Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is Zoe's second blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello. In it she talks about rehearsals, wearing a corest and Desdemona's changing character and relationships throughout the play.

Transcript of Podcast


We’ve finally got on our feet. We spent a long time round the table working on the text, which serves several purposes, you find out so much about the play and when I am at home learning the lines - because we have read it so many times - it is in your head already.

The work done sitting around the table is essential, because instead of wandering around with your script, going, ‘oh what does she really mean here?’ you’ve already discussed every single intention. You know who you are speaking to and why you are speaking to them, and in a sense that then dictates how you move and where you go. So although at times you may feel that you need to get on your feet or that you’ve had enough of reading, there are benefits to the table work.

Desdemona and Othello

In the early days of Desdemona's and Othello's marriage they are very much in love. In Act 3 Scene 3 Desdemona runs rings around Othello to persuade him to recall Cassio. She tries to wrap him round her little finger. There's a big long speech in which she's changing her direction all the time. She tries to persuade Othello using any way she can. The scene is quite fast and funny. Desdemona is thinking on her feet and if one tactic doesn’t work she moves on to the next one. So she's flirting with him a bit, chiding him a bit and then laughing at him or cajoling him, but she is always changing her intention, to try and get him to do what she wants him to do. This scene is just before the scene where Iago first plants the seeds of doubt about Desdemona in Othello's mind - so it's quite nice that you see this lovely romantic banter between Desdemona and Othello, and having got what she wants she leaves Othello, and Iago comes up and suddenly the tone changes.

I believe that Desdemona and Othello are kindred spirits and they’ve found each other. They are soul mates. She fell in love with his passion and his drive and he is a great warrior of the battlefield, I don’t think he would fall in love with a ‘little girl’. Desdemona admires Othello's strength and he admires her strength. I think that's a lovely quality that she has, but then of course, it is because she's so forthright that Othello starts to doubt her. He thinks, ‘hang on a minute why is she so obsessed with this Cassio business?’ so it is her downfall as well.

I think you have to build it up - you have to believe in the relationship. The audience need to feel that she has made the right choice by leaving her old life behind and defying her father. You need to believe that her and Othello are made for each other and hope their relationship will last. When all this jealousy starts eating away at Othello, you can see that ‘oh no’ - this one true thing that everyone believed in, this love, is now slowly disintegrating.

Desdemona in Venice and Cypress

There's a very distinct change from the Desdemona we see in Venice and the one we see in Cypress. For a start she has to learn everything when she arrives in Cypress. Not only is it a completely different world and full of soldiers, but she's discovering how to be a wife - the general's wife as well - so people are reacting to her as a figure head. She's had to grow up. In Venice she was always daddy's girl - told what to do, how she should act, where she should be, keep your mouth shut, this is who you are going to marry etc and she's now veered off that path and suddenly, almost over night, she finds herself filling different roles and positions.

We have looked at the scene where she arrives in Cypress (Act 2 Scene 1) and all the soldiers and the ship's oars men they all get down on their knees and bow to her and I think, certainly when I was playing it in rehearsal, it is quite overwhelming for her, suddenly she's going ‘oh my god they are looking at me to tell them what to do.’

Cypress is a bewildering world for her, but at the same time, especially the first half of their time in Cypress, she's absorbed in this love for Othello. She's very comfortable about declaring her love for him in front of everyone. She doesn’t seemed to have quashed that in anyway because of her surroundings. I think she is just in the throes of love and willing to declare it to the world where as he's a bit more embarrassed by it.

Desdemona's relationship with Emilia

Iago and Emila's relationship, is the absolute antithesis of Othello and Desdemona’s. I think Emilia is quite a sad character in a way. She is feisty because she's had to put up with quite a lot. She has Iago as a husband and in our production it is not a happy marriage.

Lorraine, who is playing Emilia, and I are really trying to forge a really true friendship between Desdemona and Emila even though they find themselves in different situations. Desdemona spends a lot of the time being quite wide eyed and innocent about life and about men because she has only had a good experience so far. Emilia has been slightly jaded, so she often takes on the role of advisor and says ‘hang on a minute, just wait before you rush into this, you don’t know that much about men.’ It's kind of a ‘big sister’ relationship. We are certainly going to encourage that kind of closeness. We don’t want it to be a servant and mistress relationship. I think that they only met each other coming across from Venice. So they’ve had this journey together on the ship and it would have been just them for a lot of the time. There would have been no airs and graces on Desdemona's part, I don’t think Desdemona is the sort of person who would project her status onto someone else. We are also lead to believe, at the beginning of the play, that Iago and Othello are the greatest of friends therefore Desdemona would be encouraged to treat Emilia as a friend and I think that's important. At the end when Emilia ‘outs’ Iago she is crying on Desdemona's behalf. It is really poignant if you’ve seen that lovely relationship that they have together because you understand how much they loved each other.


I’m wearing a corset in the rehearsal room so I can get used to wearing one in the run. You don’t realise how much you are used to your own body and used to slouching a bit or leaning on one hip you are. That's not what you would do it you are playing a lady and the use of the corset then gives you that lovely up right poise which perhaps I don’t have in real life.

These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.

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