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When he moans ‘Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief’, Othello is not at his most eloquent. Fanned by Iago’s suggestions, anger and jealousy put pressure on the expected principles of arrangement in Othello’s speech. The line falls in Act IV scene i just after the Moor moves from verse to prose and, by dropping metre, Othello rejects one method of linguistic organisation. The dashes quoted above reveal that syntax is also quickly disregarded – heightened emotions reduce sentiment to bare essentials. We’re presented with the first stages of a decay that is not fully realised: though Othello’s speech is in tatters, he faints before his words complete the transformation from highly organised poetry to the noise of grunts or groans or, in other words, of non-words.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Che Cosa Sono Le Nuvole? (1967) presents Othello as a human puppet show and uses the new design to finish the linguistic movement that the plays starts. At the opening of Act IV scene i, Othello echoes Iago’s phrases: ‘Will you think so?’ becomes ‘Think so, Iago?’; We move from ‘To kiss in private’ to ‘An unauthorised kiss’, from ‘naked with her friend in bed’ to simply ‘naked in bed’. These verbal similarities reveal how engrained Iago’s suggestions of sexual foul play have become. Che Cosa chooses to recast this moment of psychological manipulation, presenting it not as a series of verbal overlaps but instead as the point at which words (briefly) give way to noises. Iago’s delayed response to Desdemona’s request for Cassio to be reinstated is ‘Huuuum’. Othello, like the audience, wonders ‘Why do you say huuuum?’ Iago’s replies with an amused and mock-questioning scrunch of the face and the noise ‘Eeeeer.’ Again, Othello can only ask ‘And why do you say eeeeeer?’ The subtle engagement with and development of the source text allows, in this instance, much to be said with few words.

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