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The South Bank Show celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO which remains a powerful and controversial text on racism, sexual jealousy, power relations, and good and evil.

This film explores the performance history of the play, its changing interpretation across four centuries, and features the new production from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Othello is perhaps the starkest of Shakespearean tragedies because of the brutal simplicity of its plot - it tells the story of Othello, the “noble Moor”, who is tricked by the evil Iago into murdering his new wife Desdemona in a jealous rage.

Othello, the most famous black character ever created for the stage, is the quintessential tragic hero: an over achiever who is also a vulnerable outsider.

He destroys himself and all that he loves most on the flimsiest of presuppositions.

The play has spawned numerous reinterpretations for stage, TV, film, and operatic versions by Verdi and Rossini.

The South Bank Show films rehearsals of the RSC’s contemporary take which stars Sello Maake Ka-Ncube as Othello and Antony Sher as Iago, directed by Greg Doran.

Both South African born actors draw from their shared experience of apartheid, pre-Mandela;

“If you were brought up, as both of us were, in the old South Africa, you learn it in a dreadful way from very very early on and as a completely natural thing that two and two is four, the alphabet is A – B – C, and that black people are inferior human beings to whites.

And it is as natural and as much a sort of fact of life as that,” says Antony Sher.

Despite the play’s symbolism of black and white, some scholars have argued that this is a mere side issue to the theme of sexual jealousy in the text:

"O, beware, my lord of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on."

Othello demonstrates in its symbolism around race, religious conflict, and towering sexuality, that Shakespeare remains far ahead of us today, four hundred years after the birth of the play.

Produced and directed by Susan Shaw
Edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg

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