to Venice. By 1573, Venice had lost its colony at Cyprus and in the ensuing century or two it would also gradually lose its other colonies as the empire fell into a state decline. At the time of Shakespeare’s writing, Venice was still a powerful trading rival of England with roughly the same population size as London. Therefore, Shakespeare’s Venetian plays (Othello and The Merchant of Venice) were of great public interest upon release. However, his portrayal Venice speaks to something more universal, addressing questions which extend beyond a particular time or place. In Othello, Venice and its colony of Cyprus come to light as a Renaissance mirror held up to our own world. Perhaps in some ways we share certain commonalities with a cosmopolitan republic like sixteenth century Venice, with an expansive international empire in support of commercial activities, various proxy wars which require the employment of foreign mercenaries, and a boundless belief in the rule of law which engenders a vast senatorial bureaucracy. On the periphery of this empire, Cyprus becomes a unique testing ground for the virtues and vices of the Venetian republic. And even today, Cyprus remains a politically disputed island, tenuously divided between the Greek West and the Turkish East.


For this reading I used the essential Arden 3rd Edition of Shakespeare’s Othello as well as the magnificent writings and lectures of the late Paul Cantor.