In Othello, Shakespeare creates a powerful drama of a marriage that begins with fascination (between the exotic Moor Othello and the Venetian lady Desdemona), with elopement, and with intense mutual devotion and that ends precipitately with jealous rage and violent deaths. He sets this story in the romantic world of the Mediterranean, moving the action from Venice to the island of Cyprus and giving it an even more exotic coloring with stories of Othello’s African past.
Shakespeare builds so many differences into his hero and heroine—differences of race, of age, of cultural background—that one should not, perhaps, be surprised that the marriage ends disastrously. But most people who see or read the play feel that the love that the play presents between Othello and Desdemona is so strong that it would have overcome all these differences were it not for the words and actions of Othello’s standard-bearer, Iago, who hates Othello and sets out to destroy him by destroying his love for Desdemona.
As Othello succumbs to Iago’s insinuations that Desdemona is unfaithful, fascination—which dominates the early acts of the play—turns to horror, especially for the audience. We are confronted by spectacles of a generous and trusting Othello in the grip of Iago’s schemes; of an innocent Desdemona, who has given herself up entirely to her love for Othello only to be subjected to his horrifying verbal and physical assaults, the outcome of Othello’s mistaken convictions about her faithlessness.
The amount of times I had to write an essay for Othello last year is ridiculous but it did help with a deeper understanding of the play. Jealousy of course is a huge part of this tragedy but there are so many other things that are right there out in the open but not necessarily highlighted. Things such as: manipulation of weaknesses, egotism and misplaced trust are mainly featured. It’s no secret that classics and plays in general are not my favourite but I’m really starting to like the overall genre.
The play starts out with Iago getting jealous that he was passed up for a promotion and it went to Michael Cassio instead. Then of course there is the issue of Desdemona who fell in love and married Othello, who regardless of his status as a General, remains a very much older black guy. Apparently that was a big no no in society back then (unfortunately some things don’t change).
Obviously it’s the jealousy that really adds the fuel to the fire in this play and that’s what drives everyone’s reactions. There was a great deal of misunderstanding that went on that I think stemmed from the fact that communication between the characters was nonexistent. This was evident especially in those scenes where instead of just coming out and saying something for what it was, the characters would tend to beat around the bush. One would think that you’d get annoyed by this but I found it ironic because the constant beating around the bush is what actually lead to their ends.
I’ve read Macbeth and while I enjoyed that play quite a bit, I definitely liked Othello more. More so because I delved deeper into what this play was actually trying to convey and there are so many avenues it can go down; of what it actually means. Trust that I had my summaries on hand because Modern English and I are not friends but it came in handy and it helped me really get into these classic plays.
I don’t think I’ve seen a villain quite like Iago. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed but he’s manipulative and he uses this to his advantage. He knows that Desdemona won’t go to Othello and be honest about the handkerchief, and he’s well aware of the fact that Othello is likely to blow things out of proportion. In Iago’s mind, things only work one way: assume the wildest things, convince yourself it’s the absolute truth and go about ruining peoples’ lives. Instead of going after the source directly (his wife), he goes after everybody and anybody else. Not because he believes his wife is not to blame, but because he sees her as property so that’s what actually starts this whole thing. There is no description I have for Iago except that he’s a completely vile and despicable man.
Many other things were featured in this play as well. Othello, not only being much older than Desdemona, but also being of a different race played a big part in their relationship. I felt that Desdemona was very carefree in her feelings in the sense that she didn’t care who saw her love because she was certain of it and as long as Othello loved her back (which he did), she was right as rain. Even with Othello’s insecurities, what with all their differences, he was willing to overlook them because Desdemona was all that mattered, except that it was these very insecurities that caused him to be so easily swayed by Iago’s machinations.
Overall, there were strings that were being pulled. Everyone was a puppet in this play, and that includes Iago. He’s not exempt from this fact. They all fell victim to the jealousy and the manipulation, as well as the lies and the deceit.
I’ve heard that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s best play so I’m refusing to read that until I’ve read a few more of his works. I think I’m going with King Lear next.
Read: 9 October 2017
Publication Date: May 1992 (First published 1603)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Link to Author’s Goodreads Page: William Shakespeare