love through the ages: keywords (othello)

the central tragedy othello falls out of love with somebody who truly loves him-this is the tragedy-he loses his identity due to pride and insecurities
the use of monologues In the opening of the play we see a contrast between the two characters: Othello’s monologues e.g. 1,3 are centered on his love for Desdemona, whereas Iago’s (in the same scene) are all about himself, but how does this change?
foreshadowing Foreshadowing appears early in Othello and helps to sow the seed of doubt in Othello’s mind as to Desdemona’s faithfulness. It is just this kind of circumstantial evidence that adds to Othello’s insecurities. Brabantio unwittingly contributes to the eventual downfall of Othello, and lays the ground for his insecurities about her honesty to develop: Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee (1,3)
malcontent almost a synonym for villain: they have a discontent with the social structure: Iago’s discontent arises from being below Cassio on the scale while being more qualified than him.
Struggle between good and evil The tension between good and evil is evident throughout the play, but moments of heightened intensity come in Act 3 Scene 3 when Iago first casts doubt upon Desdemona’s loyalty to Othello. Othello’s speech reflects the anguish of a man who knows his wife to be good but fears the evil of women. Another poignant example of this is in Act 5 Scene 2, the juxtaposition between Emilia and Desdemona’s enduring and pure relationship with Desdemona and Othello’s corrupted relationship reflects this. Also, Othello’s final speeches demonstrate his acknowledgement of his fall from hero to villain/ good to evil.
public and private (act one scene three)-Macro is the cypriot invasion (war) whereas the micro is the war in Othello’s head due to Iago
harmartia (aristotle’s requirements for a tragic hero) fatal flaw leading to the tragic hero’s downfall: Pride; masculinity; insecurities (racial, class, cultural); gullible; jealous; doubting – these qualities make Othello (the tragic hero) weak
catharsis (aristotle’s requirements for a tragic hero) purgation of emotions so the audience feel they have learned something: this happens to Othello when he realises Iago’s plan
anagnorisis (aristotle’s requirements for a tragic hero) character’s revelation of something that hasn’t been realised previously: this happens to Othello when he realises Iago’s plan and Desdemona’s honesty
structure: blank verse and prose verse considered of higher status and moral worth: carried greater significance, prose was for everyday speech. However, Iago comfortably switches between the two, adopting a manner which suits his purposes, and chooses to use prose when manipulating others
warrior-like identity Othello pride’s himself in this, as it gives him status in a world that would otherwise shun him, and this identity often leaks into his speech (e.g. act two scene one “O my fair warrior”); its easy to see why it was brought out so easily by Iago
alienated, isolated, insecure this is how Othello feels even more as the play progresses, and are the main ‘villains of the play’
soliloquiy shakespeare presents Iago as the villain through these which are obscenely long, it is through this need to express himself that we see his insecurities, he feels the need to exert his power; they show his desperation, ambition, greed, but most IMPORTANTLY that he dominates the play (bar the final scene) BECAUSE he is male and a soldier (as a soldier he knows how to form a strategy)Shakespeare uses this to explore key characteristics of the malcontent and Machiavellian nature of Iago. Also, from Act 3 Scene 3, Othello begins to utilise this dramatic function, showing the impact Iago has had, and the transformation of Othello’s character due to…
soliloquiy: act two scene two there is a juxtaposition of Iago’s soliloquies at the end of the previous scene (2,1) and the Herald’s proclamation in this scene-it is quite a dramatic shift, as the soliloquy form is symbolic of solitude, but Othello’s celebration (which is discussed in the next scene (2,3)) brings people together, showing how at this point, they were oppositesalso, the length and position of Herald’s proclamation compared to Iago’s soliloquy shows that it corrupts/overpowers/foreshadows the light of the celebration
monologue In specific scenes think about who dominates the dialogue and why Shakespeare would do this? Also, Othello’s use of these at the beginning of the play in Act One Scene Three explore the rational, controlled, honorable and loyal nature of Othello whereas in Act Four Scene Two he has transformed into a monster of jealousy and insecurity
aside this makes the audience almost implicit in the action of the play e.g act 4 scene 1 (Othello) Othello’s use of an aside is especially notable, as this is what Iago has previously used; he is becoming more isolated, mimicking Iago’s character. This dramatic technique helps Shakespeare explore the idea of duplicity, deceit and to create dramatic irony.
Blindness This is a result of madness within the play: Othello is blinded by his warrior-like rage and misogynistic hatred. The theme of not seeing is prevalent throughout: men cannot see the truth of women, and women can.
Stage directions The play opens “Venice at night”. This immediate exposure to a world of darkness helps to foreshadow the tragedy to come. Othello’s entrance into Act Two Scene One – where love is at it’s highest – he arrives into Cyprus after everyone else, conveying ideas of isolation/ alienation/ outsider. In Act 3 Scene 3, Othello and Iago “kneel” and “rise” together. This scene is significant as Iago masterfully manipulates Othello in this scene and Othello’s love for Desdemona is transformed into jealous hatred.
stage directions: final acts In Act 4 Scene 1, Othello is positioned off-stage whilst Iago and Cassio talk (when Othello believes Cassio is talking about Desdemona). This positioning of Othello increases his sense of paranoia and insecurities. The last Act also takes place at night – this has symbolic significance of the end of tragedy taking place at night, as it was the night where Iago came first from
end of the play (final statement) Lodovico’s final statement describes the fact that it is “thy work”: shakespeare is speaking directly to the audience, that it is society’s fault that Desdemona is quashed, and that Othello feels insecure -the idea of deception, and not seeing clearly is presented throughout the play; this is what leads to stereotypes of women, jealousy and pride
which side of love? throughout the play there are those that uphold the strong moral side of love: desdemona, cassio, emilia, and those that destroy it: Iago, and othello goes from side to side; the first group stay consistent in their nature as they are not overly affected by their pride (bar cassio) and insecurities
context: racial inequality shakespeare presents this in the play to expose discrimination, judgement, alienation -also shows potential of humanity (their interracial relationship)- love is the strongest thing not class, race or anything else, however the uniqueness (compared to other more typical venetian relationships such as Iago’s and cassio’s) makes it vulnerable, foreshadowing later eventsremember that his identity as an outsider would be visually apparent throughout the play, as he exists as the only black character within a world of white characters.
identity in a state of flux Othello’s identity is always in a state of flux. Iago routinely refers to him as “the moor” or “black” when he speaks of Othello in Othello’s absence. However, when Othello is present he adopts much more formal and respectful modes of address. This mirrors Othello’s uncertain position within society.
racial inequality throughout the play Othello is anxious about his identity and place within society as he often describes himself as inferior and often reflects on his status as a black man. Even at the height of his powers in Act One Scene Three, he cannot fully dismiss the anxieties he feels over race; “rude am I in my speech” These insecurities are an important part of his transformation.In the final act of the play, much is made about Othello’s ethnicity and often his failure as a husband to Desdemona is aligned to the fact that he is a black man – almost as though the other characters always doubted the ability of a black man to truly love and be worthy of the love of a white woman.
context: gender The world of Othello is a hyper-masculine world in which the male characters strive to assert their dominance and influence within the world. This is amplified through the backdrop of the play which is a military world. The men are all associated to war and violence and their place in society is defined through these militaristic roles.
gender: Desdemona Femininity is shown to be both strong and flawed. Desdemona in many ways embodies both; she shows both strength and weakness. Her strength is shown through her purity, loyalty and commitment. Also in the way that she is able to endure and remain committed and consistent regardless of her suffering. However, her endurance sometimes seems to be a weakness, as she endures under false notions of ‘duty’ and ‘obedience’.
gender: Emilia Emilia is an interesting character as particularly towards the end of the play, she shows a much stronger and forceful view of femininity as she questions and challenges patriarchy and male dominance. Her friendship with Desdemona is also an important symbol of female strength as this is the relationship which endures and has a huge impact on the audience.
context: Desdemona-Jesus Desdemona could be considered a Christ-like figure who sacrifices herself for the greater good. Her final lines within the play show how she is willing to die. Her death helps Othello to understand his faults and strive for redemption (much like Christ) This is ironic, as men were thought to sacrifice themselves for others e.g. on the battlefield
context: Iago the devil Iago is often associated with the devil and like the devil could be considered a fallen angel. He is often described as “honest” and is praised for his abilities within the Ventian army. However, this once moral character, by the beginning of the play, has transformed into a source of great evil and great villainy. In Act One Scene One, he states “I am not what I am” – God in Exodus says ‘I am that I am’. The inversion of this makes him appear devil like – God’s antithesis. He is also associated with ‘poisoning’ and ‘snakes’. Like the devil, Iago disrupts Othello and Desdemona’s perfect Eden with his jealousy and hatred.
opening- exposition The play opens in a place of darkness in which Iago immediately takes centre stage; symbolising his dark intent and character. The play also opens with domestic strife and uncertainty as Brabantio is raised from his sleep regarding his daughter’s marriage to a black man: Othello. Instantly, Shakespeare alerts the reader to the significance of male and female relationships; male authority; race; pride’ dishonour. However, this is somewhat countered by Desdemona and Othello’s firm commitment to one-another and love.
middle-climax act three scene three is the climax-During this scene the climactic transformation of Othello occurs and the tragedy is set firmly in motion. Othello has transformed, as he no longer valiantly defends his lover Desdemona; instead he sees her as a wanton “wh0re” whom has cuckolded him. Othello’s capacity to love starts to be reduced (and is prominent in Act Four) due to his insecurities- he is now focused only on Iago, who gives him everything he wants – the hypermasculine world has a detrimental effect on love. When the male union begins, the descent of love begins also. In this scene (3.3), Shakespeare uses religious imagery and the language of a marriage ceremony to show how Othello has firmly become wedded to the idea of revenge and hatred – due to the manipulations of IAGO.
catastrophe/denouement act five scene two-In the final scene of the play, Othello commits the tragic act of murdering the innocent Desdemona. Shortly after this violent outpouring of rage, Othello learns of his mistake (casting him as the tragic hero). Iago’s Machiavellian character and true nature is revealed, but this knowledge comes too late and Othello cannot undo his tragic deed. “put out the light, and then put out the light”- the repetition is symbolic; not just the actual light, but the metaphorical light of Desdemona’s life. The imagery of light and dark links to the opening; the foreshadowing is complete, as we have known all along that darkness will win
setting: venice a prosperous Italian city. It was a cosmopolitan city as it was a centre for trade and much of the world was accessed from there, which brought exotic and different cultures into it. Othello would certainly not have been the only black person as it was a multicultural city; however, it would have still been dominated by white Europeans. Venice was also known for its courtesans. This does not mean that all women were prostitutes, but what it does mean is that women’s promiscuity and the identity of women as seductresses was something that was manipulated by some men (Iago) and caused doubt and anxiety for others (Othello).
setting: bedroom Act Five Scene Two-takes place in the bedroom which becomes the setting of terror and tragedy. The space is very claustrophobic and reflects Desdemona’s vulnerability and in the intensity of Othello’s hatred. It also is symbolic of the complete transformation in their relationship, the domestic and private sphere and a space of intimacy has become corrupted by hatred, violence, jealousy and pride. The bedroom is referred to throughout the play and often moments of intimacy are disrupted by moments of violence.
setting: cyprus Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy, “foul and violent tempest” (gent 3 – on arrival to Cyprus), to foreshadow the shift in mood within Cyprus. Cyprus is the place of a military encampment and is also an island sacred to Venus, the goddess of love, and so it is the perfect setting for love and violence to come into conflict. The idea of violence and male military identity is important here. Also, it is an isolated island and this symbolises Desdemona’s vulnerability away from Venice. She is now situated in an island filled with military men who are used to exerting their power and dominance through violence. Therefore, Shakespeare foreshadows her vulnerability and the tragic misfortune she suffers through setting. Othello also arrives into Cyprus after everybody else, symbolising his status as outsider.
iago’s power iago only becomes empowered in the play thhrough disempowering others:Iago completely poisons Cassio’s source of strength in Act Two Scene Three: his good nature by replacing it with gluttony and wrath. Those who are the most deceitful and duplicitous wield the most power (until the end of the play)
iago’s masterful understanding of the human Shakespeare’s message could be (AO5) that man is innately selfish and full of pride and these instincts bring them down: “tis pride that pulls the country down” (act two scene 3)
plotting behind the scenes (act 3 scene 2) interestingly, women plot behind the scenes but for peace and the good, whereas the motivation for plotting for men (such as this scene) is for war and sometimes not for the goodShakespeare uses this scene as a metaphor for Othello’s insecurities; they are checking on the fortifications
the doubt Iago creates in Othello in Act Three Scene Three Othello repeats Iago’s questions; “Think, my lord? ‘Think, my lord? By heaven, thou echo’st me as if there were some monster in thy thought'” showing the doubt Iago has created. Othello has developmed into this monster, through doubt and jealousy, as catalysed by Iago, in addition to his alienation from society
the central idea of the play intense masculinity of the Jacobean era:the folly of man is pride
the central idea: secondary message a sub-message from Shakespeare is that loyalty of the feminine will fail, will be punished, due to the ignorance of the masculine when their pride that feels threatened-even though wives are faithful, their relationships are not successful due to the hypermasculinity, pride, which is more powerful than their honesty, and there is irony that those who are the most dutiful are punished: desdemona and cassio
how can Iago manipulate him so well? Iago manipulates Othello so well by APPEALING TO HIS PRIDE but Desdemona does not care for this, she is just objectively truthful, which is why Othello cannot keep united with her. Additionally, Iago changes how Othello sees the world
Othello’s identity when we first hear Othello’s name in Act One Scene Three he is referred to as “Valiant Othello”; it invokes a bold sense of nobility, that is attached to his warrior-like status. However, being referred to as ‘The Moor’ isolates him to just his ethnicity, an outsider; he’s not even referred to by name-the fact that Othello’s ship is the last to arrive prevents him from witnessing the darker side of Iago that remains hidden when they are in each other’s company. He is effectively blinded (as he is blinded by his pride) to the real events, which is a running theme throughout the whole play-being described as a valuable soldier- the fact is, that his most celebrated feat it to be violent to others, as a soldier, so it is no wonder Iago is able to turn this on his head
vulnerability -Desdemona’s vulnerability is that she is too naive, and does not realise what her love blinds her from-Iago -she cannot see that Iago, the poison, comes from the private rather than public sphere-Brabantio is vulnerable, as he’s easily manipulated by Iago due to his familial love for Desdemona
raven the raven in this scene symbolises death (act four, scene one) “Thou said’st, it comes o’er my memory,As doth the raven o’er the infected house” (Othello)
Gardens (imagery and symbols) Iago often makes reference to gardens (act one scene three). This is used as a metaphor to reflect Iago’s influence within the play. Like a gardener he is able to exert his own will and influence over characters within the play. The metaphor could be extended to consider how Iago is able to plant seeds of doubt within Othello’s mind and poison his view of Desdemona. It is important to consider why Iago has such influence. Othello originally asserts that he will need “ocular proof”, but in reality his world view is easily poisoned by Iago without any proof. What is Shakespeare’s message about man? Why is man so fallible?
Candle (imagery and symbols) Could symbolise the fragility of life/ Desdemona’s life as she, like the candle, is so easily extinguished. This metaphorical interpretation could be extended to think about how it reflects love (a source of light) which too is so easily extinguished within the play (bringing darkness). Also, the candle Othello blows out just before he murders Desdemona symbolizes him extinguishing her life.
The Willow Song (imagery and symbols) Sung originally by one of Desdemona’s mother’s servants who loved an irrational man, reflects Desdemona’s own situation. She herself is worried that the man she married will desert her due to his irrational behaviour. Willows at the edge of water are a traditional symbol of women deserted by their lovers: in another Shakespearean example, Ophelia, deserted by her love, Hamlet, dies after she falls out of a willow tree and drowns in a brook in the play Hamlet.
Handkerchief (imagery and symbols) The significance of red is love, red strawberries like red hearts on the love token handkerchief, and like the red stains from Othello and Desdemona’s first night of love on the marriage sheets. Such red on white is private and dear to the heart of Othello, and he expects it to be similarly dear to his wife. It is the belief that Desdemona gave away his handkerchief, and the sexually implications of the gift, that drives him to kill her.Love – a token of love given during Othello and Desdemona’s courtshipFidelity: Othello views the handkerchief as a symbol of Desdemona’s fidelity and loyalty to himFamily and identity: Othello loads the handkerchief with familial meaning and so its loss feels like an attack on his identity. Manipulation: Iago uses the handkerchief and its above associations to manipulate OthelloThe fact that such a trivial object is the catalyst for the tragedy is an important thing to consider. Why does Othello place so much value in something so meaningless – could this reflect his insecurities and the power and potency of jealousy?
Animals Beginning in Act 1, Scene 1, Iago introduces the animalistic imagery. According to Iago, there is something bestial and animalistic about Othello (“The old black ram”); he’s base and beastly, somehow beneath everyone else in Venice because of his North African heritage. The animal imagery permeates the play, often referring to Othello’s “otherness.”
Location Shakespeare often uses different locations to represent mindsets. In Othello, Venice represents civilization, while Cyprus symbolizes the wilderness. The idea is that what happened in the Cyprus never would happen in the civilized city of Venice.
dramatic irony Iago’s character is instrumental in creating this within the play. It is through this technique that the audience feels great pathos towards Desdemona and Othello who are duped by Iago; they fail to see the cause of their actionsAnother example of this is Emilia, who describes the schemes of her husband, but fails to realise it is actually her husband who is causing all this trouble. Emilia interestingly often offers insight into the world. (Act Four, Scene Two)
audience What is the role of them within the play? There is a lot of interaction between them and key characters (particularly through the dramatic devices of asides and soliloquies. How does this add to the drama/ tension/ tragedy)
why is Iago successful? (Bloom) “he first invents or makes up emotions, such as jealousy, and then he pretends to feel them.” (Harold Bloom)
Hubris Excessive pride which results in the misfortune of the protagonist of a tragedy. Hubris causes the protagonist to break a moral law, attempt vainly to transcend normal limitations (In Othello’s case, his race/status and subsequent marriage to Desdemona) or to ignore a warning with terrible results.
WR: Love as Predetermined The tragic events of Othello’s life setting up his future marriage (“She loved me for the dangers I had passed…”) and so in a way being fated, can be compared to the ‘star crossed lovers’ of Romeo and Juliet.
WR: Jealousy Leonte in The Winter’s Tale (similarities between Leonte and Othello but Leonte has no Iago, his downfall as a result of jealousy stems entirely from his own mind).
WR: Female Roles Lady Macbeth as ultra-strong and almost appropriative of masculine behaviour: ‘I have given suck, and know / How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me. / I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you/ Have done to this. (1.7.62-67) Hermione in The Winter’s Tale as strong in the face of accusations: ‘Now, my liege, / Tell me what blessings I have here alive, / That I should fear to die? / Therefore proceed.’
WR: Vanity and jealousy as a Hamartia King Lear: ‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most, / That we our largest bounty may extend / Where nature doth with merit Challenge.’ – He makes impulsive and impactful decisions based on vanity alone.
WR: Verbal breakdowns as being Symbolic of Mental Degeneration Lady Macbeth, in Macbeth; moves from fiery blank verse to prose – choppy, abrupt and lurching from one incident to another and even descending to ‘doggerel’ (clumsy and rough verse): ‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say! – One: two, why then, tis’ time to do’t.’
JR Lever “the fatal flaw is in the world they inhabit: in the political state, the social order it upholds.”