Wading through Shakespeare: “Othello”

Shakespeare’s collection of work is a vast and riveting one; however amongst the plays, I’d have to say that Othello  is my favourite. It has all the makings of a modern soap opera: the possibility of adultery, an impossibly attractive cast, the potential for racial abuse… it’s hard to know where to begin to count the ways in which I love this play.

I think my favourite element however would have to be the antithesis of the heroic protagonist; the unlikely military general, who emerges from royal obscurity, likely to be from southern Spain or northern Africa, who is well-known for his linguistic proficiency and the delightful nature of his metaphors. The plot is somewhat drastically altered however when the protagonist’s supposed friend (and haven’t we all got a “fr-enemy”?) seeks to usurp him from his position to become general himself. The ways in which he goes about doing this could alarm even the most devoted Hollyoaks fan, from deception of everyone in the royal court, to the assault of Cassio, the flirtatious nobleman, and finally, the ultimate refusal to confess:

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word.” – Iago’s final words

Othello and Desdemona (1)

There are few ways more stubborn to exit a play; the complete lack of remorse, and the ability to manipulate everyone in the vicinity of himself is worthy of applause. I consider Iago my favourite villain, purely because he is perfectly timed, in terms of placing tiny hints and clues across the landscape of what ultimately becomes destruction, despite its aesthetic beauty, in Cyprus. The juxtapositions found across Shakespearean literature remind the audience of the decadence of the Elizabethan period, and the rather beautiful paradoxes of circumstance that are symbolic of the nature of revenge tragedy.

Desdemona, in comparison with Othello, can be considered from a feminist perspective. Is she a passive character, playing more of a symbolic role than anything else, a possession to be passed about? Or is she a character who is completely instrumental in her own downfall? Personally, I find it to be the latter. The naivety of her character infuriates me, because looking back from a modern perspective, I feel as though she should have tried a little harder to understand why Othello was behaving in such a repulsive and cagey manner. She applies herself in no particular way, and so from my very modern viewpoint, I wanted her to look a little further, and put the jigsaw puzzle together, before she became a victim of her own circumstances. She is smothered, in a perversely kind way, by her husband. His unwillingness to break her skin or violate her in any way is symbolic of her purity and subsequent lack of progression into the adult world.

Tragedy tends to emerge from outside circumstance, sometimes not even in conjunction with internal factors. (Courtesy of Professor Nick Groom)

I hope you get to watch the adaptation and read the play, because it’s a brilliant example of the classic revenge tragedy.


(1) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.wordpress.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wpeditimage/img/image.png



8 thoughts on “Wading through Shakespeare: “Othello”

    • It wasn’t quite an analysis though 🙂 I studied it for my A-levels, and loved it then, despite being mentally tortured for the exam questions. 🙂 Thank you for reading!

      • Well, it made me think of Othello a bit differently!

        What exactly are A-levels? As I’m from the States, I don’t know much about education in other places.

        Harold Bloom wrote some really good essays on Hamlet, which happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play.

        It’s always great to read your stuff, Sarah Alice!

      • A levels are the qualifications you take at about 18 just before you apply to university. Those grades are the one’s you are judged on for applications etc. I don’t know much about the American system either!
        I did Hamlet this week at uni, I did enjoy it. I like the concept of the play within the play. I shall have to take a look at the essays, I’ll probably spend tomorrow in the library anyway, poring over stuff for my essay on humanism, literature and oppression. It’s turning into a bit of a beast! I really enjoy reading your stuff too, especially since it’s a completely different insight on life and learning to the stuff I’m used to.

      • Oh, okay. That sounds stressful! Are they more content-based or is it just a simple standardized test?

        Here, to get into college, you take an ACT or SAT exam. It doesn’t matter what you want to study. Neither test is challenging if you practice and learn how the formatting works. They just make the questions tricky, but there’s not any content you have to learn for either test.

        That sounds like a lot of work! Is it about a particular work or just lit in general?

        Thank you! Yes, I’m getting the sense that education is much different there than it is here. I had an intense education in high school but a rather light one in college.

      • Our A levels are very much content and essay based, if you’re sitting English, or if you’re sitting maths, it’s very challenging problems, etc. ACT and SATs sound interesting.

        The essay is about literature in general bit I’ve kind of gone with South African oppression and associated literature and a little bit of humanism to help things along. Throw in postmodernism and you have a ready made headache 🙂

        I think all education systems are really different, it would be interesting to swap for the day and give them all a go.


      • I see… This may be a really dumb question, but are they like OWLs in Harry Potter? It sounds like your exams are harder!!

        Neat! That sounds very complex, though.

        It certainly would be interesting. I wonder how different the university programs are compared to the high school programs.

      • It would be a good study to look at. They are a little like OWLs 😀

        I love my essay though, which is really good!


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