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Theme 1: As in Macbeth, all things are not what they seem. At the beginning, Othello appears strong and self-disciplined, and Iago presents himself as loyal and trustworthy. Later, Othello is revealed as a victim of his emotions, and Iago as a disloyal and evil man.
Theme 2:.Jealousy has the power to destroy. It destroys both Iago (jealous that Michael Cassio has received an appointment over him) and Othello (jealous that his wife may love Cassio). Ironically, it is the deceitful Iago who, in a pretense to make himself seem a friend to Othello, speaks of the danger of jealousy:
................O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
................It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
................The meat it feeds on. . . . .
................(Act III, Scene III, Lines 165-167)
Theme 3:.Hatred is often skin deep. Racial prejudice is a crucial issue in the play, for it isolates Othello, making him feel like a defective and an outcast. As such, he wonders whether he is worthy of Desdemona–and whether she has turned her attentions toward a handsome white man, Cassio, as Iago maintains. Brabantio and Iago are the most bigoted characters. Brabantio is horrified that his daughter has eloped with a Moor who will give him dark-skinned children; Iago cannot brook the fact that he must take orders from a black.
Theme 4: True love sometimes requires courage. Desdemona marries Othello knowing well that his color, his cultural background, and his advanced age will arouse controversy. But she never wavers in her love for Othello, even when her own father–a prominent Venetian–speaks out against the Moor; she never allows the bigotry of others to affect her.
Theme 5:.Bad things happen to good people. Desdemona is pure and innocent, the ideal wife. Othello is noble, loving, and accomplished, the ideal husband. But he murders Desdemona, then kills himself. In the real world, bad things happen to good people. Chance, character flaws, and the presence of evil--in this case, Iago--often militate against happy endings.
Dates, Sources, and Type of Play
Date Written: Probably between 1602 and 1604.
Probable Main Sources:.Ecatommiti, (also called Hecatommithi), published in Venice in 1566 and written by Giovanni Battista Giraldi (1504-1573), also known as Cinthio. Ecatommiti means "One Hundred Tales."
First Performance: Probably November 1, 1604, before King James I at Whitehall Palace.
First Printing: 1622 in a quarto edition; 1623 as part of the First Folio.The First Folio version omits oaths and curses that appeared in the quarto edition in compliance with a law passed by Parliament that forbade blasphemous language in stage dramas.
Type of Play: Tragedy.
Use of Irony
Iago's "Good Name": Irony plays an important role in Othello. For example, Othello, a good man, commits a heinous crime. Iago, an evil man, masquerades as an honorable man. In fact, in one of the better known passages in all of Shakespeare, Iago extols honor, saying:
................Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
................Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
................Who steals my purse steals trash . . .
................But he that filches from me my good name
................Robs me of that which not enriches him
................And makes me poor indeed.
Othello’s Prejudice, the Ultimate Irony: Centuries of analysis and criticism of this play have focused on Othello as the victim of prejudice. Ironically, though, it is Othello who commits the most heinous act of prejudice in the play–forejudging his innocent wife as, in his own words, a “cunning whore” who must pay for her transgression with her life. His mulish refusal to consider confuting evidence and his summary execution of his wife demonstrate that prejudice is an equal-opportunity affliction.
Climax and Background Information
Climax of the Play: The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Othello, according to the first definition, occurs in the third scene of Act III, when Othello becomes convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful and resolves to retaliate against her. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Othello kills Desdemona and discovers the horrible mistake he has made.
Individual Copies for Schools: Folger Shakespeare Library Edition, (Low Cost)
Number of Words in Complete Public-Domain Text: 27,953.
Hinge Character: Michael Cassio is a hinge on which the play turns. On the one hand, it was his promotion that aroused Iago's jealousy. On the other, it was his alleged (but nonexistent) love affair with Desdemona that aroused Othello's jealousy.
Planted Evidence: Writers often use "planted evidence" as a ploy to impugn an innocent character and thereby thicken the plot. Knives, guns, caches of jewels, umbrellas, and cigarette lighters have all been used by writers to suggest that an innocent character is guilty. The 19th Century playwright Oscar Wilde often resorted to such ploys to complicate his plots. One of his plays, Lady Windermere's Fan, relies heavily on seemingly incriminating evidence--a fan and a handwritten letter--to implicate an innocent woman. What was the planted evidence in Othello that implicated Desdemona? Describe this evidence and explain its role in convincing Othello that his wife was unfaithful.
Murder Methods: In this play, Othello apparently strangles Desdemona or smothers her with a pillow. (The stage directions say he "stifles" Desdemona.) Murder by pillow or strangulation was only one of a remarkable variety of killing tools and methods Shakespeare used to send his characters to the beyond. In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra commits suicide via the bite of an asp. In Richard III, Clarence is drowned in a barrel of wine. In Macbeth, hired assassins inflict "twenty trenched gashes" upon Banquo's head. In Cymbeline, Guiderius decapitates Clotan. In Titus Andronicus, throats are slit and Aaron the Moor is buried up to his chest, then starved. In Hamlet, Claudius murders his predecessor by pouring poison into his ear. In King John, a monk poisons the monarch in the conventional, oral way. The latter murder method has been a favorite of assassins since ancient times. It is said that the custom of garnishing food with parsley originated in the time of the Caesars. Parsley was a secret sign from a friend in the kitchen that food was uncontaminated.
Othello as Hero: Hellen Gardner observes, "Othello is like a hero of the ancient world in that he is not a man like us, but a man recognized as extraordinary. He seems born to do great deeds and live in legend. He has the obvious heroic qualities of courage and strength, and no actor can attempt the role who is not physically impressive. He has the heroic capacity for passion. But the thing which most sets him apart is his solitariness. He is a stranger, a man of alien race, without ties of nature or natural duties. His value is not in what the world thinks of him, although the world rates him highly, and does not derive in any way from his station. It is inherent. He is, in a sense, a self-made man, the product of a certain kind of life which he has chosen to lead...."--Gardner, Hellen. Quoted in Bender, David, publisher. Readings on the Tragedies of William Shakespeare. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996 (Page 140).
Buon Giorno, Mr. Shakespeare: Did Shakespeare visit Italy? His writings suggest that he did. Consider that more than a dozen of his plays--includingThe Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Winter's Tale all have some or all of their scenes set in Italy. Consider, too, that plays not set in Italy are often well populated with people having Italian names. For example, although The Comedy of Errors takes place in Ephesus, Turkey, the names of many of the characters end with the Italian ''o'' or ''a'':--Angelo, Dromio, Adriana, Luciana. In Hamlet's Denmark, we find characters named Marcellus, Bernardo and Francisco. Practically all of the characters in Timon of Athens bear the names of ancient Romans--Lucullus, Flavius, Flaminius, Lucius, Sempronius, Servillius, Titus, Hortensius. Of course, it is quite possible that Shakespeare visited Italy only in his imagination.
What Was a Moor?
A Moor was a Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent. Berbers were North African natives who eventually accepted Arab customs and Islam after Arabs invaded North Africa in the Seventh Century A.D. The term has been used to refer in general to Muslims of North Africa and to Muslim conquerors of Spain. The word Moor derives from a Latin word, Mauri, used to name the residents of the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa. To refer to Othello as a "black Moor" is not to commit a redundancy, for there are white Moors as well as black Moors, the latter mostly of Sudanese origin.
Moor in Titus Andronicus: In Titus Andronicus Shakespeare introduces an evil Moor named Aaron who displays goodness near the end when he pleads for his child's life. Othello introduces an upright and righteous Moor who displays evil near the end when he suspects his wife of infidelity and kills her.
Moor in Merchant of Venice: A Moor also appears in The Merchant of Venice. He is the Prince of Morocco, a suitor for the hand of Portia. Even before he arrives to make his bid for her, Portia, a racist snob, says, "if he have . . . the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me."
Study Questions and Essay Topics
Questions for Discussion:
(1) Brabantio protests the marriage of his daughter, Desdemona, to Othello, claiming Othello used "spells and medicines" to dull her senses so that she would marry "against all rules of nature." Do you think the real reason for Brabantio's protest is the color of Othello's skin? Use passages from the play to support your answer.
(2) What was the attitude of Europeans toward blacks during Shakespeare's time?
(3) In what ways are Othello and Desdemona similar to Romeo and Juliet? In what ways are they dissimilar?
(4) Do you believe Iago despises Othello because Othello is black?
(4) Would you marry a person of opposite color? Explain your answer.
(5) What do you believe was Shakespeare's attitude toward blacks?
(6) Did any blacks live in London during Shakespeare's time?
(7) If Othello was such a great general, a man who could read the mind of his enemy, why was he so easily deceived by Iago?
(1) Write an essay explaining why Othello promoted Michael Cassio as his personal lieutenant instead of Iago. The play does not address this question, and most scholars ignore it because there is virtually no evidence (prior to the appointment) to support a viewpoint. Using your imagination and what you know about Cassio and Iago from your reading of the play, venture an opinion, then support it.
(2) Many of us tend to root for villains--bank robbers on the lam, prison inmates after an escape, mad scientists coaxing a monster to life, and miscreants like Iago. Write an essay explaining why we root for villains, an essay that probes the dark side of the human psyche to find sparks from a primeval fire that has enkindled malevolent voyeurism in all of us.
(3) Freely using your imagination, write an essay that tells what Iago was like as a child.
Prepared By: Hussein Ghunaim
!!!! Palestinian for EVER !!!!
English Club For Arab Students
English Club For Arab Students
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