Character: Othello, Child Soldier

When a boy soldier from Somalia grows up, what kind of husband will he make? I went to hear Adrian Lester talk about playing Othello, yesterday. He said the lines that had stood out referred to how young Othello was when he became a soldier: ‘For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith…they have used their dearest action in the tented field.’ Which means he has been killing since he was seven. The army is his family; his fellow soldiers, his brothers. Also, AL points to Desdemona’s reported reaction to him. That when he tells the stories of his adventures to her she reacts with pity, as if she understands his suffering: ‘Often did beguile her of her tears, when I did speak of some distressful stroke that my youth suffered.’   She gets past his uniform and straight to his heart.  AL said this would have been a first for him, that he would have been used to listeners wanting to know how many he had killed and the details of the battle.
What I find interesting about this, is that AL has made up the last bit. Or at least extended the fact that it was what Desdemona’s father asked him about. But it enables us to understand the fragile psychology of a man of war encountering love for the first time.
I have heard actors say that if they cannot find the explanation for who their character is in the text they will make it up.
And what is the question they most want answering? Why is this person the way they are? Does it make sense? Can I stand in front of 300 people and convince them of it?
The challenge as someone creating a character is to make sure the explanations are already there.

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2 thoughts on “Character: Othello, Child Soldier

  1. Adrian Lester made Othello so believe, it was one of those plays I feel privileged to have seen. There’s a great book on characterisation for actors – ‘Impro’ by Keith Johnstone – which I found really useful in creating characters. An actor friend recommended it.

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