Nihilism and the Cambridge Summer

I have been talking about Othello with a group of students who are about to start their preparations for the International Baccalaureate. It will be one of their set works. The great American critic Harold Bloom suggests that Othello is a play which stands mid-way between on the one hand the teeming cosmos of Hamlet, with its walking spirits and its more-things-in-heaven-and-earth Horatios, and on the other the cosmic spiritual voids of King Lear and Macbeth. It is, in its way, a route map of nihilism.

...route map of nihilism. Edmund Kean as Othello

…route map of nihilism. Edmund Kean as Othello

Not a play, then, which you would expect to see out in the Cambridge gardens on a summer evening, where the normal fare are the comedies, the Midsummer Nights and the Merry Wives. Watching Shakespeare under the stars with a mulled wine calls for a little less drama, you would think, and a little less nihilism on the whole.

But I am wrong. The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival is well under way, with productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to be sure, but also of Macbeth,Timon of Athens, and the horrifying Titus Andronicus. Plenty of blood and gore to be had, then, and just a glimpse of the void, if that’s your pigeon.

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