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This report is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

‘Listen, Pops’: Desdemona Speaking Vahni Capildeo
If you think of Shakespearean characters who refuse to die, masculine heroes might come to mind. In Antony and Cleopatra, Mark Antony gloriously drags out his unsoldierly demise. In Hamlet, the prince’s procrastination, ostensibly a refusal to kill the king (since adapting to court life is clearly not an option for him) is also a refusal to be either killed or crowned. It is, however, the women who are dramatically addicted to being alive. The comedies spring to mind, with their pretend deaths: the fainting Hero in Much Ado About Nothing; in A Winter’s Tale, the long-gone Hermione who plays her own statue that disconcertingly is warm to the touch. These women have been ‘killed’ by bad words; the suspicion cast on them by men. Their resurrection, absurd and fabulous at plot level, brings serious embodiment as well as wondering laughter to the stage. It is a promise of new life, if and when faith can be renewed. That is a lot to carry.

Strangely, it is a woman in a tragedy who shows the most terrible vitality of all, yet tends to be remembered as a broken doll: Desdemona; and what she has to carry, in language, is even more than the women of the comedies. When the multitalented Dan Burley, as a musician, famously picked up on and compiled Harlem slang, he also wrote his own versions of well-known dramas, including Othello, ‘As Conceived in Harlem Jive’. This is now available in Thomas Aiello’s edition, Dan Burley’s Jive (Cornell University Press, 2009), which comprises Original ...


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