Othello Major Themes and Devices

Most prominent themes -racism-appearance vs. reality -jealousy -reputation/honour -womanhood and sexuality-classism
Racism Racism appears from early on in the play…Act 1 Scene 1… by Rod, Iago and Brabantio eg.-“thicklips” eg. ‘the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou ?’The audience may share these beliefs or they may not…Also common stereotypes are presented…-‘the devil will make a grandsire of you.’-Othello has practiced on Desdemona, ‘foul charms’.When Othello fulfills the stereotypes ,racism becomes more prominent. -‘Most filthy bargain’, ‘Ignorant as dirt’ … by Emilia in Act 5 scene 2
Classism Prominent in Act 1 Scene 1…when Iago first mocks Othello’s military jargon…’For ‘Certes’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer.’ and his bitterness and the ‘bookish theoric’… Cassio-Iago also seems to believe in entrepreneurism, serving oneself…-Iago uses class as a tool, he uses Cassio’s overly courteous manners from his upbringing-There are also a few conflicts… eg. Cassio… ‘the lieutenant is to be saved before the ensign.’
Appearance vs. Reality Iago as being honest and innocent…-‘Knavery’s plain face is never seen, till used.’ [Act 2 scene 1]-‘When devils will the blackest sins put on/They do suggest at first with heavenly shows.’ [Act 2 Scene 3] Othello does question Iago, but he believed him pretty quickly through Act 3 scene 3 Sight and perception is a huge theme…Othello first says…-‘She had eyes and chose me.’-‘Be sure thou prove my love a w*ore.’-‘Give me the ocular proof.’ ALL from Act 3 scene 3
Reputation/honour Iago uses reputation/honour as a tool all the time…-it was how he got Cassio to drink..// ‘the gallants desire it.’ (Act 2 scene 3) -he says reputation isn’t important… ‘oft got without merit and lost without deserving.’-but then he also says, reputation is important…’Good name in man and woman’…’is the immediate jewel of their souls.’—> This drives Othello to care about his reputation, not wanting to be seen as cuckold. ‘Farewell: Othello’s occupation gone.’-Cassio believes reputation to be the ‘immortal part’ of himself-its also Iago’s reputation as being honest that allows him to deceive many// Othello takes Iago’s word. ‘this fellow’s of exceeding honesty.”To be direct and honest is not safe.’It’s like an infectious disease… recall Act 3 Scene 1 , Cassio says… ‘I never knew/A Florentine more kind and honest.’-Othello’s reputation as being noble makes his fall even more tragic and is a criteria of Aristotle’s-woman’s reputation as being promiscuous is what leads Othello to doubt Des + Emilia…’they do let God see the pranks/They dare not show their husbands.’Might be interesting to note how Iago undermines everyone’s reputation
Jealousy In regards to Jealousy… its portrayed as a universal common human emotion…-It’s what causes Othello to kill Des-It’s a possible motive for Iago’s revenge-Bianca is kind of presented like the female Othello, who jumps to conclusions.The universal nature of the emotion of jealousy is presented via Cassio and Bianca…how Bianca similarly reacts to the trifle evidence of the handkerchief and how easily it is stirred…’ throw your vile guesses in the devil’s teeth.’
Womanhood and sexuality Women were subjected to a lot of expectations, they were expected to be faithful to both their fathers and husbands. Des could already be seen as an anomaly, 1. she is independent and disobeys her father… back then woman of high nobility were to be escorted where ever they went. Rodrigo refers to it as a ‘gross revolt’ 2.she boldly speaks in the middle of male run institutions eg. the state affairs.But she is still passive and remains loyal to Othello as she allows him to kill her. She cannot believe that the man who is jealous is Othello… ‘Who is thy lord ? ‘ [Act 4 Scene 2]Des’s weakness could be seen as loving Othello too much, she approves even his ‘stubbornness,his checks, his frowns.’Emilia…also remains faithful to Iago…–> she gives him the handkerchief even though she knows its wrong.She also accuses Bianca, calling her a ‘strumpet’But ultimately she has modern progressive idea regarding infidelity/adultery, and she disobeys Iago to bring justice.
Womanhood and sexuality 2 It’s important to acknowledge that there were 2 extreme perceptions of woman…They were either seen as virtuous and pure, or adulterous and sexually corrupt. When Cassio refers to Desdemona as the ‘divine Desdemona’, he provides her with a goddess like status which is almost impossible to achieve. Also during this time, men viewed woman as possessions… -recall Act 1 Scene 1… where Iago talks about robbery, ‘your daughter and your bags.’-in Act 1 Scene 3… Brabantio refers to her as ‘jewel’You could say Othello’s view of Des as a possession, is what causes him to be so violent… he tries to preserve her body in Act 5 Scene 2 and finds it difficult to murder her… ‘That we can call these delicate creatures ours, and not their appetites.’ He will not scar her skin as ‘white as snow’ and ‘smooth as monumental alabaster.’-‘O balmy breath that doth almost persuade /Justice to break her sword.’-Othello also believes that he can dissemble Desdemona’s innocence by her looks…’Let me see your eyes’ … Act 4 Scene 2
Emilia as a dramatic device ‘The Moor’s abused by some most villainous knave’ …the audience hold their breath at this moment, and Iago’s confidence wavers. [Act 4 scene 2]-She is like a mother figure to Desdemona, tried to lighten the willow scene through use of crude humor.-Remeber we do not expect Emilia to die.
Metaphors The Monster Metaphor: closely associated with jealousy…’O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock. The meat it feeds on.’ [Act 3 Scene 3]Cassio… ‘or feed upon such nice and waterish diet’… ‘My general will forget my love and service.’ [Act 3 scene 3] ‘It is a monster begot upon itself, born on itself.'[Act 3 Scene 4 ]The Music Metaphor:’Set down the pegs that make this music.’ [Act 2 Scene 1 ]
Imagery Water imagery: The Pontic sea —> Propontic—-> Hellespont —> to depict his ‘bloody thoughts of violent pace.’Violent imagery:speaks like the villain of a Jacobean revenge tragedy. (eg. The Dutchess of Malfi)… ‘had all his hair been lives/My great revenge had stomach for them all.’-Faustian imagery ie. making a deal with the “devil” Iago in [Act 3 Scene 3]”Othello kneels” + “Iago kneels” “witness you ever burning lights above”
The Handkerchief The handkerchief is first a token of love —-> it then becomes a device that Othello uses to taunt Desdemona…”To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition””Tis true, theres magic in the web of it”Most importantly, it becomes a symbol/evidence of Des’d infidelityIt is seen as a ‘minx’s token’ … by Bianca..
Asides At first mainly by Iago, eg. Act 2 Scene 1, when he is observing Cassio and Des. They become increasingly frequent in Othello though. When he sees her, he talks to himself… ‘O hardness to dissemble!’
-Hiding/ concealment … “For I will make him tell the tale anew”… Act 4 Scene 1… known as the gullying scene.
The Storm in Act 2 scene 1 : -the storm foreshadows the passions that will be unleashed as the play progresses.- a plot device that allows Shakespeare to delay Othello’s arrival, giving the audience an opportunity to observe Desdemona on her own.-the storm destroys the turkish fleet, moving the play on from a political tragedy to a domestic one. The external threat (storm) is replaced with the internal threat (Iago).-symbollically, Iago lands before Othello-highlights lack of sight and perception as well as fear