Comparing Oedipus and Othello

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When comparing and contrasting the character’s Oedipus and Othello by means
of the different theatrical practices, one must take in account that there have been
many interpretations, and productions of each of their respected plays. The differing
presentations of each may lead someone to think differently about the play than
another would. In comparing and contrasting the dramatic representation of the
protagonists Oedipus and Othello, theatrical presentation, costume design, and
character will lead the reader, and viewer, to have a greater insight into the theatrical
practices of their times and their approaches to the issue of verisimilitude.

The theatrical presentation of both plays are very similar. The two plays would
both be presented on a thrust stage, which is a platform surrounded on three sides by
the audience. Except for the backdrop which would have some element of scenery,
the stage itself would be bare apart from a few scenic elements and props. Othello,
like most of Shakespeare’s plays, had what is called an abstract setting. That is a
setting in which the locale may change rapidly, it may not be indicated by the script
that it has changed, and was most likely suggested by a few props. Abstract settings
place more emphasis on the language and the performer, which causes the spectator
to use their imagination. It also places more emphasis on costuming. This type of
setting helped set up the style of representational theater, which places high emphasis
on the realistic. The style used in classical Greece was presentational which, because
of the use of the mask, gave no illusion that this story is happening before their eyes.
The audience is reminded that they are watching a play, and not merely observing
life. Thus, the use of the thrust stage is the only similarity of the two types of
presentation. Othello is a purely illusionistic play, whereas Oedipus Rex is one that
when watched, the viewer knows that they are watching a performance.

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Costumes convey information about the character and aid in setting the tone or
mood of the production. Because most acting involves impersonation, most
costumes are essential to re-create historical or to the period in which the production
takes place. Costumes like that of William Shakespeare’s Othello maybe abstract,
ever-changing, like it’s setting. When using the costume design of the latest film
version of Othello, he is usually seen in a toga-like uniform which may have stemmed
from his moor background. Since costume elements were formalized in classical
Greek theater, the costumes would be that of everyday dress with slight additions of
colour, designs, all of which created a larger meaning in the context of the play. The
additions on the toga also contributed to accentuating the setting , which in Oedipus’
case was Thebes. His toga could have been coloured like the sand and have an
ornament like a Sphinx tooth, signifying his bravery for killing the beast. In the case
of Othello his toga-like uniform, may have had a general’s insignia on the shoulders,
and much like in the film, the scars and tattoos showing the suffering he has gone
through. On the issue of verisimilitude, actors in Oedipus Rex would be required to
wear a mask bearing an expression that would stay throughout the place, making the
character’s seem flat and general. Oedipus is a round character, but because of the
mask, he has a one dimensional projection to the audience. The costumes worn in
Othello would be that of clothing of that time. This is common in both plays, but the
absence of the mask in Othello, meant that the actor provided their own expressions.
Thus, the costumes worn in both plays would be life-like to the audience, but the use
of the mask in classical Greece robbed the viewer of a three dimensional projection
and withheld the expressions, by the actor.

When an actor acts, they impersonate to believably re-create a historical or
fictional character. The character’s of Oedipus and Othello are developed into round
characters. Round characters are those that are well developed three dimensionally
with multiple meaning to their characters. Oedipus is a character who’s fate cannot
be avoided, and which ever path he seems to take leads him to more trouble than
what he had to deal with before. Even though his character is well-rounded, he is
not believable. It would be highly unlikely that Oedipus would marry a woman who
looked as if she could be his mother without asking a few questions about her


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