One of the most notable depictions of Othello was took place in 1988 at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this play, director Janet Suzman uses Shakespeare’s Othello as means of addressing the divisive South African issue of apartheid. This essay functions as a critique of Suzman’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Othello the Merchant of Venice, with specific emphasis on the play’s function as an underlining metaphor for South African apartheid and racial tension.
One of the first instances one witnesses director Suzman’s thematic intentions occurs when Othello first comes on stage. While the appearance the racial clash between Othello and Desdemona’s father Brabanzio always makes this a dramatically compelling scene, Suzman’s Othello is more than simply non-white. Actor John Kani is also non-European, with clear African descent. It’s not difficult to ascertain that this choice has been made deliberately to align the Othello character with Africans facing apartheid. Indeed, a number of critics have noted Suzman’s use of Kani’s non-European, African descent in this regard as, “a South African actor whose first language is not English and who therefore not only looked but – more than black British and American Othellos – sounded different” (Hankey, pg. 93). It’s this Afrikanerdom that Kani exudes which sets Suzamn’s Othello on a trajectory that situates the play not as concerned with the inter-racial relationship tensions as much as its 20th century overarching political concerns.
While this critique does not function as a literary analysis, there are a number of notable characterizations of Suzman’s contemporary overarching political concerns that coincide with Shakespeare’s text. For instance, when Barbanzio encounters the all-white, general counsel about Othello’s marriage to Desdemonia, Othello is characterized as having utilized magic or illicit methods to gain