Simpson case carries theme of human tragedy

January 26, 1995|By WILEY A. HALL

The hero of Shakespeare's "Othello" was acclaimed as a resourceful general, honored for his wisdom and character, treated as a friend and confidant by the rich and powerful nobles who courted his favor.

In the play, the admiration for Othello was so widespread that it transcended his being a Moor in 16th Century Venice -- a black man in a white world.

Othello won the heart of Desdemona, a woman of gentle birth who was considered one of the most beautiful and virtuous in the land. But jealousy, goaded by the lies of a spiteful aide named Iago, toppled Othello. His self doubt was a cancer that ate away at his happiness and then attacked his soul. And so, blind with rage, Othello murdered his wife and destroyed himself.

Tuesday, prosecutors painted a similar picture of O.J. Simpson; they produced a portrait of a twisted, tortured man who murdered his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman because of uncontrolled jealousy. But this case already has proved far more complex than any Shakespearean tragedy.

"The evidence will show that Mr. Simpson's decision to kill his wife was merely the final link in a progressive chain of abusive and controlling conduct," said Christopher Darden during opening statements by the prosecution. "That chain consisted of fear and intimidation and battery and stalking and the common theme in all of this was Mr. Simpson's desire to control her.

"Mr. Simpson could not stand to lose her so he murdered her," continued Mr. Darden. "In his mind, Nicole belonged to him and if he could not have her, nobody could."

And then Mr. Darden delivered this sad eulogy on Nicole Brown Simpson, who married the football star when she was 18 years old, divorced him after 17 years and then died less than two years later. "Her only notion of adult love," said Mr. Darden, "was what this defendant gave her. And he abused her throughout that relationship."

In response yesterday, Mr. Simpson's lead attorney accused prosecutors of "character assassination."

"They don't know this man," said Johnnie Cochran Jr., as he dismissed the state's portrayal of an abusive and hateful marriage. "In their pursuit to win, the prosecution is trying to dredge up some theory to give you a motive, because in truth, they don't have a motive. [They] said yesterday that investigators did everything they could to exclude Mr. Simpson as a suspect. We're going to talk to you about the trails they did not pursue."

On Tuesday, prosecutors described a "trail of blood" that stretched from the murder scene to Mr. Simpson's bedroom. Yesterday, defense attorneys described a "rush to judgment" that led both police and prosecutors to systematically ignore evidence that did not fit their theory.

And so, the most talked-about trial of our time begins. I confess that I've been watching the televised proceedings all week -- though it has become fashionable for people to feign disinterest as the case unfolds.

I believe that something of consequence is happening in that courtroom. As the prosecutors outlined their case, I became aware that this is not a legal circus put on for our amusement, but a profound tragedy.

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are dead, and Mr. Simpson faces life imprisonment. The lives of three families have been shattered beyond repair. Television didn't create this tragedy. And the sensation surrounding the trial cannot diminish it.

Shakespeare's "Othello" ultimately is not about race but about the more universal traits of jealousy and fear; about the self-doubt that can corrode someone's character and lead to self-destruction. The play inspires self-exploration and such questions as: What about me? What am I capable of?

Compared with the human complexities of the Simpson case, the motivations in "Othello" seem simple. Yet the trial may raise similar questions.

People say they already are sick of the case. I am sickened by it too. But I am sickened by the loss of life, by the tragedy of it all, and by what the crimes may or may not reveal about the dark, destructive passion that is part of the human condition.

It's a theme worth exploring -- whether in drama or in real life.

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