The Tragedy of Othello

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TheTragedy of Othello


TheTragedy of Othello

Othello byWilliam Shakespeare is a tragedy whose main protagonist is Othelloand the villain is Iago. Othello is a moor, Venetian general and ahusband to Desdemona. The play is set in a tragic tone with themarriage between Othello and Desdemona presented as a heroic andnoble act. Through the interactions of different characters in theplay, different motifs, symbols and structures are brought out,describing the life and culture that was reminiscent of Venice at thetime. The essay aims to establish the main points raised in threechosen critical essays on the play and personally identify somemotifs from the play that align with those present in the essays.

Berry’s article on Othello tries to establish aparticular pattern with regard to the virtues of evil and good.Through his analysis, he identifies Iago as the characterpersonifying evil, while Othello and Desdemona signify `good`. Theauthor likens the struggle between good and evil with the imagerypresented in the play of heaven and hell, in which the evil overcomesthe good. In his views, Berry incorporates the opinions of Knight,who interprets the play using Christian symbolism. This aligns withhis notion that the play is all about evil and good, which representsthe major thematic representation of the church. The author is rightin the manner in which he views thematic symbolism of good and evilas to simplifying towards the play. Another point raised in theanalysis is that while the poetry within the play contains all thesymbolic effects, it would be unwise to apply them in translating thehuman activities in the drama (Berry, 1972.

It is an undeniable fact that there is Christiansymbolism in the play as well as aspects of allegory that areemphasised by Iago’s ancestral past. Throughout the play, there aremany occasions where characters display moments of jealousy,temptation, and evil and how through love their personality wasregenerated. In the same aspects, the author sees the themes of goodand evil within the play but views them in a wider perspective ratherthan as being the representations of Othello and Iago respectively.As such, an analysis of the play should be broadly based toincorporate psychological perspectives of the human characteristicsdisplayed by the main characters. On this basis, berry considersOthello as a psychological drama (Berry, 1972).

In Marilyn French’s essay, the culture of Veniceis major highlight of the author, and she explores the ways in whichthe culture influences the characters in the play. Within thisculture, the author sieves through different themes, one of thembeing masculinity. Masculinity is shown as representing those withhonour, decorum, power, knowledge, and adherence to law. In thecouncil scene, masculinity takes the form of reasoned action, whichthe author views as a representation of control. Another themediscussed is power, which comes to be because of the evolution ofcontrol. This takes the form of control over other people. On theother hand, the author attributes self-power to self-control, an areain which Othello seems to excel in. Iago and Othello use theirself-control in different ways and under different circumstances. Tocomplete the roll of themes is possession, which is representedthrough wealth by people in power and with control over others.However, the two portray their masculinity ion different ways, withIago being the more controlling and individualistic. He also holdssome contempt for feminism, while Othello seems to react to theopposite of Iago (French, 1982).

Campbell approaches his analysis of the playthough orientalism, based on Othello’s perception of race, Arabsand imperialism. From the analysis, one depicts Iago as the solesource of imperialism and orientalist attitudes. Through Othello, theplay also depicts the experiences of the traditional Venetians withforeigners who lived in the city. These experiences are lived throughan interaction of cultures, some of which are intolerable forOthello. Through Orientalism, Iago is able to deceive Othello anddestroys him in the end. Orientalism can thus be seen as a cunningway of misrepresenting Othello while deep inside, Iago possessesnothing but prejudice for him. Iago depicts racism in the way headdresses the difference in human colours (Campbell, 2011).

Having analysed the main representations of thethree critical essays on Othello, it is important to establish anindependent analysis of the same with an aim of comparing with theprevious views by other authors. Iago displays a lot of irony whilein a conversation with Othello. Rather than depicting himself in histrue state, Iago leads Othello to believe of him as a good man. Theconversation takes place in scene three of Act 3 where Iago says,“Think my lord! By heaven, he echoes me, as if there were somemonster in his thought to hideous to be shown.” (Act IIIScene iii) This accentuates the villainy of Iagoas he ends up setting up Othello through a series ofmisrepresentations and lies. Heaven becomes the motif in this sceneand it is used to represent the good and evil of the protagonist andvillain (Shakespeare, 2006).

Through a series of subsequent conversations,Iago alludes that Othello is jealous to which Othello vehementlydenies. In the first instance, Iago implants the seed of jealousy inOthello and questioning him on the same amounts to hypocrisy. This isin relation to the instance where Iago implants doubt in Othelloregarding the fidelity of his wife, Desdemona, where he says, “lookat your wife observe her with Cassio Wear your eye thus, notjealous nor secure.” This statement leads Othello to developjealous and doubtful feelings towards his wife, all out of thetreachery of Iago. In another part Iago intimates to the audience onhis evil plot when he says “O, beware, my lord of jealousy!It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.That cuckold….loves,” (Act III Scene iii). Thispresentation aligns with the one given by Berry, with jealousy takingthe form of evil in a religious analysis of the play. Using variousfigures of language, the play is able to evoke an understanding ofthe intentions of the protagonist and the villain through a guidedanalysis of their interactions (Shakespeare, 2006). The evil injealousy develops from little insinuations that guide the good peoplefrom the right path. This notion is supported by Iago’s actions ofcreating doubt and uncertainty in Othello’s mind with statementslike “Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lady, know ofyour love?” (Act III, scene iii). What surprises the audience moreis the lack understanding for the motivation behind the actionsdemonstrated by Iago.

From the above analyses, it is evident thatseveral motifs are prominent in the play. Heaven and hell have beenused to compound on the value of good and evil in the main charactersjealousy is also prominent with Othello through a clear organizationof the plot and use of irony, symbolism and language, the author isable to set up a captivating play that is awash with recurrentthemes. From the treachery used by Iago to his eventual destructionof Othello, the play serialises events laden with themes and symbolsthat show the self-destruction of one man, despite his identity as apowerful and self-controlled man.


Berry, R. (n.d.). Pattern in Othello.JSTOR. Retrieved May 23,2014, from

Campbell, C. (2011). Iago`s Orientalism: Imperialism discourse inOthello.International Journal of Arabic-English Studies,&nbsp12,10-23.

French, M. (n.d.). Marilyn French: Othello.Marilyn French:Othello. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

Shakespeare, W. (2006).&nbspOthello. Irvine: SaddlebackEducational Pub..