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Othello (New Swan Shakespeare Advanced Series)
Published in Paperback by Longman Group United Kingdom (1990)
Authors: William Shakespeare and Gamini Salgado
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Great Edition of a Great Play
Shakespeare's play, "Othello" is usually recognized as one of his "great" tragedy's (with Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth). It certainly has a quite exciting plot and great poetry. If you have not yet had an oportunity to read this great work, I recomend it strongly. It is still an intelligent treatment of race, family and civic duty, and sex. It also has one of the most interesting bad guys around - Iago.

I read it in the Arden edition, edited by Honigmann. Honigmann argues that Othello has a strong claim at being Shakespeare's greatest tragedy and makes a strong case for the work. He has a good introduction that gives a quite balanced and clear overview on many topics regarding this play, from the "double" time method Shakespeare uses, overviews of the various characters, as well as a the stage history. Amazingly, he can be remarkably balanced, even when he is talking about his own views. While he is a decent writer, Shakespeare is better... In the text itself, he gives quite ample footnotes to help explain the language, why he picked particular readings, as well as where themes came from...

Like all scholarly Shakespeare editions, the notes are in danger of overloading the text. This reader, however, recognizes the distance between myself and Shakespeare and so I find it comforting to be able to look at the notes when I have questions. At times his "longer notes" were awkward, but there is no easy way to handle this amount of material.

The ultimate tale of jealousy
Jealousy is perhaps the ugliest of emotions, an acid that corrodes the heart, a poison with which man harms his fellow man. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare specializes in ugly emotions, writing plays that exhibit man at his most shameful so we can elevate ourselves above the depths of human folly and watch the carnage with pleasure and awe.

In "Othello," the "green-eyed monster" has afflicted Iago, a Venetian military officer, and the grand irony of the play is that he intentionally infects his commanding general, Othello, with it precisely by warning him against it (Act 3, Scene 3). Iago has two grievances against Othello: He was passed over for promotion to lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced Cassio, and he can't understand why the Senator's lily-white daughter Desdemona would fall for the black Moor. Not one to roll with the punches, he decides to take revenge, using his obsequious sidekick Roderigo and his ingenuous wife Emilia as gears in his transmission of hatred.

The scheme Iago develops is clever in its design to destroy Othello and Cassio and cruel in its inclusion of the innocent Desdemona. He arranges (the normally temperate) Cassio to be caught by Othello in a drunken brawl and discharged from his office, and using a handkerchief that Othello had given Desdemona as a gift, he creates the incriminating illusion that she and Cassio are having an affair. Othello falls for it all, and the tragedy of the play is not that he acts on his jealous impulses but that he discovers his error after it's too late.

It is a characteristic of Shakespeare that his villains are much more interesting and entertaining than his heroes; Iago is proof of this. He's the only character in the play who does any real thinking; the others are practically his puppets, responding unknowingly but obediently to his every little pull of a string. In this respect, this is Iago's play, but Othello claims the title because he -- his nobility -- is the target.

Shakespeare's Othello is the Ultimate Tragedy
Shakespeare's Othello is an interesting and dramatic tragedy. If you like imagery and irony, you will like Othello. Shakespeare uses the power of imagery skillfully to develop themes throughout the play. For example, recurring animal imagery is used to sharpen the contrast between people and beasts, showing how Iago and Othello begin to act more like beasts than human beings. Irony also adds much to the plot of Othello to make it interesting and exciting for the reader. Much of the irony used is dramatic irony because the reader knows of Iago's plot, while the characters in the play have no idea what is about to unfold. The relationship between men and women in Othello is another aspect of the play that makes it interesting to read. Iago's wife Emilia, for example, is very cynical towards men, probably from years of living with Iago. Othello and Desdemona's relationship is also intriguing. In the beginning of the play, Othello and Desdemona are seemingly deeply in love with each other. Othello, however, is rather easily convinced that his wife is cheating on him and becomes angry to the point where he cannot forgive Desdemona. He decides to kill her. As she is being murdered, Desdemona tries to protect her husband's innocence in her own murder. Another interesting aspect of the play which makes it stand out from other Shakespearean plays is the race of the main character. Othello is black and a Moor, or Muslim. This fact brings up issues to be explored in the play. Shakespeare shows the characters being separated not only by status and rank but also by their place of origin and their religion. Overall, Shakespeare's Othello is dramatic, well-written, and thoroughly explores how evil a human being can become.

King Lear
Published in Paperback by Prometheus Books (1987)
Authors: Gamini Salgado and William Shakespeare
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but what's it all mean ?
One of the things you can assume when you write about Shakespeare--given the hundreds of thousands of pages that have already been written about him in countless books, essays, theses and term papers--is that whatever you say will have been said before, and then denounced, defended , revised and denounced again, ad infinitum. So I'm certain I'm not breaking any new ground here. King Lear, though many, including David Denby (see Orrin's review of Great Books) and Harold Bloom consider it the pinnacle of English Literature, has just never done much for me. I appreciate the power of the basic plot--an aging King divides his realm among his ungrateful children with disastrous results--which has resurfaced in works as varied as Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres (see Orrin's review), and Akira Kurosawa's last great film, Ran. But I've always found the play to be too busy, the characters to be too unsympathetic, the speeches to be unmemorable and the tragedy to be too shallow. By shallow, I mean that by the time we meet Lear he is already a petulant old man, we have to accept his greatness from the word of others. Then his first action in the play, the division of the kingdom, is so boneheaded and his reaction to Cordelia so selfishly blind, that we're unwilling to credit their word.

Then there's the fact that Shakespeare essentially uses the action of the play as a springboard for an examination of madness. The play was written during the period when Shakespeare was experimenting with obscure meanings anyway; add in the demented babble of several of the central characters, including Lear, and you've got a drama whose language is just about impossible to follow. Plus you've got seemingly random occurrences like the disappearance of the Fool and Edgar's pretending to help his father commit suicide. I am as enamored of the Bard as anyone, but it's just too much work for an author to ask of his audience trying to figure out what the heck they are all saying and what their actions are supposed to convey. So I long ago gave up trying to decipher the whole thing and I simply group it with the series of non-tragic tragedies (along with MacBeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar), which I think taken together can be considered to make a unified political statement about the importance of the regular transfer of power in a state. Think about it for a moment; there's no real tragedy in what happens to Caesar, MacBeth, Hamlet or Lear; they've all proven themselves unfit for rule. Nor are the fates of those who usurp power from Caesar, Hamlet and Lear at all tragic, with the possible exception of Brutus, they pretty much get what they have coming to them. Instead, the real tragedy lies in the bloody chain of events that each illegitimate claiming of power unleashes. The implied message of these works, when considered as a unified whole, is that deviance from the orderly transfer of power leads to disaster for all concerned. (Of particular significance to this analysis in regards to King Lear is the fact that it was written in 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot.)

In fact, looking at Lear from this perspective offers some potential insight into several aspects of the play that have always bothered me. For instance, take the rapidity with which Lear slides into insanity. This transition has never made much sense to me. But now suppose that Lear is insane before the action of the play begins and that the clearest expression of his loss of reason is his decision to shatter his own kingdom. Seen in this light, there is no precipitous decline into madness; the very act of splitting up the central authority of his throne, of transferring power improperly, is shown to be a sign of craziness.

Next, consider the significance of Edgar's pretense of insanity and of Lear's genuine dementia. What is the possible meaning of their wanderings and their reduction to the status of common fools, stripped of luxury and station? And what does it tell us that it is after they are so reduced that Lear's reason (i.e. his fitness to rule) is restored and that Edgar ultimately takes the throne. It is probably too much to impute this meaning to Shakespeare, but the text will certainly bear the interpretation that they are made fit to rule by gaining an understanding of the lives of common folk. This is too democratic a reading for the time, but I like it, and it is emblematic of Shakespeare's genius that his plays will withstand even such idiosyncratic interpretations.

To me, the real saving grace of the play lies not in the portrayal of the fathers, Lear and Gloucester, nor of the daughters, but rather in that of the sons. First, Edmund, who ranks with Richard III and Iago in sheer joyous malevolence. Second, Edgar, whose ultimate ascent to the throne makes all that has gone before worthwhile. He strikes me as one of the truly heroic characters in all of Shakespeare, as exemplified by his loyalty to his father and to the King. I've said I don't consider the play to be particularly tragic; in good part this is because it seems the nation is better off with Edgar on the throne than with Lear or one of his vile daughters.

Even a disappointing, and often bewildering, tragedy by Shakespeare is better than the best of many other authors (though I'd not say the same of his comedies.) So of course I recommend it, but I don't think as highly of it as do many of the critics.


A king brings tragedy unto himself
This star-rating system has one important flaw: you have to rank books only in relation to its peers, its genre. So you must put five stars in a great light-humor book, as compared to other ones of those. Well, I am giving this book four stars in relation to other Shakespeare's works and similar great books.

Of course, it's all in the writing. Shakespeare has this genius to come up with magnificent, superb sentences as well as wise utterings even if the plot is not that good.

This is the case with Lear. I would read it again only to recreate the pleasure of simply reading it, but quite frankly the story is very strange. It is hard to call it a tragedy when you foolishly bring it about on yourself. Here, Lear stupidly and unnecessarily divides his kingdom among his three daughters, at least two of them spectacularly treacherous and mean, and then behaves exactly in the way that will make them mad and give them an excuse to dispose of him. What follows is, of course, a mess, with people showing their worst, except for poor Edgar, who suffers a lot while being innocent.

Don't get me wrong: the play is excellent and the literary quality of Shakespeare is well beyond praise. If you have never read him, do it and you'll see that people do not praise him only because everybody else does, but because he was truly good.

The plot is well known: Lear divides the kingdom, then puts up a stupid contest to see which one of his daughters expresses more love for him, and when Cordelia refuses to play the game, a set of horrible treasons and violent acts begins, until in the end bad guys die and good guys get some prize, at a terrible cost.

As a reading experience, it's one of the strongest you may find, and the plot is just an excuse for great writing.

Shakespeare's tale of trust gone bad...
One of literature's classic dysfunctional families shows itself in King Lear by William Shakespeare. King Lear implicity trusts his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, but when the third wishes to marry for love rather than money, he banishes her. The two elder ones never felt Lear as a father; they simply did his bidding in an attempt to win his favor to get the kingdom upon his death. Cordelia, on the other hand, always cared for him, but tried to be honest, doing what she felt was right. As Lear realizes this through one betrayal after another, he loses his kingdom -- and what's more, his sanity...

The New Folger Library edition has to be among the best representations of Shakespeare I've seen. The text is printed as it should be on the right page of each two-page set, while footnotes, translations, and explanations are on the left page. Also, many drawings and illustrations from other period books help the reader to understand exactly what is meant with each word and hidden between each line.

Cony-catchers and bawdy baskets: an anthology of Elizabethan low life
Published in Unknown Binding by Penguin ()
Author: Gamini Salgado
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D. H. Lawrence : Sons and lovers
Published in Unknown Binding by Arnold ()
Author: Gamini Salgado
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D. H. Lawrence: Sons and lovers; a casebook
Published in Unknown Binding by Aurora Publishers ()
Author: Gamini Salgado
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D.H. Lawrence
Published in Audio Cassette by Sussex Publications Ltd (1982)
Author: Gamini Salgado
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The Elizabethan Underworld
Published in Paperback by Sutton Publishing (1997)
Author: Gamini Salgado
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English Drama, a Critical Introduction
Published in Hardcover by Palgrave Macmillan (1980)
Author: Gamini Salgado
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The Everyman Companion to the Theatre
Published in Hardcover by J M Dent & Sons Ltd (1987)
Authors: Peter Thomson and Gamini Salgado
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Four Jacobean City Comedies (Penguin English Library)
Published in Paperback by Penguin USA (Paper) (1986)
Author: Gamini Salgado
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