It is almost as if Shakespeare had deliberately adapted this brutal murder tale to dare himself to find sympathy in the farthest extreme of human error. The three chief characters do grave - the gravest - wrong; and yet, plunged as they are into an atmosphere of sensuality, betrayal, and terror, to murder, lie, and scheme, they have yet persistently commanded the involvement and pity of their audiences. Herein would lie a crucial question for critics and actors seeking the true images of these characters: how can - and for the critics, why should - three such wrongdoers as Othello, Desdemona, and Iago win, so surely, so much care and compassion? Beginning here, the author sets out to discover how the complex, troubled characters of the play were interpreted by actors and critics from Shakespeare's time to the present. Starting with Burbage, Shakespeare's own "grieved Moor," Rosenberg re-creates the historic stage interpretations of Othello - by Betterton in the Restoration, by Booth, Quin, Garrick, Barry, and Kemble in the eighteenth century, by Kean, Macready, Irving, Booth, Forrest, and Salvini in the nineteenth, and by prominent actors of our own time. The great Iago characterizations are also here, and the Desdemonas in a line that includes Mrs. Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Sarah Bernhardt. The theater record is supplemented with comments on the characters provided by distinguished modern actors of the play. Then the author compares the acting interpretations with those of the critics, from old Rymer - who called Othello a "bloody farce" - to the most significant modern commentators. In some of the wittiest parts of the book, Rosenberg defends in turn Iago, Othello, Desdemona, and the play (and even Thomas Bowdler) from the attacks of their severest critics; but he finds it possible to reconcile the best critical characterizations with the best acting conceptions, and to propose a synthesis based on his own study and experience of the play. The author's study of the successive stage editings of the play - some of them to reduce playing time, others demanded by the taste and moral sense of each new age - provides a running commentary of social and cultural history, and shows how these cuttings affected, as well as revealed, the actors' concepts of the characters. Othello is the most erotic, the most sensual in language and imagery of the great tragedies, and its heavily sexual atmosphere, so suitable to the seventeenth century, offended later cultures: the eighteenth century tried to "refine" it, and the nineteenth - particularly the age of Victoria - to "refine refinement" - but the essential form of the play survived.