A Spectator’s Role
Chapter Eight: Othello: Iago’s Audience
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Othello: Iago’s Audience
Modern theatrical technology has brought live theatre to a point at which it can often attempt to duplicate the lighting, acoustics, and location-resources of cinema production. Thus we may lose sight of the crucial distinction between stage and screen: a live performance is the unique result of the interaction of a particular audience and a live group of performers, in which the audience is an active determinant of the outcome through its sustained inter-communication with the actors. Experienced playwrights consider the enlivenment of this interaction their primary concern, as Lope de Vega stresses in his verse treatise on the art of writing plays for public theatres in the Renaissance. His audiences simply will not tolerate scripts that merely conform to neoclassical rules at the expense of lively and suspenseful action, variety of pace and tone, and a range of characters from the sublimely tragic to the farcical. The uncertainty of each outcome of a live performance, particularly one as diversified as Lope specifies, gives live theatre its excitement, perhaps verging on the uncertainty, even apprehension with which we watch the acrobatics of trapeze artists. Indeed, sometimes such skills are required of actors, for I recall a performance of Othello that I saw in Moscow in 2000 in which Iago’s manipulative dexterity was matched by his skill in playfully balancing on a high parapet. This feat certainly added to the audience’s sense of suspense. The divergences between successive performances of...
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