Is This A Dagger I See Before Me?

Having just seen Othello live from the National Theatre directed by Nicholas Hytner, it has taken me about three hours, a walk in the sunshine whilst parodying the constant over-the-top weighty emotion and a good meal to finally calm down. William Shakespeare never meant to traumatize his audience. It is a shame that this type of melodrama, has become the norm with recent interpretations of Othello and Hamlet at The National Theatre, London. I could not hear Shakespeare`s nuanced language for all the melodrama of emotion swirling on the stage.  Language is what is so powerful about Shakespeare.  Language is used both in love and hate, power and altruism.  It can damage and mend, yet often I could not hear and feel the language because it was buried in a torrent of exaggerated and sometimes abusive emotion.  The reason that Desdemona falls in love with Othello is because of language, the stories he tells with eloquence.  This captivating storytelling came across in the second scene and Adrian 
Lester delivered Shakespeare`s words so that vibrant imagery came forth.  Having been traumatized by Kenneth Branagh`s Hamlet, at the National Theatre that had dragged the audience through the mud that provided most of the setting and spitting us out at the end, I was hesitant to see this version of Othello, but I was hoping that Nicholas Hytner would have the more subtle approach and allow the language to speak for the complex emotions embodied within the meaning, rather than asking the often talented actors to turn-up-the-volume and give in-your-face emotions like a violent action film.    
      In the second scene, I was settling into the thought that this interpretation of Othello would be different.  Adrian Lester skillfully and subtly spoke Shakespeare's language in a volume that allowed the audience to get the complexity of meaning without him having to exhaust himself to get the meaning to us.  However, as soon as Iago begins to weave his sneaky plot against Othello, suddenly we a launched into full blown throwing of tables and punching against the filing cabinet.  Is this what Shakespeare intended?  Surely the language that he created was so that actors would not have to go to such violent lengths to convey meaning.
    Studying Shakespeare, I remember having two teachers that were divided in their opinions on the delivery of Shakespeare.  One teacher (who was of Hytner´s generation) thought that a mark of Shakespeare being played well was to see actually actors spitting on the stage as they delivered the words with worked up emotion.  The other (from an earlier generation) preferred to have Shakespeare delivered like modern conversation. She asked us to listen to the words as they left our lips and let the gamut of emotions, that is comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy be heard through the words themselves.
  This complexity of human emotion expressed through words is what makes Shakespeare so successful and relevant in contemporary times. He was able to depict this precarious balance between dual opposites.  Meaning dances between this duality of emotion and never rests on one or the other.  However, in this version of Othello it was as if Hytner wanted to find meaning within one extreme or the other and the only way the actors could attempt this melodramatic feat was exhausting themselves in over the top emotion.
     Finding myself switching off, I was reminded of bad Hollywood action movies that use the dolby digital surround sound to the n-th degree, shocking the audience into one way of interpretation of "Wow, isn`t this fantastic"! without really being able to define why.  It´s worrying, because this kind of orthodoxy can be in danger of becoming a norm and who would question a norm without being ostracized from society.  The irony of it is, is that Othello himself would know a thing or two about that.
     Desdemona seems to go from being played as semi-passive, yet overtly seductive in the presence of Othello and as she speaks "My Lord" it seems to be spoken at all times in submissive compliance instead of echo-ing the ripples of doubt that surely Shakespeare wanted to convey and to remind him of her love that she did at times question.  
    The choice to have Othello set mainly in a contemporary military context echoing Afghanistan is an interesting one, but I cannot help but think that this choice has increased the emphasis on violence as the primary driving force.  Vicki Mortimer`s sparse sets do let some of the magic disappear and do we really need to hear Othello throw up as Iago schemes?  This distracted from language once more and I found myself bracing myself for the next show of explicit ad nauseam.  
   In the final denouement where Othello enters to give Desdemona a final trial before smothering her, I did not believe that he was struggling with the truth to find his own judgement.  What came across was a harsh violent victim and oppressor scene to which I turned away from as it felt like I subjected to witnessing the real violence evident in Afghanistan or Syria.  At least in Orsen Well`s version of Othello it is clear right to the last moment that he loves her and is striving against his own reasoning, confusion and will that has become unstable through Iago`s game.
    Knowing that there seems to be a trend at present for this kind of amplified and violent emotion not only in contemporary productions of Shakespeare, but also it many otherwise interesting films and dramas, I sadly read glowing reviews knowing that the trend won`t be buckling anytime soon.
     I would be lying if I say that I am not worried about this.  Isn`t this kind of melodrama and contemporary realism in theatre exactly what Brecht strived against in the rise of fascism in 1930`s Germany.  He created a kind of theatre that had elements of realism on set such as Mother Courage`s carriage, that was real.  This was so that the audience would empathise and feel her struggle, but also his minimalist staging and acting that used gest were devices that were employed so that that the audience could see the complex social relations that the characters found themselves in rather than being subjected to violent emotional catharsis that leaves and audience too shocked and out of balance to find their own judgement.  In this kind of cathartic, realistic theatre, there is little room for one`s own interpretation and so the audience is whipped up in the frenzy of emotion and find themselves in a uni-directional emotional empasse.
     Unfortunately I am not immune to this and often I found myself be swept up by the crowd.  Luckily, much to friend`s dismay, I have a tendency not to stop there, but instead come out of the theatre or cinema dissecting exactly why am I so affected and analysis helps me to gain a more measured footing and drain the vast swap of emotion that engulfs the brilliant language of Shakespeare. 
    Finally by turning to the humour, and Shakespeare always had humour even in the darkest of his tragedies, I turn to Robin Williams teaching Shakespeare and literature to have the last say, there are many ways that the language of Shakespeare can be depicted, depending on the times in which we live.  Are we living so much in a time of extremity and violence?  Perhaps that is really the gift that Shakespeare gives us in this time, to help us see if this really is a dagger we see before us.