Rewriting Shakespeare….and His Names
True story: I have never once wanted to get revenge on someone. I don’t have any enemies and I strive to be kind to everyone; I remind myself there’s always another side to the story and try my best to keep that in mind when something doesn’t go my way. Because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, I’ve always been fascinated with stories about revenge and why someone would choose to go down that slippery slope.
Several months ago, when I answered a call for short stories to be part of a new charity anthology of Shakespeare retellings, the only play I even considered working with was Othello—the ultimate tale of revenge. A perpetual favorite of mine, I turned Othello into The Scarf, which brings the familiar characters to a modern high school during a student government election. Golden boy Omar is poised to win the presidency, the ultimate power position in the school, but just hours before the results are to be announced, he confronts his girlfriend Darcy about the mounting evidence that she’s cheating on him with his running mate. With a missing scarf as the seemingly final nail in the coffin of their relationship, stage manager Emerson begins to put together their pieces of the story that isn’t as it appears on the surface.
Othello is not only one of the most interesting of the bard’s plays, but it contains some of the most interesting names, in my opinion. I, of course, started my story by choosing new names for all the players. I was set on keeping the first letter of the original names so it would be clear to readers less familiar with the story who they were reading about.
The play’s title character Othello became Omar. I have adored the name Omar for years and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it. The character Omar is charismatic and charming, everyone’s best friend, and needed a name that projected those traits. In The Scarf, Omar is also the quintessential leader, unflappable and sure of himself, but is distracted by assumptions that his girlfriend, Darcy, is cheating on him.
Desdemona turned into Darcy. I am less cruel than good ol’ Will and did not send Darcy to the same fate as her predecessor. I went for something lighter and sweeter. Darcy is loyal to the bone, especially when it comes to her long-term boyfriend, Omar. She’s always seen wearing the wine-red scarf he gave her, but on election night, it goes missing.
Iago is now Ivan. Our villain needed something that felt cold and cruel, but also interesting. Iago is such a recognizable name in pop culture and I wanted Ivan to have the same distinction in my story. Ivan is the perfect campaign manager, cool and collected, supporting his candidates from the wings. Ivan and Omar have always been best friends but Emerson, Ivan’s girlfriend, begins to wonder if all is as it seems between the two of them.
Emilia changed into Emerson. Emerson is another name I’d been saving and as Emilia is fairly current, I went with a fresh alternative to her more popular sisters. Emerson is also my narrator and mystery-solver, so I wanted a name that projected intelligence. She’s not only the voice of the story, but the eyes and ears. Emerson overhears suspicious conversations while backstage and begins to put the pieces together of what happened to Darcy’s scarf.
Cassio became Caleb. Caleb is the unfortunate social casualty in my story and I felt he needed a name that made him seem not only kind but perhaps a little naïve and vulnerable. He’s Omar’s running mate, and a social climber, which makes him an easy suspect when Omar’s placing blame.
Roderigo is now Ruby. A small player in this story, I gender-flipped the character and went with something spunky and sassy that fit her spitfire personality. Emerson wonders if Ruby might be harboring feelings for Darcy and trying to throw Omar off his election game.
Christina June is a writer whose spin on Othello is included in the new book, Never Be Younger, a YA Anthology, available now for purchase for the Kindle, The Nook, and the Kobo. All proceeds from sales go to United Through Reading, an organization dedicated to keeping military families connected through books and technology.