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A big long interesting Othello read.

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by d8g3jdh, Feb 7, 2006.

  1. d8g3jdh

    d8g3jdh Guest

    Aug 9, 2005
    Ok, it's long, but it's worth it.

    Hmmm, whether this is interesting or not is up to you. But this is an essay I wrote for my 12u english class about Othello. Bonus points to whoever can tell me the thesis, and super bonus points to whoever can tell me the one major pillar of my argument that I forgot to prove (it's big, but not so big that it destroys the thesis, just weakens it).

    And of course, give feedback.

    Othello: Shakespeare’s portrayal of society’s wrongs

    In Shakespeare’s Othello, the entire play is laced with prejudice, mainly seen towards Othello and Desdemona. Shakespeare does an excellent job of creating a society that mirrors the standards of the audience, both 400 years ago as well as in the modern world. He then goes on to create a marriage that seems unorthodox, but is in fact the exact opposite. As the plot progresses the audience finds themselves cheering for Iago in his quest to destroy Othello. After the end of the play the audience questions their actions; why did they hoped for Iago to be victorious when he is clearly evil and Othello and Desdemona are so pure and good? Shakespeare’s Othello is his way of telling the audience that society’s pre-conceptions about skin colour and gender are misplaced. Shakespeare proves this through Iago’s ability to destroy Othello and Desdemona’s seemingly perfect marriage, as well as portraying the characters as people who say one thing and then do another. Shakespeare also disrupts the values of society by portraying the woman in a noble light while making the men dishonourable. His use of Iago as an antagonist that appeals to the crowd causes the audience to find themselves on the side of evil, hoping for the end to a marriage that is ‘unnatural’, albeit in perfect harmony. The entire play is a message to the audience that the underlying prejudice in all of us is misplaced, and that if society does not rethink its values then we may end up with many more tragedies similar to Othello.

    Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio are all perfect examples of the standard Venetian mindset. Were it not for Othello’s military service he would be shunned in Venetian society. Even Venetian compliments are tainted with racism, seen when the Duke gives Othello his idea of a compliment.

    If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
    Your son-in-law is far more fair than black

    We also see a large amount of prejudice against women. The best display of sexism is Iago’s insulting comments towards Emilia and Desdemona.

    Desdemona: Well praised! How if she be black and witty?
    Iago: If she be black, and thereto have a wit,
    She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.

    Venetian society allows only white males to receive full participation in the community. Women and blacks are discriminated against and are made out to be inferior. By contrast, when we first meet Othello and then Desdemona, we find that they are both honourable people and their love is pure.

    Desdemona: So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,
    A moth of peace, and he go to war
    The rites for which I love him are bereft me,
    And I a heavy interim shall support,
    By his dear absence. Let me go with him.
    Othello: Let her have your voices
    . . . . . .
    Not to comply with heat and proper satisfaction
    But to be free and bounteous to her mind.

    Brabantio and many other Venetians consider the marriage unnatural, but it is actually far more natural than anything else. They married because they love and care for each other, not because of money or power or skin colour.

    At the beginning of the play we see Othello and Desdemona in bliss, happily in love and sent off to their own island. After the defeat of the Turks they are left with what seems like a utopia, and Iago manages to destroy this through his own malice and manipulation. For a reason known only to Iago, he decides that he will ruin Othello’s life, and does so through the use of lies and deceit. By convincing Othello that Desdemona is lying to him and being unfaithful he convinces him that she is just as untrustworthy as everyone else, and that Othello truly is alone. This begins after Desdemona has begun pleading to Othello to give Cassio his position back.

    Iago: She did deceive her father, marrying you;
    And when she seemed to shake and fear your looks,
    She loved them most.
    Othello: And so she did.

    Iago is very careful to not be too forward with his manipulation, and is certain to appear as unwilling as possible to reveal his thoughts.

    Othello: By heaven, I’ll know thy thoughts!
    Iago: You cannot, if my heart were in your hand
    Nor shall not whilst ‘tis in my custody.

    By doing this he makes himself appear to be an honourable man, while at the same time acting in a dishonourable way. Iago’s method of deceit makes Othello believe that he has no one, despite what his emotions may be telling him. It is obvious that this is not the case, and that Iago takes pleasure in the misery of others. But despite the sanctity of Othello and Desdemona’s love Iago is still able to convince Othello of her unfaithfulness, even without any concrete proof. This shows how the Venetian judgments are able to affect someone of a darker skin colour; to convince them that they cannot trust anyone. After having experienced a lifetime of discrimination, it doesn’t take much for Othello to believe that his wife is anything more than anyone else he has encountered. Had Othello been treated fairly as opposed to being oppressed throughout his life, he would not have had the preset to be unable to trust anyone.

    It is in this ability to appear noble and be ignoble that Iago represents the standard white Venetian male, as well as the white male of today. Saying one thing and then doing another; convincing yourself that you are being honourable and just while acting in a selfish or unkind manner. Brabantio is another example of this.

    Brabantio: She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted
    By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks;
    For nature so preposterously to err,
    Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,
    Sans witchcraft could not.
    . . . . . .
    Othello: Her father loved me, oft invited me,
    Still question’d me the story of my life.
    (1.3.59-64, 128-129)

    Brabantio may seem as though he appreciates Othello, and considers him an equal, but when Desdemona elopes with Othello Brabantio’s true feelings are shown. His behavior mirrors that of most white males, both 400 years ago as well as today. When the play came out racism was expected, and as such many of the audience members would have been against the marriage as well. Once it becomes obvious that Othello and Desdemona are truly in love with each other, the audience finds themselves predicting the outcome. The reason is that a marriage such as this is unheard of and too outlandish, but the reasoning for this is based entirely on skin colour. Were Othello to be white then both Brabantio and the audience would have no problem with the marriage and would not expect the play to unfold the way it does. But because he is black his fate precedes him, and no amount of love or devotion can change that.

    Similar to the discrimination against blacks is the amount of sexism towards women. They are made to seem inferior to men. However, there are multiple instances that prove otherwise, the most notable of which is during the conversation between Emilia and Desdemona.

    Desdemona: Dost thou in conscience think - tell me, Emilia -
    That there be women do abuse their husbands
    In such gross kind?
    Emilia: There be some such, no question.
    Desdemona: Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?
    Emilia: Why, would not you?
    Desdemona: No, by this heavenly light!

    This occurs again when Emilia realizes what her husband has done.

    Emilia: O villainy, villainy!
    Iago: What, are you mad? I charge you get you home.
    Emilia: Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak.
    ‘Tis proper I obey him, but not now.
    Perchance, Iago, I will ne’er go home.

    Shakespeare goes on to contrast the females to the males by casting the men of the play as ignoble. This is most obvious through Iago’s actions, but also during Cassio’s conversation with Iago about Bianca.

    Cassio: I marry her? What, a customer? Prithee, bear some charity
    To my wit; do no think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!

    By making the women to be kind and honest while the men are in fact brash and dishonourable, Shakespeare creates a inverse situation to what the standards of Venetian society dictate. This further disproves the misconceptions of the time, that women are the property of their current man, be it father or husband. By creating characters that have pre-determined positions in society, and then having them break out of their respective role, Shakespeare contradicts the standards of Venetian society.

    Iago’s role in the play is a major one, being the antagonist that everyone hopes to succeed. He is not only evil, but also masochistic and cruel. He has no real reason for destroying the lives of Othello and Desdemona; his justification is changing throughout the play.

    Iago: He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
    And I - God bless the mark! - His Moorship’s ancient.
    . . . . . .
    …Now, sir, be judge yourself,
    Whether I in any just term am affined
    To love the Moor.
    (1.1.32-33, 37-40)

    But it becomes obvious that this is not his reason when Othello declares Iago “Now art thou my lieutenant.” (3.3.478), since Iago remains intent on destroying Othello. With no apparent reason left the only answer is that he does it for the sake of doing it, simply because he can and wants to. He knows what will happen and he still chooses to proceed, and we in the audience find ourselves hoping for his success. Shakespeare gives Iago many soliloquies so that he develops a better connection with the audience than any other character.

    Iago: I hate the Moor;
    And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
    He has done m-y office. I know not if it be true;
    Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
    Will do as if for surety.

    Here we see Iago create a reason for hating the moor and deciding that he should believe it. It is in Iago’s depravity that he truly connects with the audience; not only because he is an excellent character that is very complex and intricate, but also because he wants to destroy what we view as unnatural. It is not until after he succeeds that we begin to question our reasoning for liking Iago. Why would we choose a sociopath over a beautiful marriage? Despite the marriage being pure and noble, it is too unorthodox to exist in reality, and therefore must be destroyed. But what if instead of destroying the marriage we simply changed our views so that the love between a man and a woman is always pure, regardless of skin colour. This is the major theme behind Othello; that love in its truest form should not be affected by superficialities such as these.

    One could argue that the racism in Othello is justified, and that Othello as he is at the end of the play is his true character. But a comparison between the values Othello has at the beginning of the play to the end of the play shows that this is not the case. The most obvious example of this is before the confrontation between Othello and Brabantio.

    Iago: Those are the raised father and his friends;
    You were best go in.
    Othello: Not I; I must be found.
    My parts, my title, and my perfect soul
    Shall manifest me rightly. Is it they?

    This is a direct contrast to the Othello we see later in the play, specifically before Cassio’s speaking of Bianca.

    Iago: Do but encave yourself
    And mark the fleers, the gibes, and notable scorns
    That dwell in every region of his face.
    . . . . . .
    Othello: Dost thou hear Iago?
    I will be found most cunning in my patience.
    (4.1.80-82, 87-89)

    While in the beginning of the play Othello does not fear confrontation, he later uses seclusion to achieve his goals. This contrast shows the dramatic change Othello takes over the course of the play. While deciding to risk his safety for the sake of justice in the beginning, towards the end he decides to hide in order to receive the confirmation he is expecting. In addition, the fact that he accepts this as proof of Cassio’s guilt when it is obviously circumstantial shows the deterioration in his sense of justice.

    Another argument against my thesis is that racism in Othello is minor, but the various racial remarks used throughout the play say otherwise. Aside from Iago referring to Othello as an “old black ram” and a “Barbary horse” (1.1.88, 111), nearly everyone in the play calls him “the moor” as opposed to Othello. His name is not even spoken until 1.3, and only when Othello is present. A lifetime of being called by racial epithets will put anyone into an outsider position, and Othello is no exception.

    The play Othello is very complex and intricate throughout, showcasing isolation and how it can lead to self-destruction. The specific isolation that we see is Othello’s separation from the Venetian community. He has no one to turn to, and as such is very welcoming of Desdemona’s affection. But because of a lifetime of discrimination he has no way of knowing who he should trust, and as such makes the wrong decision by confiding in Iago. At the end of the play when he realizes Iago’s plan he knows that he is right back to where he started, and has killed the one person he could truly trust. Had he not been so shunned from the start he never would have fallen victim to Iago’s lies. To better understand the situation an investigation into the Venetian society during that time period would be necessary, but the fact remains that Othello’s destruction is the result of a life of being cast out by his fellow man.

    I hope this is formatted right. I got a 90% on it, and I think it's my best work yet, but I want some more feedback since I intend on pursuing writing/journalism into university.
  2. MurdocRocks


    Jun 18, 2005
    Torrance, CA
    I like the board game Othello.

    p.s. I read the play last year, so maybe tomorrow I'll read your essay and give advice, I'm tired and a bit depressed right now. :)
  3. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Thesis; ehm, draw a parallel between Shakespeare's world and the world of today, using a topic that is hot today or problems that occur in both worlds; for instance, prejudice based on race.

    About that major pillar; I read the play in English (which wasn't easy), and I think one of the main reasons why Iago hates Othello is because Othello promoted Roderigo instead of Iago, and that doesn't seem to be anywhere in your paper.

    But, I don't study English and I've only read the play, so I could be wrong.
  4. d8g3jdh

    d8g3jdh Guest

    Aug 9, 2005
    points to vorago!

    And I did address the promotion indirectly, through a quote. It's not stated in the text, but it's part of the proof that his justification is changing, revealing him to enjoy what he's doing. But it isn't the major pillar.

    Good point though!
  5. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Thanks, good to know I actually understood the damn thing, with all them nasty old words! :ninja: