Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Guest Post by Ceciley Pund: Spaghetti Shakespeare Number Two: Capriccio All’Italiana

Capriccio All'Italiana. Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Perf. Totò, Ugo D'Alessio, and Regina Seiffert. 1968. DVD. Filmauro, 2005.

Note: As part of a Faculty / Student Collaborative Grant, I worked with one of my students on film versions of Shakespeare in Italian (for which, q.v.). This guest post by Ceciley Pund, the author of the blog What Consolation, is part of that project.

Paulo Pausini in his film Il Capriccio All’Italiana, or The Caprice Italian Style, examines Othello from a moral standpoint. The film was split up into multiple stories and episodes, and the part we examined was entitled “Che Cosa Sono le Nuvole?” or “What are the Clouds?” The episode presents questions of life and death and human existence, using a performance of Othello in order to bring up these questions.

This is the beginning of the film, and it starts with the creation of the marionette Othello who then goes to join Iago and the other characters who are also marionettes, apparently waiting to perform Othello. He tells them, “Sono cosí contento, perchè sono cosí contento?” “I’m so happy, why am I so happy?” And another marionette answers him, “Perchè sei nato!” “Because you are born!” He is innocent with no troubles or cares. Then their performance of Othello begins, and the marionette Iago tells Roderigo of his hate for Othello. As Iago schemes and plans the destruction of Othello, the marionette Othello watches from backstage.

Here Othello becomes much more than a performance as the marionette Othello begins to question the morality of the characters. He asked Iago why they had to be so bad, and “Perchè dobbiamo essere cosí diversi da come ci crediamo?” “Why do we have to be so different from who we thought we were?” And Iago answers, “We are in a dream within a dream.” Then it switches quickly back to the performance, but Othello grows more and more disturbed by the actions of the characters. When Iago tricks him into believing that Desdemona is going behind his back with Cassio, he decides to kill Desdemona, and this seems to be the final breaking point for the marionette offstage.

Iago tells Othello that he needs to strangle Desdemona, and offstage Othello begins to cry over his immorality. Then he asks, “What is truth? Is it what I think of myself? What people think of me or what he thinks of me (referring to the puppet master)?” And Iago asks, “What do you feel inside of yourself?” And Othello responds, “Yes, there is something!” And Iago tells him, “That is the Truth. But don’t name it. Because as soon as you name it, it will go away.”

The final blow is when Othello attempts to strangle Desdemona.

The audience ironically strangles and seems to kill the characters Othello and Iago in the way that they had planned to kill Desdemona, who ends safely with the women of the audience. Director Pausini made artistic choices to change Shakespeare’s original ending, but with what intent? Desdemona lives, but Othello and the scheming Iago die. However, even more unlike Shakespeare, the marionettes themselves must also die, not just the characters that they play.

The characters offstage are constantly examining truth and morality through the actions of the characters that they play onstage. Each time they leave the stage, they are able to step back and ask questions of the way that their characters choose to live. This film uses Shakespeare’s Othello to present the immorality of human beings; however, the audience, representing society, punishes immorality.

In the end, once the audience kills the immoral characters, the puppets who played these characters are dumped outside. This is when Othello asks the question, “Che sono le nuvole?” “What are the clouds?” And Iago has no answer for him. It seems that the two are free and happy, but only after their strings, tying them to the immorality of their characters, have been cut.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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