MLK Day and the Moor

In my book, ain’t no co-inky-dink that Dr. MLK, Jr. Day and March for Life Day always occur within the week.

Here we present a couple from the archive in honor of the champion of justice:

1. St. Paul and Dr. King (2009)

2. Wedding at Cana and Dr. King (2010)

…Hopefully you will forgive me for taking so long to fulfill a promise I made a number of moons ago, namely to explain why—speaking of Moors—Othello both a) occupies an altogether different place from Verdi’s Otello, and b) shines forth as the greatest of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

I have not forgotten! Just a couple thoughts…

1. Othello possesses practically perfect dramatic unity. No character speaks a single word which does not cohere with the movement of the play.

(Even Roderigo serving as Iago’s ridiculous dupe actually opens up its own vista on the central mystery. Roderigo will do anything, no matter how craven, because he is possessed with love for something he idolizes.)

Of course, Hamlet, too, moves forward without a single detour—as does “The Empire Strikes Back,” for that matter.

2. In Otello, no star shines brighter than Desdemona’s purity, and no pit gapes blacker than Othello’s jealousy. Verdi paints no horizon higher than Desdemona.

Shakespeare, on the other hand, gives us human characters. One can measure Shakespeare’s Desdemona against something greater.

When Lodovico arrives in Cyprus, Shakespeare’s Desdemona admires his physique. Innocent enough, to be sure. But such a girlish humanity lies outside the range of Verdi’s Desdemona’s personality.

In eloping with the Moor, Desdemona has indeed betrayed her noble and loving father. In the play’s Act-I action (which goes missing from the opera), the father warns the Moor,

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.

Verdi’s Otello acts as an irrational demon. Shakespeare’s Othello, on the other hand, has this one credible reason to doubt his wife’s faith.

3. Othello teaches what may be the greatest lesson of them all:

When we behold others, what we actually see mostly comes from inside ourselves. To see others truly, we must have nothing but truth inside ourselves.

Who has so much? “Judge not,” therefore.

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