Analysis of Othello by William Shakespeare

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Shakespearean theatre has always been at the hearts of various individuals who have had an interest in plays and in a more general field that involves the arts. Plays in themselves have been incorporated in numerous educational studies and they have been examined in different capacities. Worth pointing out is that most of the plays put down by Shakespeare appealed to all the levels of the society and were inclusive of familiar storylines as well as themes. Through these plays, one was able to expand their vocabulary and some of the wordings used in those plays have remained familiar to the common eye. Apart from Hamlet and maybe Merchant of Venice, one of the other greatest plays done by Shakespeare was Othello. Depicting a tale of love, jealousy, and betrayal, Othello was a play designed to give an account of the nature of humans as well as psychology.

Shakespeare’s play received overwhelming support and recognition due to the fact that it focused on two people who defied the requirements of the society and followed their own hearts. Emphasis was mostly put on the nobility and love of Othello and Desdemona. Moreover, the play goes ahead to make the fall of the couple seem tragic and ill-deserved. The various analyses carried out on “Othello” have deduced that the play also touches on one of the major issues facing the European continent; the interaction of Muslims and the western culture. That can mainly be attributed to the period in which it was written. That is, during the Reconquista in which Muslims were driven out of the Spanish nation. A portrayal of this is the different instances of hostility directed towards Othello about his Moorish origin as well as the king’s differences in culture and religion. Further hostility is shown in the conflict between the Venetians and the Turks. However, the main theme that can be deduced from the play is Iago’s brilliance and how he uses that brilliance to carry out his activities. Although it is seen that he lacks a motivation for his acts, he is at the centre of coming up with various strategies that he executes to perfection. Notably, the character displays no emotional output or input towards his action and as such it becomes difficult for the reader to discern his true intentions. As a result, it is important to carry out a brief analysis of the brilliant character of Iago.

Rohmawati, Yuni Nur. "The Downfall of Hero in William Shakespeare’s Othello The Moor of Venice (A Structuralism Approach)." Jurnal Bahasa Sastra dan Studi Amerika 21.

From the onset, act one of the play, Iago’s brilliant treachery can be recognized by the reader. Being that he is an ensign in the Venetian army, he is quite bitter for having missed out on an opportunity of becoming a lieutenant. His intended place is filled up by Cassio. As a result, he suggests that he is only in the Othello, the Moor and the army’s general, for the purposes of serving himself. This instance alone shows that Iago is a man who has survived in the service of the Moor using his own individual cleverness. That he serves in the army for selfish purposes and goes unrecognized is proof enough that he is a brilliant fellow. Moreover, it becomes evident that his position does him a great service as he is able to study the activities and characters of the people around him. To begin, he is aware that Desdemona, Brabantio’s daughter, has run away and gone to marry Othello. In addition, he also possesses the information pertaining Roderigo’s lust for Desdemona and he uses this to manipulate Roderigo into alerting the city of Venice. The use of Roderigo to provoke Brabantio can be said to be the first brilliant act that Iago establishes. However, towards the end of the play, through the fight that ensued between Roderigo and Cassio, Iago’s deceitful nature is unraveled by Cassio who in one way or another had realized that he had been manipulated into fighting with Roderigo. As a result, he does not delay in disclosing the plan that had been hutched by Iago to separate Othello and Desdemona. Also, it seen at the tail end of the play that the discovery of these major plots put up by Iago result in his stabbing and eventual death.

Once Brabantio learns of his daughter’s elopement, he panics and calls for the assistance of people to search for her. Yet again, Iago uses this opportunity to join Othello and alert him of the situation although he suggests that it was Roderigo who betrayed the Moor. Additionally, after Othello goes away to Cyprus, Iago assures Roderigo that the relationship between Desdemona and Othello would not last and that Desdemona would come rushing to him. Using Roderigo as the pawn in his plan, he decides to break up the couple. From these scenes in act one; Iago comes out as a calculative individual who knows how to go about his activities. He is fast in using other individuals in his plans although most of his intentions are aimed at severing the relationship between individuals. We can see that even after being part of the reason that Roderigo is angry, he still goes ahead to convince him of an unrealistic love that would be given to him by Desdemona. Also, from these scenes, it is evident that Iago does not think about the consequences that might befall him if it is found out that he is peddling lies about the Moor’s wife as well as Roderigo.

The ensuing act is characterized by a slight argument between Desdemona and Iago where Desdemona intimates that Iago has a condescending opinion about women. From such a scenario it is easy to discern the attitude that Iago has towards women although it cannot be confirmed. Even so, he possesses a great amount of knowledge that he is able to use as part of his conviction strategy. It is seen that he uses his skills to convince Roderigo, yet again, that Desdemona will treat Othello the same way she had treated Cassio and stray from him. Through this information he is able to convince Roderigo to carry out an attack on Cassio. The attack planned by Iago is aimed at visiting mischief to both the Moor and his lieutenant.

Gigliucci, Roberto. "What Iago Knew." English Language and Literature Studies 8.1 (2018)

Iago even goes ahead to convince Cassio to engage in drinking with the knowledge that liquor gets the better of Cassio. Once Cassio is drunk, Iago stirs up a fight between Roderigo and Cassio an act that taints the reputation of Cassio who loses his rank as lieutenant. Iago makes sure that he fictionalizes his contribution in the fight to Othello. Using the calamity that has befallen Cassio, Iago convinces him to talk with Desdemona in order for her to vouch for him to relinquish his position. Iago is well aware that such an approach would fuel some feud between the two but still goes ahead to convince Cassio. Yet again, he does not consider the consequences of his actions to both him and the affected parties. The activities that he took part in were chiefly aimed at adding the fuel of hatred amongst the people that surrounded him. It would be assumed that the manipulation of Iago would be a portrayal of revenge against Cassio for having a higher rank than him. Any discovery made in this direction by Cassio would unravel a number of actions that would be aimed at exposing the true intentions of Iago. Thus, such exposes would eventually lead to the downfall of Iago. That is to say, in a bid to fully eliminate the competition, Cassio would fully take part in the plans set aside towards Iago’s downfall. From this scenario, it is only logical that there would arise some enmity between him and Cassio once Iago’s true intentions are realized. Such a discovery would raise serious concerns by Cassio since he would realize that Iago is not after his best interest. Therefore, one will argue that it is from this scene that Cassio was forced to unravel the secrets of Iago which ultimately led to his death since he was stabbed by the Moor.

McAdams, Richard H. "Vengeance, Complicity and Criminal Law in Othello." (2015)

After Iago’s intervention Desdemona pledges to assist Cassio in his misfortune. Cassio takes his leave just as Othello is making an entrance since he does not wish to cause a scene between them. The treacherous Iago decides to seize this opportunity and tries to convince Othello that Cassio’s exit was out of guilt and as such it was more incriminating. From this information given to Othello, a lot of ideas because it is then that he starts doubting his wife’s fidelity. The situation is made worse when Desdemona drops the handkerchief that was given to her by Othello on their honeymoon. Emilia, Iago’s wife, picks up the handkerchief and gives it to Iago who uses that chance to ruin Cassio’s chances of getting back to his position as the lieutenant in Othello’s army. He does this by presenting the handkerchief to Othello and claiming that it was Cassio who had it. Othello is infuriated by the thought that his wife could give away something as valuable as the handkerchief he had given to her. Further, his doubts about Desdemona’s infidelity are confirmed and as a result he swears revenge that would be directed towards both Cassio and Desdemona. From this information, it would be prudent that Iago lays down a contingency plan that would be used for exoneration once his plans were discovered. However, his plans lack any form of alternatives. In the end, discovery of his intentions against the Moor and his wife would be disastrous to Iago. In such treacherous activities carried against the general and his wife, death would be the ultimate penalty. Thus, it can be deduced that it is through these actions that he was stabbed without any form of mercy being shown to him.  

Even after Desdemona tells Cassio and Iago about the strangeness that had enveloped her husband, Iago feigns concern by claiming to go and look for Othello. On the other hand, Emilia picks up the idea that Othello’s change in behavior is majorly driven by the jealousy that he possesses. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Cassio asks Bianca to make a copy of the handkerchief that was discovered in his room. It is worth noting that Cassio has no idea that the handkerchief belongs to Desdemona. As evidenced from these scenes, it is evident that Iago’s main aim is to create chaos around him and he works towards ruining the happiness of all individuals around him. That can be said to be an attempt towards maintaining his own happiness and that can be said to be his main objective when partaking in the various activities. In doing so, he forgets that he has involved his wife in the treachery and this eventually turns out to b his main undoing as his wife confesses later on to the plans that he had set up in trying to separate the Moor from his wife. That is evident after he stabs Emilia for having disclosed his deceitful nature that had resulted in the death of Desdemona. Thus, through his brilliance he implicated himself in the name of creating a rift between two lovers who have even defied the laws established and married each other.

Notably, even though he doubts his wife, Othello tries not to condemn her so harshly. Upon realizing this, Iago further infuriates by using mere insinuation. Further, he devises a plan in which he holds a conversation with Cassio while Othello stays hidden. In between the conversation the two converses about Bianca but due to the disturbed state of mind of Othello, he believes that Cassio is speaking of Desdemona. From this, Othello gets the conviction that Desdemona is unfaithful and resolves to kill her himself and also goes ahead to charge Iago with the murder of Cassio.

Matters are made worse when Desdemona mentions Cassio in the presence of nobleman Lodovico. This is because Othello is enraged by Desdemona’s utterances which lead him to slapping her. He even goes ahead to question Emilia about Desdemona’s infidelity to which Emilia denies the claims raised against Desdemona by claiming that she is pure and true. Emilia is forced to think that someone has been behind the manipulation of Othello but Iago is quick to dispel her opinion. In the ensuing scenes, Iago comes across Roderigo who accuses him of having failed in his mission to deliver Desdemona to him. Iago goes ahead to convince him that he will only win over Desdemona’s heart once he has taken Cassio out of the picture through killing him. The suggestion put across by Iago to Desdemona is strong enough to convince Roderigo who agrees to take part in the plot. Up to this point, Iago proves himself as a great schemer because all his plans have not been revealed to the people involved. However, from the developments that are ensuing, it is evident that all his misdemeanors will soon come to the light. Additionally, a somber mood engulfs the atmosphere as Desdemona discovers her impending death. She even goes further to sing a sad song that acts as resignation and surrender to her fate.

Winkelman, Michael A. "" To Preserve This Vessel": Jealousy, Evolutionary Biology, and Othello." Consciousness, Literature & the Arts 17.2 (2016).

In what is seen to be an act fueled by Iago, Roderigo and Cassio engage in a furious fight that leaves them both gravely injured. What is worse is that Iago makes an entrance under the pretence that he is unaware of the scuffle. The scene also catches the eye of both Gratiano and Lodovico. Owing to the fact that Roderigo is alive after the fight, Iago puts up an act and feigns a quarrel with him that results in Iago murdering him. Further, he makes a remark that tries to implicate Bianca who had found Cassio wounded.

When Othello finds the chance to be alone with Desdemona, he starts smothering her amidst her concerted pleas of mercy fall on deaf ears. However, she is saved by the entrance of Emilia who had come to give a report of Roderigo’s death and Cassio’s deteriorated physical health that had emanated from the fight between the two. Further, Emilia discovers Desdemona’s state that had been caused by Othello. It is from her discovery that she pounces on Othello who in turn does not believe his recklessness. He seeks the assurance of Iago in the quest to justifying his actions through the confession that would be given by the fellow. However, it is Cassio that unravels the plot that had been set up by Iago through the use of the handkerchief upon which Iago stabs Emilia for the disclosure. In turn, Iago is stabbed by Othello who also ends up killing himself after requesting the people present to remember him and how he is.

Due to the fact that he is considered to be an honest individual, Iago goes ahead to set up plans that are deceitful, treacherous and manipulative. He is able to carry out his schemes by using this advantage although he does not really perfect the plans he establishes. In addition, he is able to use the misinterpretations given by others to gain trust and in manipulating other individuals. Through his honest appearance, he takes part in a number of deceitful and manipulative activities that lead to the downfall of various characters. One can also say that the treacherous nature of the character portrayed by Iago contributed greatly to his own downfall since he was not able to come up with contingency plans for his actions. Moreover, one will also argue that he left a number of loose ends to the rifts that he created between different people. 

Worth pointing out is that from the onset, the plans laid down by Iago have all been aimed at ensuring that he succeeds in revenging against Othello. The emotion depicted by the character when he discovers that Cassio has been chosen as lieutenant over him stirs up some hatred and anger that leads him to set up different plans. As a result, he hatches plans that are aimed at creating rifts between the other individuals except his wife. However, the brilliance used in his quest for revenge does not enable him to create strategies that would exonerate him of any wrong doing. Instead he leaves behind a number of clues that can be used to make discoveries about his ultimate plan. The use of the handkerchief to fuel the rift between Cassio and Othello and between Othello and his wife Desdemona is seen as an act that was not given much thought. That is because it is the ultimate clue that was used in unraveling the treacherous plans of Iago and his ultimate demise in the hands of Othello.

Works Cited

Gigliucci, Roberto. "What Iago Knew." English Language and Literature Studies 8.1 (2018): 45.

McAdams, Richard H. "Vengeance, Complicity and Criminal Law in Othello." (2015)

 Rohmawati, Yuni Nur. "The Downfall of Hero in William Shakespeare’s Othello The Moor of Venice (A Structuralism Approach)." Jurnal Bahasa Sastra dan Studi Amerika 21.2 (2015): 15-20.

Winkelman, Michael A. "" To Preserve This Vessel": Jealousy, Evolutionary Biology, and Othello." Consciousness, Literature & the Arts 17.2 (2016).

August 01, 2023

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