The play “Othello” was written by William Shakespeare in the 17th century. The most important character, Othello, is the eponymous hero of the play. A hero that is broken down from such a high status to a status that isn’t dissimilar from an animal’s, a ‘Barbary horse’ for example, a remark that reduces Othello’s humanity and is ironically made by Iago, at the beginning of the play, the man that contributes significantly to Othello’s tragic downfall. The play is set in Venice and is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic dramas.
Venice was a unique city, it was small but 500 years ago it was one of the great trading centers of the known world.
Her power spread far. The enemies of this empire were the Turks. Christian civilisation was at risk because of this. The brave soldier Othello, classed as an outsider because of his North African roots, was a strategic thinker employed to defend Venice and the Christian Civilisation that he represents.
Shakespeare uses Othello’s language to create a conflict of interest, because society at the time resented people of colour, however Othello’s persona and manner, at the beginning of the play, appeals to the Shakespearean audience and they begin to like him.
Towards the end of the play, this changes and so does Othello’s use of language because of one of Othello’s few weaknesses, love, is exposed by the villainy of Iago. The themes that are raised in the play include; race, religion, love, hate, jealousy, deceit, betrayal, manipulation, appearances, truth, trust, desire and ambition.
When we first meet Othello he has been taken to the council because Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, refuses to believe that he and Desdemona are genuinely in love with one another. Brabantio thinks Othello must have used some form of witchcraft to win his daughter over.
Whilst at the council, Othello’s qualities shine through. He calmly begins to explain that once he spoke of his past, Desdemona fell in love with him. Othello claims that Brabantio was once fond of him, he says “Her father loved me; oft invited me;” this is ironic, because Brabantio’s opinion changes when he finds out about Othello’s and Desdemona’s blossoming romance. Shakespeare presents Brabantio in this way to show the mindset of people back then and to illustrate Othello’s awareness and eloquence, the lines ‘so please your grace, my ancient: a man he is of honesty and trust; to his conveyance I assign my wife” demonstrates exactly this.
Shakespeare has named the play Othello; however the first character we are introduced to is Iago. Iago gives us an image of Othello straight away from what he says, this means we ask questions and are intrigued to find out whether or not Othello turns out to be how he is portrayed by Iago. This dramatic tension is a hook that makes us want to read on. It would also engross and intrigue the Shakespearean audience because they do not know where Iago’s deep hatred of Othello comes from, ‘I hate the moor. My cause is hearted. ‘
The sentence structure used highlights Othello’s eloquent persuasive use of language. There are often pauses that are shown via the commas, semi colons and colons used, “To the very moment that he bade me tell it; Wherein I spoke of most disastrous chances;” this gives emphasis to Othello’s controlled, considered speech. Othello is very conscious of his audience and selects his words carefully. Another example of personification occurs when Othello says “She’ld come again, with a greedy ear” this also suggests that Desdemona is excited by his stories and wants to hear more.
At the time the play was written the Shakespearean audience would have had an issue to contend with. A black man would never been thought of as a perceptive, articulate strategic thinker, “And I loved her that she did pity them. This is the only witchcraft I have used:” Preconceptions are challenged through sentence structure and language. Shakespeare has used the word “witchcraft” here because it hints at a sense of evil, which relates to devilish characteristics, that Othello is portrayed to have, ironically, by genuine devilish characters.
The theme of evil ties in with Othello’s skin colour, black relates to malevolence evil things, this is something Shakespeare has capitalised on. A few of the literary techniques Othello uses include similes, metaphors, alliteration and personification, “hills whose heads touch heaven” is a terrific example of alliteration and personification, the aim of a sentence like this is to manipulate or persuade his audience that he deserves Desdemona.
The poetic style Othello employs is very effective. As Othello is a soldier he is naturally a quick thinker, he makes use of these qualities when thrust into this situation, “Here comes the lady; let her witness it. ” Othello swiftly decides to let Desdemona speak for him knowing she will inform the council of the truth; this is a sure sign of a quick intellectual mind. Desdemona is clearly very much in love with Othello. She is called to court as a witness and is presented with a dilemma.
She is given a choice between Othello and her father, ‘I do perceive here a divided duty’ Desdemona goes on and speaks of her father respectfully and states how grateful she is for everything he has done for her. This is a shrewd technique that Desdemona has employed here as Brabantio is being flattered and it will only soften the forthcoming blow that Desdemona is about to deliver. ‘To you I am bound for life and education’. Desdemona is also intelligent and persuasive, much like Othello.
She reminds her father that her mother left her father behind because she was in love with him ‘And so much duty as my mother show’d to you, preferring you before her father so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord. ‘ This prevents Brabantio from objecting to their relationship as it would make him a hypocrite. He reluctantly, gives the couple his blessing. Desdemona is unique because she can see past the colour of Othello’s skin and falls in love with Othello’s impressive history and his intellectual outlook on life.
Desdemona is used as a tool that indicates the dramatic breakdown in Othello’s language, she supports her husband’s eloquence and dramatically props him up publically. It is ironic that later, she will be used as a weapon against Othello to literally pierce his heart, Shakespeare has use two pronged dramatic function in the play. I believe Shakespeare uses the Duke and the council to signify something that he believes, which is equality between black and white people. At the council the duke seems to take a liking to Othello ‘I think this tale would win my daughter too. This is unusual, we presume his opinion concerning race would be similar to the rest of society. Nevertheless, I think the duke does not let race effect his judgment and bases his verdict on what each party has to say, so he gives his blessing and sees nothing wrong with Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship. ‘Your son-in-law is far more fair than black’ the Duke is telling Brabantio that Othello has done nothing that should raise suspicions and that if you were to judge him without prejudice, you would be more than happy to see your daughter marry Othello.
I believe that Shakespeare is using this line to indicate to his audience the moral dilemma of the age that prejudgment precludes the truth. As Brabantio leaves the council he leaves Othello with a thought and that is, ‘she has deceived her father, and may thee. ‘ This is dramatic irony as it contributes to Othello’s impending tragic breakdown by planting a seed of doubt in what becomes a fragile mind. The character, Iago, is used as a dramatic mechanism to help the plot along.
He is clearly an extraordinarily intelligent man. He uses this intelligence to deceive, with the intention of getting what he wants. He says to Roderigo ‘put money in thy purse’ he wants money from Roderigo and repeats this over and over whilst promising Roderigo he will get him what he desires, which is Desdemona, Iago is cunning here because he has no intention of helping out Roderigo, but his actions later show Roderigo that he has tried his best for him, when really he hasn’t. This is an example of Iago’s evil genius.
Iago’s detestation of Othello means he will become a victim of Iago’s deceitful and cunning ways. ‘The moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so; and will as tenderly be led by th’nose as asses are. ‘ This speech made by Iago shows exactly this. Iago plans to take advantage of Othello’s weakness and targets his relationship with Desdemona. This suggests to me that Desdemona is seen as an object by Iago and this is also symbolic of what the people at the time thought.
Desdemona has been reduced from a woman to a dead body by the end of the play. During Act 3 Scene 3, Desdemona plants a seed of doubt in Othello’s mind, when she asks Othello to forgive his ex lieutenant, Cassio and give him his job back. ‘I prithee, call him back. ‘ This forces Othello to cast doubt over his relationship with Desdemona. The impact that Iago is having on Othello begins to show in Othello’s language and represents the start of his demise. ‘What dost thou think? ‘ Othello is asking Iago what he thinks.
He has now become dependent on Iago and is confused, which is shown in his language and by the use of question marks. He is probing to find out what Iago thinks; this is the beginning of his fatal flaw, the more questions he asks the more he believes Iago and this inflates Othello’s gullibility. This is what Iago wants because he is beginning to become Othello’s puppet master. Othello uses a cluster of negative vocabulary in one of his speech’s, ‘monster’, ‘hideous’, ‘horrible conceit’, this represents his mind deteriorating.
When Iago and Othello see Desdemona and Cassio together, ‘Enter Othello and Iago, at a distance’ Othello’s suspicions are obviously heightened, however as Iago is with Othello he exploits the situation to the best of his ability, again raising suspicion considerably in Othello’s mind. His sentences are becoming fractured, he takes breaths, gasps and pauses breaking up his speech. Shakespeare shows this through disjointed punctuation, creating the impact of making Othello’s speech disjointed, which reflects his disjointed mind.
Othello is exasperated and his language is staccato like, this is exposed when Othello bellows his own name and asks a rhetorical question ‘OTHELLO why did I marry? ‘ This indicates to the audience that Othello has begun to question himself and represents his demise. However, Othello has not completely lost his mind, he shows a glimmer of optimism and uses poetic alliteration in a sentence, ‘To say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well;’ At this point in the play, Othello is desperate to be reasonable and rational, he is in control at this point and needs logic.
He requires ocular proof and refuses to believe anything until he has it. Iago tricks Othello. He is ironic when he says ‘Cassio’s my worthy friend’ once he has praised Cassio, he then is vague and does not answer Othello in enough detail suggesting to Othello that he knows more than he wants to reveal about Cassio and Desdemona. ‘I do not in position distinctly speak of her;’ because Iago is vague, Othello becomes more frustrated. At this point in the play, Shakespeare uses dramatic entrances and exits to infuriate Othello, it reveals his inability to cope at this stage.
Iago suggests that Othello should wait and watch to see what may occur, rather than react. He then leaves Othello to ponder. Othello now believes that Desdemona no longer wants to be with him and decides to detest her. ‘She’s gone; I am abused, and my relief must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage, that we can call these delicate creatures ours, and not their appetites! I had rather be a toad,’ He describes her as a creature and states that he loathes her. Othello is also claming that women are delicate and will always betray.
Othello compares himself to a toad here, suggesting that he would rather live lonesome in a dark corner than think about his love being used by others. Juxtaposition of imagery is used, as in Act 1 Scene3 he is portrayed as a brave hero whereas now he would rather be a slimy toad, this is because he feels as if he has been betrayed. The handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona as a token of his love is crucial to the plot of play. Everything hinges on the handkerchief. The handkerchief is dropped and picked up by Emilia, Iago’s wife, and then given to Iago, he shrewdly passes this on to Cassio in the hope that Othello sees him with it.
It’s symbolic of the passing on of love and how no one can hold on to it. As we near the end of Act 3 Scene 3, Othello has been taken over by anger, paranoia and confusion. He now rants and raves, he is no longer eloquent and poetic. Certain words show this ‘slander’, ‘torture’, ‘villain’ and ‘wrath’. These words reflect the sort of state he finds himself in. ‘O monstrous! Monstrous! ‘, ‘I’ll tear her all to pieces! ‘, he has lost himself as well as his trust for Desdemona, he gets so angry because he obviously still loves Desdemona yet hates her for what he thinks she is doing to him.
He has become violent, destructive and is breaking down. In Act 4 scene 1 Othello’s language has become woeful, the complete opposite of what it once was. In this scene Othello is angry, scared, jealous and irrational, he delivers his language quickly in a speedy exchange with Iago. Othello has become Iago’s puppet, he repeats Iago’s words only louder and more vigorously. Iago says to Othello ‘Will you think so? ‘ Othello then replies ‘Think so, Iago! ‘ these questions raise doubt in Othello’s mind.
‘To kiss in private? ‘, ‘An unauthorized kiss. The repetition here emphasises the kiss, the physical act that upsets Othello so much. Shakespeare uses Othello’s language at this moment to suggest that this kiss would be against the laws of the state, the church and of marriage. More repetition is used, Iago says ‘naked with her friend in bed’ and Othello replies ‘Naked in bed’ incapable of thinking for himself now. Iago plants images in Othello’s mind, these images torture Othello and strengthen his eagerness to think along these lines. Othello’s constant questioning illustrates the loss of his mind.
He has lost the ability to think for himself properly, he is no longer the commanding general we thought he was, he is now a weak fragile man lost in a sea of jealousy. The quick fire discussion Othello and Iago are having represents the battle within Othello’s mind. In Act 1 Scene 3 Othello’s language is lengthy, effortless and expressive, however this begins to deteriorate in Act 3 Scene 3 Othello becomes infuriated, yet now and again shows signs of staying in control. In Act 4 Scene 1 Othello’s language has now become irrational, senseless and absurd. He becomes intent on destroying those he thinks have betrayed him.