Possessive jealousy and femicide take centre stage at performance of Othello on Trial

Possessive jealousy, rage, and murder; it’s is a story as old as Othello. Two women are killed by male partners each week on average in the UK. In November, a series of performances at Queen Mary University of London - sponsored by the School of Law and the Centre for Public Engagement - adapted Shakespeare’s masterpiece to stimulate debate about the high level of male violence against women in modern Britain.

6 November 2015

Othello on Trial is the first play in a major new youth theatre project. Weaving scenes from Othello, Shakespeare’s play featuring an ‘infidelity’ inspired wife killing, with excerpts from historic and contemporary trials of English wife killers, the play includes interactive elements in which the audience takes on the role of jurors.

The project designer, Adrian Howe, a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London said:

“The play takes a novel and innovative approach to raising awareness about femicide. Using scenes from Othello and excerpts from real murder trials, we expose men’s culturally-embedded excuses for killing their partners – ‘she was unfaithful, she disobeyed her husband, she left him’. At the core of the play is the importance of prevention and attitudinal change.”

Act 1 addresses the pivotal race question in Shakespeare’s Othello. It exposes and showcases provocation by infidelity as a deeply ingrained cultural excuse, sanctioned by law, for English wife-killers. Act 2 substitutes a white for a black Othello and puts him on trial for murder at the Old Bailey. A judge and the defendant enact a courtroom drama with a prosecutor and defence lawyer. Arguments are taken verbatim from historical trail records.

Their deliberations become Act 3 of the play which doubles as an open forum to discuss whether loss of control due to extreme jealousy or possessiveness should excuse or justify murder today.