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Othello William Shakespeare Essay

* William Shakespeare created one of his most famous plays Othello to investigate in an influential manner the unrelenting issues of racial discrimination and gender equility. Based on the tale ‘Un Capitano Moro’ (The Moorish Captain) by Giovanni Cinthio, Othello was written during the epoch of 1603. Due to the actions of Othello, in the midst of a small cast, there is an exploration of sexual jealousy, and thus this play has earned a title of a domestic tragedy. * In this, the final scene depicts how the tragic hero Othello acquiesces to his incurable blemish and reaches his cessation.

The foreseeable ending is cathartic for the audience to experience catharsis, as they experience a passionate feeling of trepidation and pity. Shakespeare shows how he is able to differentiate an individual’s personality in the unchanging hierarchy of his society. * This was achieved through the Turkish invasion in Cyprus where the Venetians fought purely for national identity. Intertwined in the play, the Machiavellian character of Iago brings a certain rise to chaos and blurs out all the lines between appearance and reality.

Saying this, by Shakespeare’s intense use of language, the emotional engaging final scene, brings back a certain order; giving light to issues of truth, race and female insubordination and defining the central protagonist. Context: * Written between 1601 and 1604, Othello’s context is based around the eras of the Elizabethan and Jacobean epochs of English history. Between the two different periods, the Renaissance ideologies are greatly encompassed. These ideologies are that of a cultural movement occurring throughout Europe in the 14th to the 17th centuries.

In the crux of this era, a deep understanding of characters and issues in Othello may perhaps be attained from the initial actions of the play, being set in one of the foremost cities of the Italian Renaissance. Moreover, this period also brought with it the Protestant Reformation which was commenced by Martin Luther which viewed the refusal of medieval Christian values. The Protestant theology believed that God’s divine plan of rational and moral logic was constant throughout society; one which developed in the unchallengeable hierarchy.

* The Chain of Being was the reason for such order whereby it relegate all beings to ones rightful place and purpose in the universe. To preserve such a harmony, people had to develop reason and intellect to rule their emotions. In difference to such strict array, the Renaissance also gave rise to Humanism. Pico Della Mirandola here declared that “one could become as low as an animal or through intellect and imagination become equivalent to God, at least in understanding”1, which I believe may have shaped Shakespeare’s traditional thinking in Othello.

* The selection of using a black tragic hero was indeed controversial, and furthermore those “Blackamoors” in Shakespeare’s previous dramas were without a doubt wicked. This is exemplified through Aaron in Titus Andronicus where this drama exclaimed ‘If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it to my very soul’(Act 5, Scene 3). Due to the conflict with Spain during the Elizabethan period, Blackamoors arrived in England and were reduced to servants or slaves. Therefore it is obvious that the audience of the era would have seen Othello’s superior military position as a serve rebellion to natural order.

* Nevertheless, although the importance of race in Othello, it is essential that the audience recognises that the play is created primarily for the concern with class and subordination rather than forceful racism. The historical and geographical setting also plays a major influence in bringing various amounts of symbolism to the play. Venice was seen as a locus of Christian civilisation, rational order, culture and prosperity. It was also linked with poisoning as it was the birthplace of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Moreover, the city was at the forefront of the battle, between the Christians and the Turks; who were seen as malicious, barbaric infidels. * The conflict was move to the island of Cyprus in 1570 which was a place isolated from civilisation and allied with Aphrodite, the goddess of love- and thus deemed a place of wild infatuation. Therefore we can see how this setting is able to show Othello’s inner conflict and dichotomy of identities; between the civilised and the barbaric, the Christian and the Pagan, the good and the evil within himself.

Theme 1: Women * According to the time that the play was written in and the general hierarchy within Venetian society men hold all the power and women are considered to be of low intellect. Yet it is the women that speak the most sense throughout the play and it is also the women that are able to trust other characters in the play. Each woman represents a different social level, Desdemona being the highest and Bianca being of the lowest. Each sexual relationship in the play provokes some jealousy between the couple.

* Bianca does not appear in the play as much as the other female characters yet her presence is key to the death of Desdemona as well as other play themes. Iago often refers to her as a prostitute, “A house wife that by selling her desires, Buys herself bread and clothes”. She has fallen in love with Cassio, yet he does not speak of his returned affection for her due to his desire for status, and her social standing would affect this dramatically. She is the jealous partner in this relationship and expresses this when Cassio produces Desdemona’s handkerchief, which Iago has planted in Cassio’s room.

* As Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s lady in waiting Emilia helps link Iago’s plan. It was she whom supplied the Desdemona’s handkerchief for Iago. This helps Iago distort Othello’s views about Desdemona’s fidelity. It is interesting that she does not question Iago too much when she gives him the handkerchief, it could be considered that this illustrates female ability to trust in the play. However she also remains ignorant of the entire plot until the end, when her life comes to an abrupt ending, at the hands of her husband, Iago. She often failed to think before saying and performing some action.

This, without much thought, uncovers her husband’s plan, but she fails to consider the consequences for herself. This is very different to her husband, who seems to plan out every word in order to get the right response. It is apparent that this is quite an unhappy marriage, made clearer through their dissimilar personalities. She has many honorable qualities such as her honesty in addition to her loyalty towards Desdemona. Iago does not treat her like his wife until he requires something; this shows this marriage was purely one in order to gain status among piers.

* Throughout the play Desdemona is a symbol of innocence and helplessness. However on first encounter with her she appears to be mature and quite perceptive of events around her. Iago often tells Othello that she is unfaithful. It seems that she refuses to accept what is happening. Her views are impartial. She has a tendency to be sympathetic towards other people’s situations, like Cassio. This also further inspired Othello’s jealousy when Iago pointed out they were speaking in privacy. She often pays attention to other peoples thoughts yet remains cynical if they differ to her own.

She has a loyalty to her husbands in all aspects of life, whether it is mental or physical. If Desdemona had been an emotional void then Iago would not have succeeded in his plan. This would have meant that she would not have lied to Othello about losing the handkerchief, which she did so as not to hurt his feelings. However Othello sees this as an attempt to deceive him and conceal the alleged truth about her affair with Cassio. Even her final words, indicate that she blames her death on herself, and not her jealous husband. * Othello was indeed a tragedy, in which out of the three women that are introduced, only one survived.

Although the women were all rational in thought and trusting, their trust was often misplaced, in gentlemen like Iago. As well as this regardless of their intellect and contemplation of events around them (in some cases) this was not enough for them to rise up in society, as women had no opinion in the time of the play. Although Shakespeare undertook many modern day ideas, he did not do this for a modern day society, as it would not have allowed so many events to occur, and it would not have been considered realistic by the viewing public. Theme 2: Appearance vs Reality.

* When we are able to see the hidden truth in the closing scene of Othello, the distinct battle between appearance and reality is concluded, giving a clear exposure to the understanding of all the characters and issues of the play. Notably, productions of Othello during the Elizabethan epoch would have used a white actor as the protagonist, and masked their skin with black makeup. * This ultimately emphasises the immense difference between external appearances and the internal reality, whereby the obvious dishonesty of the white Iago is juxtaposed with a fundamentally dignified black Othello.

This is further promoted by the lines of the Duke in Act 1, who confirms that ‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack/ Your son-in-law is far more fair than black’. * Iago has the ability to clearly identity the fraud of appearances; as also he is the most likely to lie, he gains a trust from all characters in the play which concludes as being fatal to Othello. Iago further says ‘I am not what I am’, as he is able to put on a fake honesty in society and only tells of his wickedness in soliloquy with the audience.

* Thus wickedness allows Iago to affect the thinking of Othello and moreover creating a crude image that ‘Cassio did top her’, hence believing his obscure reasoning and logic and making Othello take this as the truth leading to his disastrous endings. The soubriquet of “Honest Iago” is continually reiterated by Othello, Cassio and Desdemona; hence it is cynically mocking those he wanted to deceive. Moreover, in the closing scene, the truth is slowly revealed as Iago is finally revealed as the villain who he is seen by the audience throughout the whole play.

* Although, in the final resolution to ‘never speak word’, Shakespeare is able to penetrate the message of the very mysterious and inevitable human nature which Iago represents.

Actions made by Othello are depended on the characters ability to not see things. He is able to blame and prosecute Desdemona even though he never witnessed her so called unlawful act against him, and Emilia- although she does witness Othello’s extreme anger and sadness over the loss of the handkerchief- she does not properly see what her husband has done to cause this. * Thus it is obvious to see how the importance of the ‘eye’ imagery in the final scene as it helps to demonstrate a material realisation of the actual fatal truth.

Once Othello has committed his own suicide, Iago is invited by Lodovico to ‘Look on the tragic loading of this bed/ This is thy work. The object poisons sight, let it be hid’. * Formerly, Iago poisoned Othello by pouring ‘this pestilence into his ear’. Conversely, it is as though Shakespeare is parodying the heroes need for ‘ocular proof, as it ends as the eye which receives the poison; with the man himself Othello being a part of the typical ending for a Shakespearean play, a horrific massacre.

We then gain an understanding from the conclusiveness of death a certain reality and moral implication on issues of truth within the final scene. * Furthermore, it is only a given that Emilia protects Desdemona as ‘the sweetest thing that ere did lift up eye’, followed by Othello confirming his own wife’s truthful innocence by declaring of her look that ‘This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven’. Hence in the closing scene of the play, Shakespeare uses both visual and auditory imagery to show the difference between appearance and reality and deepen our understanding of the character Othello.

Theme 3: Order and Chaos * The final scene, due to Elizabethan context, brings to place the restitution of order; which helps to reunite the characters with concerns they have detained throughout the play. All Shakespearean plays depict a hierarchic society to maintain the cosmic laws of God. * A great amount of torment in the 17th century came from this Great Chain of Being, as a disturbance of this order possibly would force the world into great chaos, one which out does any of the kind. Othello is given two roles in this, one as the creator of chaos, and the other, the protector of order.

Being held at high regard as the military general gave him the label of a hero and defender of Venetian civilisation. * However, due to his race and colour, Othello also was seen to be threatening the white authority of the state. Much the same of the island of Cyprus, Othello was colonised by Venice, and used, however never fully becomes a Venetian. * With social fears of miscegenation, Othello’s position as an outsider was forced upon him, and hence by Brabantio’s repulsion at the harsh image of a ‘black ram tupping your white ewe’.

Yet, like all Shakespearean plays, order is restored in the final scene. In this scene, Othello is able to re-establish himself as a heroic soldier through his suicide, by getting rid of the barbaric Turkish enemy. Through the uses of chaos and order, it represents the battle between Christians and Infidels. In the closing scene of Othello, Emilia reiterates ‘play the swan/ and die in music’. * This natural imagery says that it is possible that the laws of nature or religion are extremely powerful in society.

This belief is further exemplified through the religious turmoil of the previous century, as Protestants were harshly persecuted under the rulings of Queen Mary I. * Thus, it is obvious how religious devotion kept world order. We can further link Othello’s character to black magic and a pagan history through items such as the handkerchief, illustrating the disorder of the unknown to the Venetians. This is further linked with Christopher Marlowe’s, Doctor Faustus who is able to create a sense of disorder through his associations with the devil.

Saying this, at the ending of Othello, Shakespeare verifies that chaos and disorder can occupy the microcosm of an individual. * As Othello states ‘Perdition catch my soul/ But I do love thee; and when I love thee not/ Chaos is come again’, we can see how he foreshadows an expression of self chaos at the loss of Desdemona’s love. Next to the ‘temptation scene’ of Act 3, we see how Othello succumbs to the ‘green eyed monster’ of pure jealously brought on through Iago’s evil mind games. * This extremely powerful human emotion releases the beast hidden in Othello.

This can greatly be seen in the breakdown of his language which has been his tool to command order throughout the whole play; typical of his contextual authority. He cries ‘Pish! Noses, ears,/and lips. Is’t possible? Confess-handkerchief! O/devil! ’, illustrating his confused mind and disorderly insecurity over Desdemona’s fidelity. However, as the play closes, Shakespeare leads Othello back to person order. * In ‘killing himself to die upon a kiss’, Othello is able to seal his bond with his sweet and innocent wife, Desdemona and eventually dies in an act of love.

Ultimately, the final scene of Othello, illustrates to the audience the utmost importance of the restoration of order, in terms of both social structure and the individual. Conclusion: The final scene of Shakespeare’s Othello, offers us a sometimes erratic, emotion and foreseeable series of events. However this type of ending is extremely effective. It is in agreement with various traditional Aristotelian tragedies by the way it involves an intense feeling of pity and fear for the audience’s entertainment.

Moreover, the exaggerated ending of the play brings intensity and incites the readers to look upon the nature of the characters in the various issues amongst the play. Mainly, in the final scene, we see the flaws of the tragic hero, the Machiavellian disposition of Iago, the way women are seen and positioned in Shakespearian context and lastly the necessity of order after the use of chaotic dimensions. Ultimately, the various emotions and thoughts put upon the audience in this final scene of the play Othello, helps promote and illustrate how it is one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing and controversial plays.


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