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Clulow, C. (2014). Othello, by William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London, 2013. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 4(1):101-103.

(2014). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 4(1):101-103

Arts Review

Othello, by William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London, 2013

Review by:
Christopher Clulow, Ph.D.

Othello and the Questioning of Difference: A Reflection on James Fisher's and Nicholas Hytner's Representations of Shakespeare's Tragedy

In his elegant and imaginative discourse on couple relationships, The Uninvited Guest: Emerging from Narcissism towards Marriage (1999), James Fisher chose to start and end with tales of “hateful jealousy and suspicion” (pp. 1 & 247). Shakespeare's Othello was the tale with which he brought his book to a conclusion. His closing chapter, “Termination,” was not, as one might imagine, a guide to ending psychotherapy with couples, but a restatement of his main thesis: that the acceptance of the otherness of others is the key that opens the door separating narcissistic object relating from a real and passionate engagement with an intimate other—his view of marriage. Using Othello to illustrate his thesis is both apt and convincing. This is a play in which difference is rendered as disloyalty, otherness as betrayal. When the otherness of others cannot be accepted, when the illusion of sameness cannot be relinquished and mourned, then suspicion abounds, marriage remains unconsummated, and tragedy ensues.

Othello and Desdemona's marriage could not have been founded on greater differences. He is black, she white; he comes from the wrong side of the tracks, she from a political elite; he's a hardened self-made soldier, she a soft, cosseted daughter; he has age and experience, she has youth and beauty. What started with Brabantio, Desdemona's father, drawing Othello into the family fold—

Her father lov'd me; oft invited me;

Still questioned me the story of my life

From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes

That I have passed. (I, iii, 128-131)

developed into a marriage founded on complementing difference:

She lov'd me for the dangers I had pass'd,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

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