Othello Reading Questions + Characterization

Who are Roderigo and Iago talking about in Act One Scene 1? How does Iago feel about this person and why? Othello, Iago hates Othello because Othello’s promotion of Cassio to lieutenant
What news do the men deliver to Brabantio? How does Brabantio respond initially and how does he react upon discovering the truth?(Act 1) Brabantio got robbed, and that his daughter is sleeping with Moor and is going to rebel against him. Brabantio is very angry and thinks Iago is crazy, then believes his daughter has gone off and tricked him to potentially marry the Moor
At the opening of Scene 2, what does Iago say to Othello that proves what he said in Scene 1: “I follow him to serve my turn upon him…I am not what I am” (Act 1.1, lines 44-67)? “But he kept chattering so foolishly, talking about you in such insulting and despicable terms, that it was hard for me to restrain myself.”
How would you describe Othello as a character (consider both physical and personality traits)? Military general, from money and high status, tragic hero, intelligent, brave, confident, married to Desdemona.
What does it mean to say Othello is a Moor? Find a definition that describes his racial/ethnic and cultural background. Why is this significant to our understanding of his character? He is North African and a muslim, he is very discriminated against, Brabantio is astonished his daughter ran off with a black man, and thinks Othello drugged or kidnapped her.
We see from the beginning of the play that Shakespeare and his characters use racist and derogatory language to describe Othello, which reflects many of the commonly held stereotypes and attitudes of the time period. Which characters use this offensive language? Everyone but mostly Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio
In what ways does your description of Othello’s character by Iago, Roderigo, and Brabantio challenge these stereotypes? Its opposite of his character, he is the hero, loves his wife, he is an honest man, he is true to himself.
In what ways does the opening of Scene 3 provide us with a greater understanding of Othello’s role in Venetian society? Why is he so valuable to the Duke and Senators? He is known as brave Othello, extensive military background, sent to fight in against the Turks.
What led Othello and Desdemona to fall in love and what do they love most about each other? Desdemona fell in love with Othello through the stories he told about his life when he was invited to their home by her father. She loved him for the dangers he survived and he loved her for feeling such strong emotions about him.
Analyze Desdemona’s character and her role in this scene. In what ways does she fit the stereotypes and expectations for women in this time period and in what ways does she challenge them? Sophisticated, obedient housewife, pushes for what she wants in her words, but obedient. Desdemona breaks the barries of silence set for women during that time period, by asking for what she wants.
What plan does Iago offer Roderigo as an alternative to suicide? Sell all his assets and land for money so he can woo Desdemona with money.
Like a true and classic villain, Iago reveals his “evil plan” to the audience at the end of Act Two Scene 3. How does he plan to humiliate Cassio and hurt Othello? What is each man’s greatest weakness? He is going to tell Othello that Cassio is seducing his wife. The Moor believes that any man who seems honest is honest. Cassio is the sort of man that people would think he is a seducer.
In what ways does this example of dramatic irony affect the audience’s perspective and “relationship” with the character? We get closer to Iago because we learn his inner thoughts, even though he is the villain.
What event has ultimately brought an end to the war and separated Othello and Cassio? What might the turbulent journey at sea and the storm symbolize for the characters? The storm ends the war and symbolizes the turbulence of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship and foreshadow’s a possible future separation.
What is it about Cassio’s character that makes him an easy target to be used as a pawn in Iago’s evil plan (consider what Cassio says about himself when Cassio greets Desdemona and Emilia upon arrival)? He says that he has a seductive nature which is a courtesy of where he came from. This makes him an easy target because he is very close with most women, which Iago plans to use against him.
Compare Cassio’s treatment of the women to Iago’s comments to his wife (Emilia) and Desdemona. What criticisms does Iago make of women in general? Give two specific quotes as examples. Cassio is way overly close and seductive with women. He uses alot of sweet-talking and charm, while Iago mostly critisizes women. “Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door, bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries, devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds.””If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit, The one’s for use, the other useth it”
What does Iago convince Roderigo to do in order to tarnish Cassio’s character? What role do Roderigo’s actions play in further Iago’s larger plan? Iago convinces Roderigo to provoke Cassio and make him so mad that he hits Rodergo with his staff. By him doing that, Iago is able to rial up the people to get Cassio fired. Iago used Roderigo to turn the people against Cassio in turn turning Othello against Cassio, so Othello believes that he doesn’t really know Cassio like he thought he did. Sneaky Sneaky.
What news is announced in Scene 2 and what might be the purpose of this very brief scene? It is announced thst the Turkish fleet has been completely destroyed and that Othello is hosting a victory party to celebrate the end of the war and his marriage. The party sets up a place for something to happen, and also signifies how big of a deal the war was.
What does Cassio ask the Clown to do for him? What is the purpose of the clown in Scene 1 (act 3)? Cassio asks the clown to play music and has the clown tell the musicians that they’re music is good for the masses but otherwise no good. Then he slips him gold coins to go ask the woman taking care of Desdemona to ask to speak with him. The purpose of the clown is to symbolize the foolishness of having trusted Iago and even Cassio, and to show Cassio’s sneakiness.
What news does Emilia share with Cassio at the end of Scene 1 (act 3)? Emilia shares that Desdemona is defending Cassio to her husband, and that he will be reinstated.
What does Othello give to Iago in Act 3 Scene 2? Letters to give to the ship’s captain, and to ask him to pay respect to the Senate of Venice
Othello says “We say ‘lie on her’ when they belie her” (lines 43-44). Look up the definition for the word belie. In what ways is Shakespeare playing on the meaning of this word and how does it relate to the larger theme of the play? Belie – “to give a false impression of”. Shakespeare uses “lie on her” referring Othello thinking that Desdemona was sleeping with Cassio because he saw Cassio wiping his tears with a handkerchief. “Lie” and “belie” is used ironocally because Desdemona is not lying to Othello about not haing slept with Cassio, but Iago is “lie-ing” about Desdemona having an affair with Cassio. This relates to the larger theme of the play surrounding trust and relationships, where Shakspeare analyzes that you cannot have a relationship without trust, and you will never fully know if somebody is lying to you or not in a relationship.
How does Othello describe a man who has been cheated on (line 75)? In what ways is Othello physically afflicted by his jealousy and doubt? How does this connect with the repeating metaphor of jealousy as a monster? Othello describes a man who has been cheated on as “subhuman, like an animal”. Othello is physically afflicted by jealousy and doubt and becomes exhausted with worry, emotionally and physically overcome with upsetness and rage, illogical. He becomes savage looking, much like an animal. Both physically and mentally Othello falls apart and is rough, both looking and acting like a monster.
How is Iago able to deceive Othello into believing that Cassio is sleeping with Desdemona? What role does Bianca play in providing further “proof” of their affair? Iago is able to decieve Othello into believing that Cassio is sleeping with Desdemona by first planting seeds of doubt into Othello’s mind by telling him he should watch any and all relations between Cassio and Iago. Then, he keeps playing upon the seeds of doubt, especially surrounding the hankerchief that Cassio has. Iago also tells Othello millions of men get cheated on, and uses Bianca as an example of a a girl who “sells her body for food and clothes” and begins to question Cassio about marrying Bianca with Othello is listening, and Cassio calls her a ***** and says what a disgrace to his name it would be to marry her, which only infuriates Othello more and he takes it as a personal attack because he is marrid to Desdemona who he thinks is cheating.
Summarize: Emilia (to Othello)I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest, Lay down my soul at stake, If you think other, Remove thy thought. It doth abuse your bosom.If any wretch have put this in your head,Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse,For if she be not honest, chaste, and true,There’s no man happy. The purest of their wives Is foul as slander. Emilia is talking about Desdemona to Othello, saying that Desdemona is an honest woman, and tells Othello he should remove any thoughts about her cheating or being a dishonest person. She then says that any person who is trying to convince Othello otherwise or lie about Desdemona’s character should be punished.
Summarize: Othello (to Desdemona)Was this fair paper, this most goodly book,Made to write “*****” upon? What committed?Committed? O thou public commoner!I should make very forges of my cheeksThat would to cinders burn up modestyDid I but speak thy deeds. What committed? Othello calls Desdemona beautiful, and then asks if her beauty made her destined to be a *****. He rhetorically asks her what she’s done, and says that if it gets spoken of, shame would overtake her, as the universe is now looking away from her with disgust.
Summarize:Desdemona (to Iago and Emilia)If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love,Either in my discourse of thought or actual deed,Or that I do not yet, and ever did,And ever will- though he do shake me offTo beggarly divorcement- love him dearly,Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may Do much,And his unkindness may defeat my life,But never taint my love. I cannot say “*****”- It does abhor me now I speak the word.To do the act that might the addition earn,Not the world’s mass of vanity could make me. Desdemona is saying that she never did anything Othello is accussing her of, and that she doesn’t know what she did to mame him loose his love for her, and if she did indeed do what he is accusing her of, then she would wish upon herseld a life of misery and pain. Then she states that no matter how Othello treats her, it will never be able to destroy her love for him, even if it destroys her mental state.
Summarize: Iago (to Roderigo)Why, now I see there’s mettle in thee, and even from this instant do build on thee a better opinion than ever before. Give me thy hand, Roderigo. Thou hast taken against me a most just exception, but yet I protest I have dealt most directly in thy affair. Iago says that he sees strength and “guts” in Roderigo and his opinion of Roderigo is rising. He tells Roderigo for his hand metaphorically, says he understands Roderigo’s doubts/complaints about him, but tries to assure Roderigo that he has done everything that he could to try and help Roderigo. This does’t persuade Roderigo though, as he is still doubtful of Iago.
Consider the song Desdemona sings to Emilia at the beginning of Act 4 Scene 3. How does it set the tone for the end of the play? How does it further characterize Desdemona as passive and submissive? Desdemona’s song is mournful, setting a tragic tone for the end of the play. Desdemona is seen as passive and submissive here because her singing this song about a lost love is truly a sign of her giving up on getting her relationship repaired with Othello. She feels she doesn’t know him anymore, and she’s accepted she no longer has his love.
Othello’s characterization of Desdemona first as a pure, honest, and perfect woman and later as a sinful, deceitful ***** represent two of the major stereotypes and depictions of women both during the 16th century and today. In Act 4 Scene 3, Desdemona tells Emilia that she could never cheat or betray her husband “for the whole world” and asks if Emilia feels the same. Find two examples of ways in which Emilia challenges these two stereotypes of women through her response. Emilia challenges the two stereotypes by asking Desdemona “Why would not you?”, in response to Desdemona asking if she would ever cheat on her husband. Emilia then goes on to say that during the day she would not, but “I might do ‘t as well in’ the’ dark.” By this she means that during the daytime, Emilia will work to preserve an image of a pure and honest woman, but she shows duality by saying that during the night she might be able to get away with it. This personality duality challenges the Shakespearean belief that women are all pure and good, or all sinful and deceitful. Then when Desdemona is speaking to Emilia again and asks if she could really do the thing (cheat on her husband) for all the world, to which Emilia honestly replies that yes she would do it, saying the world is a huge thing to gain for such a small sin. This shows Emilia’s development of personal morals, and internal thought, which women during this time period were thought to be without.
Roderigo says:I have no great devotion to the deed,And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons.’Tis but a man gone. Forth, my sword! He dies. What is the deed? Who has given him satisfying reasons and what reasons are those(refer back to the end of Act 4 Scene 2)? Roderigo is given a sword by Iago to kill Cassio with, which is the deed her refers to in the lines above. Roderigo admits he doesn’t really want to kill Cassio, but the satisfying reasons given to him by Iago, who has manipulated him over the course of the play. Iago knows that Roderigo is infatuated with Desdemona. Iago gives Roderigo money to kill Cassio, and has Roderigo believe that the money he will get by killing Cassio (a threat against his infatuation with Desdemona) will help him to woo Desdemona.
In what ways does Iago say he will benefit if either Roderigo or Cassio is killed in the fight? Iago says he will benefit because is Roderigo dies, then he won’t have to give any gold or jewelry back to Rederigo, which he stole from Roderigo and gave to Desdemona in an attempt to impress Desdemona. Iago says he will benefit is Cassio is killed because Cassio is so handsome and smooth with words that he makes Iago look ugly and unintelligent. Also if Cassio dies, then the moor will never get the chance to tell Cassio the lies Iago has been spreading about him.
How does Iago attempt to place blame on Bianca for the fight between Roderigo and Cassio? Iago calls Bianca a *****, and tries to place blame on her for the fight by trying to tell Cassio that she looks guilty of something, when really she is just in shock, but Iago attempts to plant a seed of doubt about Bianca within Cassio.
Act 5 Scene 2 Summary – Othello is a wreck, he watches Desdemona sleep and tries to convince himself to go through with killing her- Othello realizes if he kills her, he will no longer be able to bring her back, and her beauty almost stops him from killing her- He wakes up Desdemona by weeping and kissing her, still trying to get up the courage to kill her, and wakes her up. – Desdemona tries to plead her case and asks to be banished, not killed, but Othello smothers her with a pillow – Emilia walks in and then Othello learns of Iago’s manipulation and plan and then kills himself for killing Desdemona
Iago Othello’s ensign (a job also known as an ancient or standard-bearer), and the villain of the play. Iago is twenty-eight years old. While his ostensible reason for desiring Othello’s demise is that he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive, almost aesthetic delight in manipulation and destruction.
Roderigo A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.
Othello The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the armies of Venice, Othello is an eloquent and physically powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. He possesses a “free and open nature,” which his ensign Iago uses to twist his love for his wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy (I.iii.381).
Desdemona The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. While in many ways stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed. She is equally capable of defending her marriage, jesting bawdily with Iago, and responding with dignity to Othello’s incomprehensible jealousy. Goes from strong minded to submissive throughout the play
Brabanzio Desdemona’s father, a somewhat blustering and self-important Venetian senator. As a friend of Othello, Brabanzio feels betrayed when the general marries his daughter in secret.
Bianca A courtesan, or prostitute, in Cyprus. Bianca’s favorite customer is Cassio, who teases her with promises of marriage.
The Duke of Venice The official authority in Venice, the duke has great respect for Othello as a public and military servant. His primary role within the play is to reconcile Othello and Brabanzio in Act I, scene iii, and then to send Othello to Cyprus.
Cassio Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose high position is much resented by Iago. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio is extremely ashamed after being implicated in a drunken brawl on Cyprus and losing his place as lieutenant. Iago uses Cassio’s youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecurities about Desdemona’s fidelity.
Emilia Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, she is deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful of her husband.
Montano The governor of Cyprus before Othello. We see him first in Act II, as he recounts the status of the war and awaits the Venetian ships.
Lodovico One of Brabanzio’s kinsmen, Lodovico acts as a messenger from Venice to Cyprus. He arrives in Cyprus in Act IV with letters announcing that Othello has been replaced by Cassio as governor.