Othello revision

Context of the play “Othello” demonstrates many aspects of dramatic tragedy. Shakespeare wrote the play in 1603, giving it the full title of “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice.” The play is a good example of how tragedy works as a dramatic form. The play is widely viewed as a domestic tragedy between a husband and a wife that STEMS FROM FUNDAMENTAL FEELINGS OF JEALOUSY. There is the wider context of the conflict between the Venetians and Turks that is happening as part of the backdrop, however the unfolding tragedy remains tightly focused on the central characters. Within the play, Othello can be viewed as a classic tragic hero (sticking to tragedy conventions), one who foolishly continues to believe that he is right almost to the end of the play. His wife is portrayed as an innocent, tragic victim who like her husband is caught in Iago’s web. The play is often considered a work that EXAMINES ISSUES OF RACE AND ETHNICITY. This can be seen as one of the reasons why the tragedy occurs, as Othello is an outsider operating in Venetian society. It is also seen as a STUDY OF MANIPULATION AND DECEIT, which arises from the evil and unscrupulous ways of Iago. The play focuses on three central characters unlike a lot of Shakespeare plays (Othello, Desdemona and Iago), perhaps making the play more intense. As well as understanding the play, to take the exam you need to understand how Shakespeare constructs his characters and how he develops particular tragic themes, and how this may represent the time in which Shakespeare wrote the play. It is also worth considering how the play has been presented on stage, in film and on television over the years.
Structure of the play -Act 3 marks a key turning point in the plot, showing Iago’s sudden control over Othello. Act 3 is often the “turning point,” in Shakespeare’s plays, most of which have 5 acts. Lines from Iago that illuminate his sudden manipulation of Othello in Act 3 scene 3 are “Ha! I like not that,” “Did Michael Cassio, when you woo’d my lady, know of your love?” and “I speak not yet of proof. Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio; Wear your eyes thus: not jealous, nor secure.” In the tragedies, the inevitable message of the second part of the play is that time brings defeat, disaster and death. This contrasts with the comedies, with the message being time brings healing, resolution and peace (in the second half.) -Othello is a relatively short play, however it subjects the audience to intense and prolonged dramatic tension. There are no changes of perspective or sub/parallel plots, as there are in other tragedies. This means the audience is particularly conscious of the chain of cause and effect during the play.
Reading Othello Everything is relevant in Othello, as we are asked to observe an essentially private tragedy: the destruction of a noble man and his marriage. All the subsidiary characters and events are designed to throw light on the protagonists and their actions. The play is INTRIGUING BECAUSE OF THE CONTRADICTIONS PRESENT. A black mercenary marries a white aristocrat, an evil ensign corrupts a great soldier, over-powering love is turned to overwhelming jealousy. Through his characterisation of Iago, Shakespeare introduces the THEME OF APPEARANCE AND REALITY, which is ALMOST AN OBSESSION IN JACOBEAN DRAMA. Saying this, the play challenges Jacobean conventions as well, as Othello is unique in the literature of the time: he was the first black hero to be presented on the stage. Iago is referred to as “honest,” four times in Act 2 scene 3. He is called honest twice by Othello, once by Cassio and once by himself. (“I protest, in the sincerity of love and honest kindness,” and “Good night, honest Iago.”) This can be linked with the theme of appearance and reality. We might feel that the portrayal of women in the play, with their troublesome sexuality and male-female relationships, make the play compelling for a modern audience. The female stereotypes that the male characters force on their women – asexual, silent, and obedient – are still the subject of heated debate. The play is also effective because it is full of ironic contradictions, which absorb us and worry us. We as the audience are never allowed to relax while we watch the play, as our attention is either focused on the source of so much irony, Iago, or the helpless victims of his ironic words and actions. Your own interpretation of the play is important. It is also worth considering the ways in which other readers and critics have responded to the play (see critical interpretations of the play).
Imagery in the play The language in Shakespeare’s tragedies are often dominated by life-threatening images of evil, poison, diseases and violence, which often echo biblical imagery. Images are often literalised metaphors. For example, Othello’s blackness is both his actual skin colour and a representation of evil. In addition to reinforcing themes, imagery gives atmosphere and progression to the text, helps to portray character, and provides integrity, pattern and meaning. THE IMAGES IN OTHELLO TEND TO WORK IN PAIRS OF OPPOSITES, for example dark and light. These then can be seen to reverse themselves or become indistinguishable from each other as the play progresses. Some key imagery in the play includes ANIMALS, BLACK AND WHITE, HELL, POISON, TRAPS AND WORDS.BLACK AND WHITEReferences to black and white are important in the play. Othello shows both good and bad qualities with his virtuous, noble man persona, and his violent, unpredictable behaviour towards the end. Othello himself links himself to both heaven and hell. The tragedy of the play occurs when Othello moves towards Iago’s darkness away from Desdemona’s light.
Themes: Love and war In Othello, the three main male characters are soldiers who all want to be loved. The various types of love that are in the play are all questionable. For example, Brabantio’s love for his daughter seems more like possessiveness than actual love. He is quick to disown her, and is portrayed as being ashamed at the prospect of his daughter’s match being a “filthy,” progeny. Othello and Iago can be seen as being full of self-love, certainly in Iago’s case. For Iago romantic love does not exist however. This seems to not only describe Iago’s marriage but also Cassio’s relationship with Bianca. Iago pretends to hold respect for Othello, even though behind his back he often says that he despises him. Emilia is willing to lie for her husband and to die for her mistress, however she is said to only do these things out of self-interest and guilt. Part of the tragedy of the play may be how Othello embodies the conflict between the roles of husband and soldier, which is not a problem for Iago since he does not believe in love or respect for women. Othello is presented as being the complete opposite to Cassio, as he is an experienced soldier but not an experienced lover. Cassio is the opposite, as this is one of the reasons why Iago does not agree with the fact that he is the lieutenant of Othello rather than himself (because he is an inexperienced soldier.)The Turkish threat of war in the play symbolises not only the dark side of Othello but also Iago’s determination to undermine his marriage and society in general. Desdemona is presented as being new to and naive about both love and war (“It hath felt no age nor known no sorrow – 3.4 near line 30 and “I was, unhandsome warrior as I am,Arraigning his unkindness with my soul,But now I find I had suborned the witness,And he’s indicted falsely – line 140) which for her are connected because of the idealism of her youth and the influence of romantic stories. She cannot differentiate between Othello as a husband and Othello as a soldier, and she does not realise that she should not interfere with military matters. She craves excitement and travel to compensate for her sheltered and restricted upbringing, and to feed her imagination.Cassio is the link to pre-play romantic and military events that take place. He is the only real survivor of the main characters and is presented as both a victim and a victor. Iago did beat him but then it is up to him at the end of the play to torture Iago.TO SUMMARISE:-The various types of love in the play are all questionable (for example Brabantio’s.) -Othello and Iago are full of self love. For Iago romantic love does not exist however. -Part of the tragedy is how Othello embodies the conflict between being a husband and being a solider (“Most humbly therefore bending to your state / I crave fit disposition for my wife.”) Act 1.3 -Desdemona is new to and naive about both love and war. She cannot differentiate between Othello as a husband and Othello as a solider (“It hath felt no age nor known no sorrow” – 3.4 near line 30 and “I was, unhandsome warrior as I am, Arraigning his unkindness with my soul,But now I find I had suborned the witness,And he’s indicted falsely” – line 140).
Themes: Jealousy and honesty The concept of jealousy had a wider meaning in the time the play is set as opposed to nowadays, and WAS MOSTLY ASSOCIATED WITH SUSPICION OF ONE’S SEXUAL PARTNER (Iago end of Act 1 Scene 3).Some particular characters in the play show strong feelings of jealousy. Iago is conveyed most strongly as feeling jealous in the play. He is envious of Cassio due to his lieutenancy and manners, of Othello for having Desdemona, and for Roderigo for having money. He believes that BOTH OTHELLO AND CASSIO have slept with his wife Emilia. Bianca is also presented as being jealous of the owner of the handkerchief, with whom she suspects Cassio has spent the last eight days. Desdemona is envious of Othello’s life of travel and excitement, and is determined to become apart of it, despite the unconventionally of her accompanying him to a war zone.There are three examples of jealousy that shed light on the subject. The first is Iago’s personal and professional jealousy, which is linked to feelings of envy and sets the events in motion. The second is Bianca’s suspicions, which mirror Othello’s closely, and the third is Othello’s, which propels him towards tragedy. We get the feeling that Iago uses jealousy to rationalise his devilment. Unlike Othello, Iago is cool and calculating when he chooses to act on his suspicions. What Othello shares with Iago is covetousness; both men feel jealous because they have lost possession of something they held dear, just as Bianca fears that she has lost Cassio’s heart to a new lover. We as the reader can agree with Emilia’s assessment that jealousy is monstrous; it destroys love, honour and nobility in those it afflicts. It makes both male protagonists murderous and violent. It can also be argued that jealousy can be seen as ridiculous within the play, as well as terrifying and chaotic. It can be seen as such because Iago’s motives for revenge are rather inadequate, and the handkerchief absurdly comes to symbolise Desdemona’s virtue. (“Make it a darling like your precious eye. To lose ‘t or give ‘t away were such perditionAs nothing else could match.” – 3.4 near line 55 and “Sure, there’s some wonder in this handkerchief, I am most unhappy in the loss of it.” – line 90). Honesty and honour are shown as being related within the play. Reputation is shown as being very important to the male characters, especially Othello, who is often shown as being more concerned about his honour than about Desdemona’s fidelity. (“A hornèd man’s a monster and a beast.” – 4.1 near line 50). The word “honest,” at the time “Othello,” was written was seen as denoting the aristocratic virtues of truthfulness, faithfulness and absence of duplicity, which is how it is mostly used in the play, but could also refer to a down-to-earth frankness and lack of pretension, which is how Iago sometimes makes ironic use of it. Its extensive usage in the play draws attention to it, and gives rise to the claim that it is honesty rather than jealousy that is the main theme. Because of the two possible meanings, “honest, honest Iago,” can be taken as a kind of pun. In the newer sense of the word meaning open and in touch with natural desires, he could be called honest in that he describes and acts out the crude urges of human nature. By comparison with Cassio, Othello and Roderigo, he could also be perceived as being manlier, another sense of honest, in that they put on airs and graces and use elaborate courtly and poetic language, while Iago’s speech is blunt. He despises the foppish affections of Cassio. TO SUMMARISE:-At the time of the play, jealousy was mostly associated with suspicion of one’s sexual partner (“And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets He’s done my office. I know not if ‘t be true, But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety” – Iago end of Act 1 Scene 3). -There are three main examples of jealousy in the play, which are Iago’s jealousy, Bianca’s jealousy of Cassio and Othello’s jealousy, which propels him towards tragedy. -Jealousy makes both male protagonists murderous and violent.-Jealousy can be seen as ridiculous in the play, as well as terrifying and chaotic (“Make it a darling like your precious eye. To lose ‘t or give ‘t away were such perditionAs nothing else could match.” – 3.4 near line 55 and “Sure, there’s some wonder in this handkerchief, I am most unhappy in the loss of it.” – line 90). Emilia says jealousy is monstrous in Act 3.4 when she says, “It is a monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself.” -Reputation is very important to Othello, who is often shown as being more concerned about his honour than about Desdemona’s fidelity (“A hornèd man’s a monster and a beast.” – 4.1 near line 50).
Themes: Appearance and reality Both Othello and the city of Venice itself are not what they seem to be. There is an unpleasantness below the surface that is not acknowledged or known to be there by other characters. There are several characters in the play that are shocked by a change in attitude from another character, where they see a loved one in a new and opposite light. Othello is portrayed as being very easily misguided by appearances. He seems ignorant of the fact that appearances can be ambiguous and deceptive. “Certain, men should be what they seem.” (Act 3.3 near line 135). He can also not see himself, except as a reflection in Desdemona’s eyes, as a romantic hero; one without flaws or weaknesses. Iago is very aware of these false facades that much of the characters posses, and is perhaps motivated by the desire to know and show what Othello is really like behind the mask of the celebrated warrior and joyful lover (Iago end of act 1 scene 3). By exposing the weak human hiding behind the facade of his reputation, Iago can both avenge himself on Othello and prove the hypocrisy of humanity. In other words, Iago is ultimately trying to expose Othello. This raises the question of whether the Othello he reveals is the true Othello or a monster created by Iago, which did not previously exist. (“O thou Othello, thou was once so good, Fall’n in the practice of a cursèd slave, What shall be said to thee?” – Lodovico Act 5.2 line 305). TO SUMMARISE: -Both Othello and Venice are not what they seem to be on the surface. -Othello is portrayed as being very easily misguided by appearances (“Certain, men should be what they seem.” Act 3.3 near line 135).-Iago is motivated by the desire to know and show what Othello is really like (“That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, And will tenderly be led by th’ nose As asses are.” End of Act 1 Scene 3). -Is the Othello Iago reveals the true Othello, or a monster created by Iago? (“O thou Othello, thou was once so good, Fall’n in the practice of a cursèd slave, What shall be said to thee?” – Lodovico Act 5.2 line 305).
Themes: Men and Women Power is a key factor in all the relationships portrayed in the play. Throughout the play we see further power struggles between couples and friends; Iago competes with Desdemona for Othello’s ear, Desdemona and Emilia defend themselves against their husbands suspicions, and Bianca works hard to assert her rights as Cassio’s mistress. (“And I was going to your lodging, Cassio.What, keep a week away? Seven days and nights?Eight score eight hours? And lovers’ absent hoursMore tedious than the dial eightscore times!Oh weary reckoning!” – 3.4 line 160). Cassio is conveyed as being sexist here. He is also conveyed as being sexist when he says “I marry her! What? A customer? Prithee bear some charity to my wit. Do not think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!” in 4.1 near line 110. Desdemona is portrayed as asserting her independence from patriarchy, as she deceives her father and chooses her own husband instead. (“So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor my lord – Act 1.3 line 190). The misogyny of Iago (and Cassio) casts a dark shadow over Othello’s relationship with Desdemona, which seems so bright and full of optimism and delight at the start of the play. Othello and Desdemona essentially loved each harmoniously because of the differences they perceive in each other.We know from his sneering references to Desdemona as being the general’s “general,” that Iago cannot bear the fact that a female now seems to exert power, and that he despises Othello for giving into feminine emotions like love.Iago’s misogyny ultimately triumphs; all the female characters are silenced and the power they did have taken. That they ever had any power in the first place is debatable; they are only ever seen in relation to the male characters. In act 4 scene 3 when we see Desdemona and Emilia together, the topic of conversation is men and how to interpret them.Othello’s tragedy is that his love, which could have co-existed peacefully with his military career, is destroyed by the masculine code of one of its basest elements. And finally, it is the women, their characters and actions, which are justified. They behave honorably and are mostly clear of blame and suspicion.TO SUMMARISE: -Throughout the play we see many power struggles between couples and friends, for example with Iago, Desdemona and Emilia, and Bianca asserting her right’s as Cassio’s mistress. (“And I was going to your lodging, Cassio.What, keep a week away? Seven days and nights?Eight score eight hours? And lovers’ absent hoursMore tedious than the dial eightscore times!Oh weary reckoning!” – 3.4 line 160). -Desdemona is presented as asserting her independence from patriarchy, as she chooses her husband over her father, who should control who she marries. (“So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor my lord” – Act 1.3 line 190). -Iago’s misogyny triumphs. All the female characters are eventually silenced. But did they even have any power in the first place? (They are only ever seen in relation to men, for example in Act 4 Scene 3 where they are together the topic of conversation is men). -It is the women in the play who are justified. They behave honorably and are mostly clear of blame and suspicion.
Themes: Race and Colour Strictly speaking, race is not a crucial part of the play, but it is a very relevant part. The wealth of imagery in black and white and light and dark suggests that colour is important in this play. Some critics have even said that Othello’s race is irrelevant. However if this were the case, Shakespeare would have no reason to break dramatic tradition and make Othello black in the first place. Black characters in Elizabethan dramas tended to be villains. In fact Shakespeare’s first African character was the villainous Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus. The fact Othello is black in the first place suggests that the state he serves in is prepared to see good in foreigners. Is Shakespeare suggesting that Othello is the exception to the rule that black is usually bad, or urging us to see that racial differences do not really matter? To Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio at least, Othello’s race is alarming. They refer to him as a “sooty bosom,” “the thicklips,” and “an old black ram.” The Othello they describe does not exist, however it is possible to argue that Othello begins to display some of the negative stereotypes associated with his race when he is persecuted by Iago. This is because he becomes violent. Saying this, Othello is more noble and impressive than any other male in the play.Othello eventually views his own race negatively and gives into Iago’s racism. (“Haply, for I am blackAnd have not those soft parts of conversationThat chamberers have.” Line 270 – Act 3.3).Some critics disagree with the above, arguing that the heroes tragedy comes about because he can never be anything but an outsider within the society. They say that it is absurd for Othello to try and strive within his society because it’s members will never accept him. Remember to bring in context. Coloured people at the time, as mentioned in “Historical context,” ,were seen as suspicious. Elizabeth I demanded their removal from England, and many people viewed black people only to be fit as slaves. TO SUMMARISE: -Critics disagree on why Shakespeare chose for Othello to be black, and the implications of Othello’s skin colour. Some say he can never be anything but an outsider in the society, but others say the society he serves in is prepared to see good in foreigners. -Is Shakespeare suggesting that Othello is the exception to the rule that black is usually bad, or urging us to see that racial differences do not really matter? -To Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio, Othello’s race is alarming. Othello eventually views his own race negatively and gives into Iago’s racism (“Haply, for I am black And have not those soft parts of conversation That chamberers have.” Line 270 – Act 3.3). Other characters are racist towards him and refer to him as a “sooty bosom,” “the thicklips,” and “an old black ram.” -Othello is more noble and impressive than any other male in the play.
Themes: Manipulation and Identity IDENTITY In Othello, Shakespeare explores factors that play an important role in the formations of one’s identity – race, gender, social status, family relationships, military service, etc. Othello is also concerned with how an individual’s sense of identity (which can break down and be manipulated by others) shapes his or her actions.Othello’s identity transforms over the course of the play. He starts off as patient, abiding and honourable, but slowly is overwhelmed by jealousy and anger due to Iago’s manipulation (Act 1 scene 3 compared to Act 4 scene 1). Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage could be seen as changing the personality/motives, and thus the identities, of all the characters. Cassio perhaps laments that he has lost his reputation when he lashes out at Roderigo because he now fails to understand his identity. He assumed he knew better than to lash out and become violent towards others. Iago’s identity is ambiguous. Even in his soliloquy’s we can not be sure he is telling the truth, as his motives for getting revenge on Othello seem rather implausible. Perhaps he is using his “motives” as excuses and justification for his actions. (“I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets He’s done my office. I know not if ‘t be true, But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety.” – End of Act 1 Scene 3), and (“That Cassio loves her, I do well believe ‘t. That she loves him, ’tis apt and of great credit” – End of Act 2 Scene 1). MANIPULATION Quotes to back up manipulation are where Iago manipulates Brabantio in Act 1 Scene 1, concerning Othello and Desdemona:Call up her father,Rouse him. Make after him, poison his delight,Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,Plague him with flies. Though that his joy be joy,Yet throw such changes of vexation on ‘tAs it may lose some color. (1.1.74-80)Even now, now, very now, an old black ramIs topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:Arise, I say. (1.1.89-93.1)For manipulation look at character of Iago mainly, specifically in act 2 scene 3 (where Iago manipulates Cassio into getting drunk), act 3 scene 3 and act 4 scene 1. Also look at Othello in Act 1 Scene 3 where he manipulates the Duke.TO SUMMARISE: -In the play Shakespeare explores factors that play a role in the formation of one’s identity, such as race, gender and social status. -Othello’s identity changes over the course of the play, and his marriage with Desdemona could be seen as changing the identities of all the other characters in the play. -Iago’s identity is ambiguous (QUOTES AVAILABLE) -Manipulation centres around Iago mainly, which can be seen in Act 1 Scene 1, but also look at other characters such as Othello.
Historical context (The play was written in 1603, so in the 17th century. It was first performed in 1604). GENERAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT Othello, as with all of Shakespeare’s plays, was written during the renaissance (the cultural “rebirth,” of Europe.) Mentioning the renaissance would be a helpful way of showing understanding of context during the exam, and as such would be a useful thing to mention. The renaissance was all about a curiosity in thought which challenged old assumptions and traditions. This was the period in which classical texts were discovered.Shakespeare’s drama is innovative and challenging in exactly the way of the renaissance. It examines and questions the beliefs, assumptions and politics upon which Elizabethan society was founded. An example of this is having a black tragic hero instead of a white one, and having an assertive young woman as the heroine. This challenges typical gender/ race roles at the time. At the time, any criticism Shakespeare made about those in authority, or any questions he asked about race and nobility, had to be muted, as it was seen as direct criticism of the monarchy or the contemporary English court. This is why Shakespeare’s plays are always set in the past, or abroad, as is obviously the case with Othello.NATIONALISM AND XENOPHOBIA Within the period of which “Othello,” is set, Italy had a so called “double image.” On the one hand, it was a land of refinement and romance. Venice, which was Europe’s center of capitalism, was a free state, and renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. On the other hand however, Italy was a county associated with decadence, villainy and immoral and wicked behavior.Elizabethans were against mixed marriages and viewed black people as suspicious. Elizabeth I even demanded their removal from England because they were considered an “annoyance.” Many people were racist, and viewed black people to be fit only as slaves.RELIGION IN SHAKESPEARE’S ENGLAND The nationalism of the English renaissance was reinforced by Protestantism. Shakespeare’s plays are free from direct religious sentiment, however their emphases are always Protestant. Othello has converted to Christianity within the play, and his preoccupation with good and evil in the play suggests the religious context behind it. Shakespeare’s heroes often have the preoccupation with self and introspective tendencies encouraged by Protestantism. We see an example of Othello’s introspection in Act 3 scene 3 when he is alone on stage and begins to doubt his attractions as a husband. FEMALE SUBORDINATION Although questions were being asked about the social hierarchy, women remained in subordinate roles and were controlled by patriarchy during the Renaissance. Women had few legal rights. They were entitled to inherit property but if they married then everything they owned passed to their husbands. Many men saw women as possessions, and fathers expected to chose husbands for their daughters, as can be seen with Brabantio within the first scene. Intellectually, women were thought to be inferior to men as well, and were thought of being incapable of rational thought, hence why they rarely received an education. Assertive and argumentative women were seen as a threat to the social order and were punished for their behavior with forms of torture. This is why Desdemona being a strong female character subverts typical gender roles at the time. Many European visitors to England commented however that English women had more freedom than in other countries. Shakespeare’s own wife, Anne Hathaway, successfully managed a home and property, as well as her family, for twenty years while Shakespeare was pursuing his career in London.SHAKESPEARE’S THEATRE AND STAGE HISTORYA typical stage that was used to show Shakespeare’s performances could hold about 3000 people. The yards were 80ft in diameter and the rectangular stage approximately 40ft by 30ft and 5ft 6 inches high. On the Shakespearean stage there was little in the way of scenery or props as there was nowhere to store them, nor any way to set them up. The stage was therefore bare, which is why characters often tell us where they are and what is happening around them. For example the storm in Cyprus that opens act 2 of Othello is described verbally by characters on stage, to create a mood of tension for the audience. During night-time scenes characters may mention that they cannot see what is going on to establish a sense of danger. Torches and candles would have been used to signify night to the audience. The main prop for Othello would have been the bed on which Othello strangles Desdemona. This bed would have dominated the stage. Othello has been one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed plays. The first recorded performance was at the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London on 1 November 1604. In the eighteenth century, partly because of the presence of women on the stage and in the audience, it was felt necessary to make refinements to the text so that Othello met contemporary standards of society. For example, Desdemona’s willow song was removed because it was thought unladylike, and Othello’s speeches were cut to emphasise his nobility. In other words, it was cut to fit the image that the society required at the time the play was written.
Critical interpretations of the play EARLY VIEWS Thomas Rymer, one of the play’s most negative critics, wrote a commentary on Othello. Rymer was outraged by the idea of a black hero and would not accept that the play was a great tragedy, declaring that the defect of “Othello,” was that it did not have a moral lesson. He criticised the play in 1693 in “A Short View of Tragedy.” In contrast to Rymer, Dr Johnson’s response to “Othello” was positive. Johnson saw Othello as boundless in confidence and passionate in his affection. He also suggested that the play provided a “very useful moral, not to make an unequal match.” NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURY VIEWS At the start of the nineteenth century, Coleridge offered a view that Iago operates without adequate motivation; he is bad because he is bad. Other nineteenth century critics shared Rhymers views about Desdemona’s marriage to Othello, suggesting that she must be a strumpet who locks morals because she marries a Moor. In 1904, A.C. Bradley presented a positive analysis of Othello, whom he saw as blameless. For Bradley, Othello was “the most romantic figure among Shakespeare’s heroes.” Bradley believed that Othello never falls completely and suggested that at the end of the play we feel “admiration and love,” for the hero. Two influential critics rejected Bradley’s positive analysis of Othello. One of the two, F.R. Leavis, argued that Othello is responsible for his own downfall because he has a propensity to jealousy and a weak character, which is sorely tested by his marriage.Since the 1950’s there have been a number of suggestions that Iago is driven by latent homosexuality. Other critics have suggested that Othello affirms a morality that is consistent with Christianity; the play presents a positive view of love and faith and shows us that vengeance is wicked and pride is dangerous. Desdemona received a good deal of critical attention during the twentieth century. Some commentators suggested that she is a goddess and a saint, others saw her as representative of goodness and purity. Many commented on Desdemona’s commitment to love. CONTEMPORARY APPROACHES Many feminist critics have noted how female characters in Jacobean tragedies are victims who have limited power and are punished for their sexuality. Marilyn French suggests Desdemona “accepts her culture’s dictum that she must be obedient to males.” Lisa Jardine suggests that the stage world of Jacobean drama is wholly masculine and argues that there is only a male viewpoint on offer. Jardine asserts the view that Desdemona proves to be “too-knowing, too-independent.” Because of her waywardness she is punished by patriarchy. Dympna Callaghan considers the cultural significance of Desdemona’s wedding sheets and the handkerchief, commenting on how these objects had economic and symbolic value during the Renaissance, which is why they are so crucial to the development of the play. Callaghan sees the handkerchief as being crucially important to the stability of the marriage of Othello and Desdemona. Frances Dolan comments on how Jacobean drama reflects seventeenth-century anxieties about the racial “other,” the traitor inside the plotting subordinate and abusive authority figures. Dolan says Othello can be linked to all these “spectres of disorder.” She also suggests that Othello is in an ambiguous position because of his race. He cannot hold on to his authority with any confidence or security because he is different from the Venetians.POST-COLONIAL READINGSA post-colonial critique of the play considers the way in which Othello’s race is portrayed, and considers the hero’s “outsider,” status in a white world. In “Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama,” (1987), Ania Loomba suggests the central conflict in “Othello,” is “between the racism of a white patriarchy and the threat posed to it by both a black man and a white woman.” Loomba suggests Othello is an honorary white at the beginning of the play but becomes a “total outsider,” because of his relationship with Desdemona, which ruptures his “precarious entry into the white world.” Loomba insists, however, that “Othello,” should not be read as a patriarchal, authoritative and racist spectacle. Instead the play should be used to “examine and dismantle,” ideas about racism and sexism. Karen Newman says the play exposes the “fear of racial and sexual difference,” of Renaissance culture. Newman argues the white male characters in “Othello,”, especially Iago, feel threatened by the “power and potency of a different and monstrous sexuality,” which Othello represents. Newman looks at the play in relation to Elizabethan stereotypes of the black male, in particular, worries about mixed marriages. Shakespeare’s contemporaries feared “the black man had the power to subjugate his partner’s whiteness.” This makes the black man, which in this case is Othello, monstrous. However, Newman suggests “by making the black Othello a hero, and by making Desdemona’s love for Othello sympathetic,” Shakespeare’s play challenges the racist, sexist and colonialist views of his society. This was a large part of the Renaissance era, with writers challenging typical views and subverting gender roles that were present in the contemporary society.TO SUMMARISE: -Thomas Rymer – A negative critic and racist -A.C. Bradley was a positive critic who saw Othello as blameless. -F.R. Leavis disagreed with A.C. Bradley, arguing that Othello is responsible for his downfall because he has a propensity to jealousy and a weak character. -Karen Newman said the play exposes the “fear of racial and sexual difference,” of Renaissance culture and “by making the black Othello a hero, and by making Desdemona’s love for Othello sympathetic,” Shakespeare’s play challenges the racist, sexist and colonialist views of his society.
Othello At first Othello appears to speak in a very measured, calm verse. In fact his first line is him trying to resolve conflict, telling Iago to let Brabantio “do his spite.” – “Let him do his spite.” However, as the play goes on and Iago convinces him of his wife’s disloyalty, his language becomes very different. He begins to make use of very short responses, simple/non sentences, non-words, exclamation and cursing. This shows the desperate nature that he has adopted, and the loss of his former fluency and rhetoric. He adopts a prose register. Unlike Iago, Othello fits a very specific gender role, which is the masculine persona. His masculinity is declared and described throughout the play. Within the first twenty lines of the first scene, we learn that Othello is a man “loving his own pride and purposes.” He is portrayed as relishing the language, the culture, and the action of war. He is presented as a free man who, having known the bondage of slavery, will not yield to the confines or limitations set by others. He does not allow himself the vulnerability of any emotion other than rage, anger, or violent passion. Desdemona does for Othello what he can not do for himself, which is feel. For example her compassionate, tender response to Othello’s life story answers that which Othello lacks in himself. Othello’s love for Desdemona, and hers for him, gives his life meaning. This love may be so strong for Othello because in the past he has suffered in silence, as a slave. Othello is unable and unwilling to give up his life as a solider and finds in Desdemona a partner with whom he can continue his life. He balances being a solider with being a married man, however he is not always successful in doing this. Desdemona reinforces his sense of purpose, and this love that she offers brings a sense of order to Othello’s life, as opposed to the chaos of his previous military life. Othello is easily misguided by Iago’s words because he is a man of quick action and little thought, a man who has little use for words except as an active form and engaging an audience, as when he testifies before the Senate. Just as Othello can seduce the Senate with his speech, so too can Iago seduce Othello with his.Othello maintains a rigid belief in the certainty of people, things, and ideas. To Othello, “conviction of any sort is fatally more acceptable to him than uncertainty.” Othello even admits this to himself. “To be once in doubt is once to be resolved.”TO SUMMARISE: -Othello begins the play speaking in a very measured, calm voice. However his language becomes very different as the play goes on, showing the desperate nature that he adopts (Act 1 scene 3 compared with Act 4 scene 1). -Unlike Iago, Othello fits a very specific gender role. His masculinity is declared and described throughout the play. He is portrayed as relishing the language and the action of war. “But he (as loving his own pride and purposes).”-He is easily misguided by Iago’s words, because he is a man of quick action and little thought. He maintains a rigid belief in the certainty of people, things, and ideas (“To be once in doubt is once to be resolved”).
Iago Within the play Iago is presented as being hard to analyse, as he lacks a personal self. He has no moral substance, and also lacks gender in the most fundamental sense because he has no real self. He acts only for himself with no motive other than an irrational and unexplainable hate. Within the play Iago takes on both gender roles. He easily assumes both masculine and feminine masques when needed. For example, professionally he is a man of war and a comrade-in-arms to Othello. He is also a husband to Emilia. However, although publicly defined by these masculine categories, Iago reveals through his private actions “his dissatisfaction with the world,” which questions his gender identification and his allegiance to patriarchal society. Iago intrudes on Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage; his role in the marriage can be seen as being of a third party. This role in the marriage of Othello and Desdemona can be seen as exploiting Iago’s feminine side, as his role in the marriage typically takes place in private. He can be seen taking on a feminine manner in act 3 scene 3, where he convinces Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. This is because he is taking on the role of the stereotypical gossipy Renaissance woman.This mixture of feminine and masculine traits in Iago could lead some audience members to view him as androgynous.He could be seen as being linked with a hermaphrodite (a person or animal having both male and female sex organs), which is seen as monstrous and a symbol of the degradation and devolution of humanity. This presents him as representing all the evil of which humans can conceive; the horrible union of the worst in men and women. In the play, Iago is compelled to drive others to behave in accordance with their gender roles. For example when he gets Emilia to steal the handkerchief, or when he gets Cassio deliberately drunk so he lashes out at Roderigo. Iago, when linked with Othello, shares little similarities. Othello shows lot’s of love, whereas Iago is the complete opposite, not showing any love whatsoever (besides self love). Iago’s motivation for destroying the Moor in Othello has two possible explanations. The first is that he was passed over for promotion in favour of his rival, Cassio. The second reason is that he believes Othello has slept with his wife Emilia in the past, although he offers no evidence for his suspicions. His motives are made deliberately fuzzy which encourages the reader to interpret it as they wish. One interpretation is even that Iago is motivated by jealousy of Othello’s love for Desdemona, and is maddened by a repressed homosexual desire. There is a hint of this in Act 3 scene 3, as Iago tells Othello “I am your own forever.” These words perhaps express more than devotion for Othello, and instead posses a distinctly romantic tone not too dissimilar to that of a marriage vow. There are hints that Iago could be romantically interested in Cassio as well. For example when he informs Othello that he “lay with Cassio lately,” it makes us as the audience wonder whether this is as soldiers in the barracks, or as gay lovers.Iago can be seen as being manlier than Cassio, Othello and Roderigo, as his speech is blunt compared to the airs and graces they put on through their poetic language. TO SUMMARISE: -Iago lacks a personal self, and lacks gender because of this. He easily takes on both masculine and feminine masques when needed. -Because of this blurred sense of gender, Iago could be seen as being linked with a hermaphrodite. This is seen as monstrous. -Iago shares few similarities with Othello. -Iago’s motivation for destroying Othello has two possible explanations (see above).
Cassio Cassio immediately comes across as trustworthy and reliable, and not the fool that Iago had painted him as. This can be seen from his first line, “The duke does greet you, general, and he requires your haste-post-haste appearance even on the instant.” Despite this trustworthy nature, Othello clearly did not take him into confidence about his elopement, suggesting that there is a distance between the two characters. Cassio does not share Iago’s crude humour and does not understand his jokes, “I do not understand.”Cassio is a young and inexperienced solider, whose high position is much resented by Iago. He is devoted to Othello and is truly ashamed when he got involved with the drunken brawl at Cyprus and lost his place as lieutenant. He is presented as being a gentlemen in contrast to Othello and Iago.We are informed that CASSIO IS A FLORENTINE, which ultimately makes him an outsider like Othello. Within the play, Iago is able to make Cassio look as if he is “framed to make women false.” In other words, he looks like the sort of man people would expect to be a seducer, and Iago exploits this. Like Othello, he clearly CARES ABOUT HIS REPUTATION, as he is wretched at the thought that his reputation has been sullied after getting drunk and striking out at Roderigo (find quote). Despite his gallantry, in private Cassio shows ELEMENTS OF SEXISM. For example, he tells Bianca to be gone because he does not want to be found “womaned.” We might also feel that his reluctance to face Othello reveals a rather weak character, as he instead uses Desdemona as a way of communicating with him after his drunken misfortune. It is, ironically, Cassio who replaces Othello as governor of Cyprus at the end of the play. We are ultimately forced to conclude that his worthiness outweighs his weakness.
How Shakespeare represents speech -What makes Shakespeare sometimes hard to understand is the different syntax he used compared to modern English. -He often splits a line of verse between speakers to simulate the pace of conversation or interruptions and represents this graphologically, so it can be seen visually on the page. Verse and prose are used in the play. Characters of low rank speak in prose and those of high rank speak in verse, partly because of the association of verse with an elevated register. An example is the prose used in Act 1 Scene 1 between Iago and Roderigo, signifying their private plotting and Iago’s continued manipulation of Roderigo. Another example is Othello’s transition of language from verse to prose as the play progresses, showing his loss of control as jealousy takes over.Iago is able to shift between verse and prose at ease, showing his skillful use of language. -Shakespeare does not use italics. Instead, iambic pentameter often foregrounds the key words to be stressed. Iambic pentameter is beats in language.
How the soliloquies are effective -The dramatic device of the soliloquy gives us the speakers perspective (in this case Iago’s), and makes us, in part, his accomplices. This is because we are taken into his confidence and get to listen to his plots being hatched against the other characters. Iago speaks to the audience throughout the play, unlike Othello, which draws us into his web. The theatrical convention is that in soliloquy’s the characters tell the truth, but Iago may be the exception here as he may not know the truth himself about his own feelings. -Iago’s soliloquies are an essential part of the plot of the tragedy in that they tend to fall at the beginning or end of scenes, where they either preview what is about to happen, or summarise and look back on what has just happened. The strategic placing of the speeches gives the impression that Iago is playing the role of chorus in a play of his own devising, and that he is the source of all the action.Iago’s main soliloquy’s are in Act 1 Scene 3, Act 2 Scene 1 and Act 2 Scene 3. In his soliloquy’s he hatches his plans and expresses his hate for the Moor.
What makes Iago’s speech acts in 3.3 so felicitous (suited to the circumstances)? -Iago hints at small things to make Othello think. For example “yet be content,” and “patience, I say; your mind perhaps may change.” -Othello has to see Desdemona with Cassio -Iago has to use declaratives and state facts -The stereotypes at the time towards black people have to exist. This is what get’s Othello thinking. -Lack of moral; Iago does not think about the consequences of lying.
Significance of The Willow Song The willow song occurs in Act 4 Scene 3. As Desdemona prepares for bed on the night she is murdered by Othello, she starts singing a song about willow trees. This song reflects Desdemona’s current situation. She herself is worried that the man she married has gone crazy and will desert her, which is what the song reflects. Willows at the edge of water are also said to be a traditional symbol of women deserted by their lovers.
The structure of most Shakespearean tragedies There are usually seven parts to a typical Shakespearean tragedy. These are: -Exposition. This is where the setting is established and there is no tragic hero. -Complicating action. This is where the conflict is introduced.-Hamartia. When mistakes are made by the tragic hero who is still in control. -Crisis. Major turning point as a result of the Hamartia.-Tragic Force. Downward fall of the hero. -Catastrophe. The inevitable death of the hero. -Glimpse of restored order. Events after the heroes death where there is a glimpse of restored order.
Conventions of tragic heroes The tragic hero in a Shakespearean tragedy will often: -Be a person of high rank (Othello is) -Be noble, honorable and highly respected (Othello is noble and honorable for the most part but is not highly respected by everyone)-Be ambitious and have courage (Othello shows ambition but not necessarily courage) -Will suffer a fall which brings disaster to others (Othello does)-Listen to prophecy told by witches (Othello listens to Iago, who could be seen as being linked with the witches)-Have a desire to be king (Othello strives for power)-Allow his wife to manipulate his ambitious desires (This does not apply. Othello does not listen to his wife, instead listening to only Iago)CONFLICT -Most Shakespearean tragedies contain internal and external conflict. Sometimes, the external conflict leads to the internal conflict. -This idea can be seen in Othello. The external conflict is the war between the Turks and Venice. The internal conflict is the drama between the characters that we see in the play. Here, the external conflict can be seen as leading to the internal conflict, as the internal conflict happens as a result of the external conflict.
Conventions of tragic heroes and tragic plays There is usually:-A fatal flaw/weakness in the tragic heroes personality (in this case it is Othello’s gullibility)-Extreme wealth and power involved-Opportunity for the tragic hero to have redemption, but they never take advantage. -An ordered start but a chaotic finish-A hero who is destroyed by his own ego -Characters that have no control over their fate -Aristotle’s theories of dramatic tragedy (exposition, then rising, then falling, then denouement.) -A tragic hero who is noble and unordinary, which means his death is meaningful-A tragic hero who is blind to reality and who suffers internally and externally. They usually gain knowledge at the end of the play which identifies his/her true nature or true nature of their situation. This is called Anagnorisis.
Power in Othello Social deixis suggests that Othello ultimately has power over Desdemona. The maxim of manner is broken, there is a face threatening act from Othello, and also a dispreferred response from Othello through the word “Devil!” Iambic pentameter is also exploited from Desdemona. This can be seen in Act 2 Scene 2 lines 173-4 and Act 4 Scene 1 lines 229-230. Othello’s language changes through his use of short sentences, exclamation marks, and the frantic tone that he adopts. He also adopts prose rather than verse, showing his fall in status. This can be seen in his second speech (Act 4 Scene 1 lines 35-41), which contrasts strongly with his earlier speech (Act 1 Scene 3 line 76), where his language is measured and planned, and he presents himself in a good way in front of a crowd. In Act 4 Scene 1 he has a panicked, frantic tone of voice with short sentences and hyphens to convey fragmented speech. This is an example to use when describing how Othello’s language changes over the course of the play and how it represents his downfall as a character. Types of power seen in the play include positional power, which is important with Othello’s power over other characters, yet Iago subverts this power. Power of knowledge is seen through Iago, who possess a certain knowledge that other characters do not have, resulting in the tragedy of the play. Personal power is seen through Cassio, as he can easily influence people. Indeed, the main types of power seen in the play are positional, knowledge and personal power. Othello’s later powerlessness is due to his seeming lack of power in his personal relationship with Desdemona, or in the reflection of her alleged infidelity on his reputation, thereby lessening his positional power in the sight of others. Remember reputation was very important to Othello. In Shakespearean English, speakers could choose between “you,” or “thou,” as second person pronouns. The pronouns “thou,” and it’s object form “thee,” indicates a familiarity and a solidarity between speakers. In contrast, the pronoun “you,” connotes a social distance when addressed to one person, as well as signifying social status. In unequal encounters “sir,” could be used as an honorific, “you,” would be used to address a person of perceived higher status in society as to show respect and to be polite and social superiors might use “thou,” to their inferiors. Ultimately, Shakespeare can mark characters claiming or exerting power very subtly, showing solidarity and demonstrating politeness between characters.Playwrights such as Shakespeare can also encode power through aspects of stagecraft as well as language. Some playwrights signal this in stage directions but Shakespeare normally leaves it to the language itself to suggest instructions for performance. Power can be seen on stage through the stage setting and the location of the action. For example the setting may change, which could potentially affect the character’s power (for example Othello in the Senate has more power than the Othello in Cyprus when talking to Iago). Body language on stage can also obviously show differences in power. For example one character could be higher than another. (For example, Othello is higher than Desdemona on stage, and Othello and Iago are roughly the same height, meaning they are perhaps presented as equals). Also, last but certainly not least, the action and events on stage should be considered. For example, in what order do the events happen, and what meaning do the actions of the characters have on other characters and their relationships? For example the effect of Iago’s behavior on Othello. How does this link back to power?
Notes from Othello program -The production aimed to evolve the Elizabethan terms and euphemisms for sexual acts, organs, racist slurs and misogynistic behavior that have in recent years lost their meaning and impact. By updating certain words, the play wants to honour the “shock value,” of Shakespeare’s original work. The production has made the play more modern. -In the program, Carol Rutter (professor of Shakespeare at Warwick University) explores the silencing of women in Othello.She says that, in the Senate, Desdemona boldly speaks out for her marriage. “That I did love the Moor to live with him / My downright violence and scorn of tortunes / May trumpet to the world… Let me go with him.” This is clearly a women who uses words to get what she wants. Desdemona also defends Emilia’s silence, “Alas! She has no speech.” Emilia juxtaposes with Desdemona, as she is speechless. She is accused of a loose tongue, and to defend herself against the accusation in words would simply be to prove it. Emilia is presented as a “gagged figure,” throughout the play. It’s only when she picks up Desdemona’s dropped handkerchief, when we hear her alone, that we get any insight into her relationship with her husband. When wondering what Iago will do with the handkerchief she has been instructed to steal, she says “Heaven knows, not I.” She then adds the comment which lets us see into the black hole of their marriage and her role in it: “I nothing, but to please his fantasy.” “I nothing,” underpins the culture of a woman’s “divided duty,” that Desdemona spoke of. That is, she divided the women between men. And duty to her self? “I something?” Perhaps the woman’s self exists only to serve her man, “to please his fantasy.” This raises the question of whether Othello is simply a cautionary tale warning “fair,” women against speaking out or speaking up, instructing them to define female virtue as modesty.Iago silences Emilia with the contemptuous rhetorical question that diminishes all female speech acts – “What, are you mad?” Then again – “Be wise, and get you home.” Emilia has a choice to speak out and she does. She spits out the gag, so to speak. She does this by blaming her husband for Othello’s death. Speaking out ultimately costs Emilia her life. -PERCEIVING THE OTHER. If you take away Othello’s colour, then you don’t really have the magnitude of the tragedy. Othello is in a terrifying position. He is honorable and trusted, however is surrounded by people who might see him as their worst nightmare. The loneliness of colour is made worse by the solitude of power. He is trapped in a code of honour, to whom he can turn to no one. It is safe for him to trust those who seem trustworthy (which is why he trusts Iago), as to doubt would bring on insanity, for he would have to doubt everyone. Iago represents those who cannot accept the other. The imagery of black as unnatural comes from Iago, who smears it throughout the play. Othello is presented as black, and therefore visually alien, which Shakespeare disproves by painting his humanity right down to his jealousy. On the other hand we have Iago who is white and familiar but who is actually the real alien to humanity and love. It is almost as if the message of the play is that it is not those who look different who are the real strangers. Iago is ultimately a character who functions, unrecognized, in the pack, in the crowds. Othello is presented as trusting too much. Trapped in ambition, marked by his colour, refusing to confront his predicament, he is the authentic self-betrayer.In three centuries of Othello committing murder and suicide on the stage no significant change in attitude towards black people has occurred.The play is less about jealousy than it is about accepting the other. Crucial lines in the play are “speak of me as I am: nothing extenuate, / Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak / Of one that loved not wisely, but too well?” These lines are important because Othello, once and for all, wants to be viewed for what he really is, rather than an exaggerated or downplayed version of himself. This failure to love wisely applies to every main figure in the play – to Desdemona, to her father, to Iago etc.
Shakespearean conventions and where they can be found A mixture of soliloquy’s, asides, prose/verse and accommodation are used in the play. ACT 1.1-Verse is used by Iago and Roderigo (‘Sblood, but you will not hear me. If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me,” and “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.”) PAGE 1 -Upwards convergence towards Brabantio (“Signor, is all your family within,” and “Patience, good sir.”) PAGES 4 AND 5 ACT 1.2-Upwards convergence is used by Iago towards Othello (“Against your honour,” and “You were best to go in.”) PAGES 9 AND 10ACT 1.3-Iago’s final soliloquy – PAGE 27 -Verse used from Othello. He adopts verse to impress The Duke (p19)-Othello demonstrates an upwards convergence (p19) ACT 2.1 -Iago’s final soliloquy – PAGE 41 ACT 2.2-Upper convergence from the Herald to show his respect for OthelloACT 2.3 -Small soliloquy from Iago (end of scene, starting with “Two things are to be done,” and ending with “Dull not device by coldness and delay.”) ACT 3.1-Verse used to show negative nature of scene and plotting of Iago (“You have not been abed then,” “I’ll send her to you presently; And I’ll devise a mean to draw the Moor,” and “Good morrow, good lieutenant; I am sorry for your displeasure.” PAGES 58 AND 59ACT 3.2-Upwards convergence is used by Iago to show respect (“Well, my good lord, I’ll do’t.) PAGE 59-Upwards convergence used by Gentlemen (“We’ll wait upon your lordship.”) PAGE 59ACT 3.3 -Othello soliloquy (starting with “Why, why is this,” and ending with “Away at once with love or jealousy.” PAGE 66ACT 3.4 -Upwards convergence from Othello (“My lady”) PAGE 80ACT 4.1-Asides used (Iago on page 91, Othello on page 94 indicated with Aside stage direction as he listens to Iago’s and Cassio’s conversation) ACT 4.2 -Prose/short sentences used to signify Othello’s growing panic (“Have you seen nothing then,” “Pray, chuck, come hither,” and “Are you not a strumpet?”) ACT 4.3 -Aside from Desdemona at the end (“Good night, good night.”) PAGE 117ACT 5.1-Aside from Roderigo (“O inhuman dog”) PAGE 121ACT 5.2-Othello starts with a soliloquy.The scenes where soliloquy’s can be found are Act 1 Scene 3, Act 2 Scene 1, Act 2 Scene 3, Act 3 Scene 3 and Act 5 Scene 2.