"Othello" is sort of a companion piece to "Macbeth" -- both are about noble, upstanding men who are destroyed by their own weaknesses. But where Macbeth was ruined by ambition, Othello's destruction comes from his jealousy and gullibility. And the play is really ruled by the nastiest, cruelest, most devious villain Shakespeare ever wrote.
That villain is Iago, a high-ranking soldier who has a grudge against the noble Moorish soldier Othello, who has just eloped with the beautiful Desdemona. Using a nobleman as his pawn, Iago first turns Desdemona's father against Othello, but the new soldier defends himself agains claims of witchcraft.
But Iago's true plan is far more devious, as he disgraces Othello's lieutenant Cassion and plants Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's room. Othello finds himself confronted by a chess game of lies, deceit and suspected infidelity, and his jealousy reaches a fever pitch that can only end in death.
Yeah, the real star of this play is undoubtedly Iago. This is the most repellent mixture of absolute malicious evil and crazy-smart intellect that anyone could write -- he is the person you love to hate, even as you admire how devilishly perfect he is at playing the chessmaster who whispers poison into your ear while playing your "friend." He doesn't quite think of EVERYTHING, but he comes close enough that you would NEVER want to deal with someone like this.
But this tragedy is also underscored by the depiction of Othello, a truly noble and loyal soldier who is turned into a deranged homicidal mess. It's somehow even more disturbing to see him deteriorate than it was to see Macbeth, because this guy was on top of the world in every way -- he was smart, eloquent, a brilliant soldier and a newlywed. And look what happens to him.
And Shakespeare deftly builds up this tragedy with a subtle, interconnecting web of lies and misdirections, with the tension building slowly until something has to blow. His writing is typically powerful, generating some quotable phrases ("It is the green-ey'd monster") and lots of cynical, dark dialogue ("Who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch?").
"Othello" is a strangely fascinating tragedy, with Shakespeare absorbing us again in the tale of a good man corrupted. Definitely a good, if harrowing play.
on April 20, 2013
To read Shakespeare presents the reader with a dilemma and he either gets into the play and the personalities as the author presents them, in his realism as he understands their psychology, which is a world away from the soap operas and film world, and you may agree or disagree with the ancient playwrights view. Here we are in the ancient world
a city, as an existence unto itself. The city prospers it needs to be defended raise money and so on and so
fourth and functions almost like a country..here we have the moorish othello in to defend the nation, the city of Venice, and the ancient politics of Rome with its senate and republican system of government seems to have fascinated Shakespeare in a different way from his own nations history, and he often plays these stories, from a history drawn from his own sources, but its the characters he creats, the poems, the love, virtue, lust, fall from grace, debauchery and all this exists within a christian world. Some live to the heights of the ancient christian view, perfections or virtues and others live lives of privation, or deprivation..Othello is one of his best and among all the stress and strain of being a battlefield commander lies the heartache of his attempt to realize love and his thought hes been cuckolded. That is the drama..adultery not only as a fact, but more succinctly his love does not love him anymore in thought..her love is elsewhere..and DEsdemona is on eof his most beautifully realized creations and she comes off best radiant in her defense a s a christian woman of the middle ages slandered, and abused in aa cutthroat world. "let heaven and men and angels let them all.cry"(p 87)..at the break up of a loving relationship much more than any concern for marriage. The whole of creation mourns..as God's work being frustrated.
Othello believing he's cuckolded laments as a military man "yet she must die,else she'll betray more men..light restore"(p 81)..the idea of restoration, a better world without the betrayor or betrayed. IN defense DEsdemona complains "I am a christian"..a common defense for the religious in the middle ages, and women accused by men, whose bond to a god above assured their loyalty to men below. THe men who sew the ideas in Othello's mind, of DEsdemona's infidelity know otherwise.."what an eye she has..perffection."(p 30)..and eyes are frequent topics of description in this beautiful play and Desdemona shines as well as the frailty of Othello, a man not capable to trust and perhaps to enter into love with his cherished Desdemona..and the many around them jealous of the love he has, seeking to destroy his relationship, as a way of destroying everything about him, but that to is a theory and theories have no place in works of art they should be enjoyed for the drama and take from it what one.."our wills are gardeners..weed up"(p 18).."lust of the blood..will come..moors are changeable in their wills..cuckhold him..pleasure..sport"..the characters in Shakespeare the ones who show grandeur have strong wills, imposing themselves on their surroundings, at times models of virtues..or they fall..and what is the reason in these finely chiselled out portraits that makes them be the people they are..great tragedy..
on July 19, 2004
"Othello" is one of Shakespeare's most popular tragedies, and since most people, even those who have not read or seen the play before, probably already have a basic idea of the plot, I will keep my synopsis short. The military general Othello is a Moor, a black man, who has just married a Venetian woman, Desdemona. Theirs is a marriage of opposites in many respects - race, age, upbringing, etc. - and yet they have overcome all this and are happy with each other. But Iago, perhaps Shakespeare's most infamous villain, is determined to ruin Othello, who has promoted another man, Cassio, to the lieutenancy, a position Iago feels should have been given to himself. He therefore sets about poisoning Othello's mind against his chaste and loving wife, convincing the Moor that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. The events that follow lay out one of the most masterful and heartbreaking examples of dramatic irony.
While I am not usually one to go in for tragedies, I do thoroughly enjoy this particular play. The story is expertly woven, with each twist in the plot simultaneously wrenching the reader's / viewer's heart. We know exactly what is going on, even though the characters do not, and this is what makes "Othello" such a very tragic story. And yet, in the end we are left with a sense of resolution and justice, not merely empty sorrow, and perhaps this is what appeals to me about this play.
Nevertheless, I do not think the play is perfect (though my 4-star rating here is in comparison with Shakespeare's other works, and not drama in general; against most other drama I would award it a 5-star rating). While I do think Iago is a brilliant character, I cannot help thinking that his hatred for Othello seems rather disproportionate to the wrongs he thinks have been done against him. He is upset over not being given the lieutenancy, but is this reason enough to bring about so many deaths? There is also the fact that Iago suspects his own wife, Emilia, has been unfaithful with the Moor, but Iago has no actual proof of this. However, this disproportionality is one I am willing to overlook for the sake of enjoyment of the play. What bothers me slightly more is that Othello, presumeably a very intelligent man, would allow a mere suspicion to grow into such an intense state of jealousy when he has no definite proof of his wife's infidelity. One would think he would do some investigation for himself, rather than being content to have Iago feed him all the "facts."
I now wish to comment on the particular edition of this play that I read - the 1993 "New Folger Library" printing, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. I have read several of of the Folger versions of Shakespeare's plays, and have found them unbeatable as far as making Shakespeare's works accessible to the layman. The book is laid out with the text of the play appearing on the right-hand page of each two-page spread, while the left-hand page contains textual notes that are of tremendous help in understanding the play. Words and phrases that have become obsolete since Shakespeare's day are defined clearly, and any allusions that would not be obvious to a modern reader are also explained. The fact that one can access these notes without having to flip back and forth through the pages makes it much easier to maintain one's place and train of thought.
Another thing I like about this particular edition is that it contains the entire play. Two versions of "Othello" were published in Shakespere's day - a Quarto, which was a small and slightly condensed version, appeared in 1622, and the longer Folio version was published in 1623. Each version is slightly different, containing bits and pieces not present in the other. This printing of the play contains the entirety of both versions combined into one, with brackets around those words that appear in only one or the other of the original printings.
In addition to the play itself, this book contains an excellent introduction, with information about the play, the language of the time, drama in general, Shakespeare himself, theater in Shakespeare's day, a bit about his other works, and some editorial notes on this particular edition of "Othello." Thus, even the rankest newcomer to Shakespeare will not be at a loss here, though the book is equally suitable for those already familiar with Shakespeare and his works. At the end of the book is a brief but interesting and well-written essay entitled "Othello: A Modern Perspective" by Susan Snyder which offers further analysis of the play. I highly recommend the Folger editions of any of Shakespeare's plays to all readers. They are wonderful for use in the classroom, and also make it much easier to delve into Shakespeare on one's own.
on May 9, 2004
What is more inticing than a story involving war-like patrons and scandal? This book has been absolutely entertaining and suspensful to read. It was stunning how many false stories, insinuations, and accussations the character "Iago" had set up from the beginning to the end. There were also so many other character types such as the pawn-like Roderigo, the seemingly calm yet furiously jealous Othello, the bleeding-heart of Desdemona, the honorable Cassio, and more! It was amazing how Iago had actually set up his false stories from the very beginning of the novel where he first employes Roderigo as his foolish pawn. The only factor of this book that was somewhat unsettling was how easily swayed Othello had gotten from Iago's insinuations. To a certain point, it almost seemed unrealistic. For example, towards the end of the play, when Iago retrieves the seemingly precious and invaluable handkercheif and uses it to make it seem that Cassio had recently been with Desdemona, that seems to be a little bit illogical. Just because Othello finds that Cassion has been holding the precious handkercheif doesn't abosuletly mean the Desdemona has been unfaithful. However, some could argue that the heavy pile of insinuations and false stories/accusations that Iago has placed on Othello could be seen as reason enough for Othello's furious rage and jealous behavior. All in all, though, this book has been quite pleasing. The amount of scandal (scandal as in the falsness of Iago) has been enough to please anyone looking for a suspensful tragedy to read.
on February 21, 2004
While I was reading Othello with my tubby custard in one hand and the book held at a 90 degree angel in the other I thought, I'm reading a play and eating a custard from and outlawed children's show how bizare. However, life is filled with such suprises. Kind of like the suprises in the Bard's play Othello. Othello is a man who should have had it all. He had friends, a loving wife, and an army at his command. The play follows Othello through a conspiracy of his villanous friend, Iago, not the parrot from Aladin, but Shakespeare's greatest villan. Iago was disgrunteled by the fact that he was passed up on a raise and there fore plots everyone's downfall. Making this a great read for the guy at the bottom of totum pole who is doing fries and wants to move up to salads. Iago in the openion of this reader is the true comic genius. He plays Othello and others like they have the mental capacity of tree stumps. He convinces Othello that Desdemona, his wife, is having an afair. Iago narrates most of the play and you here a lot of what he is thinking and planing to do. Which brings me to jello nobody cares what Bill Cosby is thinking or that he is still trying to salvage a carrier. This play is by far one of the best of Shakespeares in terms of great characters, surprises, and monologes. The readers are beautifully captivated by the play with the genius use of dramatic irony. Nobody knows what will happen and at anytime a surprise is waiting to happen.
on October 17, 2003
When I rate this at four stars, I'm rating it against other Shakespearean plays; against the general run of literary work, it would certainly rate five. I dock it one star simply because I find the concept, which seems to be accepted as a given in the play, that if a man finds that the woman he loves is cheating on him, it's okay to kill her, and that it's only a bad idea because he might be mistaken, to be, shall we say, a less than enthralling idea which I hate to see perpetuated.
Some other random comments on the work, in no particular order:
1) The racial angle is exaggerated. Yes, Othello is black, and there are a few racial epithets thrown around by his detractors, but really, there is less sign of racism inherent in the characters of this play than one might expect in your average modern person. The main point to making Othello black was to make him an outsider; the play could as easily have been set in England, and Othello made French. (But then, since the target audience was English, they'd have been more likely to get defensive about the portrayal of their prejudices as unreasonable.)
2) The main point of the play is not the evils of racism, but the evils of jealousy.
3) Iago is unquestionably the "best" villain in all of Shakespeare, and one of the best in all of literature, in terms of being a well-portrayed "subtle" villain. It's rare to see a portrayal of a lying, manipulative scoundrel that is actually plausible and successful; usually, the audience finds itself having a hard time believing that the manipulator's victims could possibly be so dumb as to not see through him; certainly, there's a large dollop of that sentiment in "Richard III". But in this play, Iago's lies are remarkably plausible, and it is very easy to see how he is successful in his plan; his machinations were excellently managed.
on June 9, 2003
Jealousy is perhaps the ugliest of emotions, an acid that corrodes the heart, a poison with which man harms his fellow man. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare specializes in ugly emotions, writing plays that exhibit man at his most shameful so we can elevate ourselves above the depths of human folly and watch the carnage with pleasure and awe.
In "Othello," the "green-eyed monster" has afflicted Iago, a Venetian military officer, and the grand irony of the play is that he intentionally infects his commanding general, Othello, with it precisely by warning him against it (Act 3, Scene 3). Iago has two grievances against Othello: He was passed over for promotion to lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced Cassio, and he can't understand why the Senator's lily-white daughter Desdemona would fall for the black Moor. Not one to roll with the punches, he decides to take revenge, using his obsequious sidekick Roderigo and his ingenuous wife Emilia as gears in his transmission of hatred.
The scheme Iago develops is clever in its design to destroy Othello and Cassio and cruel in its inclusion of the innocent Desdemona. He arranges (the normally temperate) Cassio to be caught by Othello in a drunken brawl and discharged from his office, and using a handkerchief that Othello had given Desdemona as a gift, he creates the incriminating illusion that she and Cassio are having an affair. Othello falls for it all, and the tragedy of the play is not that he acts on his jealous impulses but that he discovers his error after it's too late.
It is a characteristic of Shakespeare that his villains are much more interesting and entertaining than his heroes; Iago is proof of this. He's the only character in the play who does any real thinking; the others are practically his puppets, responding unknowingly but obediently to his every little pull of a string. In this respect, this is Iago's play, but Othello claims the title because he -- his nobility -- is the target.
on January 22, 2003
Next to MacBeth, Othello is the best play Shakespeare has written. The way all of the imagery and motifs molded together was fascinating. The characterization of each character playing against one another was incredible.
I find it so amazing how a simple object, like the hankerchief, can represent so much; greed, love, fidelity. Shakespeare in the best at imagery and will never be replaced.
The story is of Othello, a black fighter and warrior winning the heart of his one true love, Desdemona. Through out the play, people treat Othello as a second class citizen based on his colour . . . something very rampid in the days of Shakespeare. Iago is insanly jelous of Othello. Iago's character (the most evil of all Shakespear's villians) was extremly sinister, from the time of deceiving Othello ot Cassio right until the very end. At the time Iago deceive's Cassio - due to a passing up of a job promotion - we realize how poignant this part is, and the astute nature of evil; one of nature's moast prominent human characteristics.
The play is a story of lies, blindness and evil. Every human suffers from blindness at some point in our life and Shakespeare executes that inevitablness perfectly. Othello is firstmost a solider and with that, he proves to set a most enduring tragedy upon himself, the people around him and his love.
on January 11, 2003
Despite his Machiavellian and snakelike nature, Iago strangely and inexplicably endears himself as the most likeable villain in all of Shakespeare. It can be argued that Iago was unduly wronged in that the noble & educated, yet untested Cassio achieved the promotion of lieutenant over the common & uneducated, yet more battle-proven Iago. Iago also asserts that his blunt and disrespectful wife Emilia has slept around and made a cuckold of him with Othello. Although there is no proof as to the latter charge, Iago is nothing short of the embodiment of a veritable myriad of rage, fury, jealousy, and a relentless and all-encompassing passion for vengeance on The Moor.
Upon reading Othello the first time, I found myself empathizing with the honorable, yet naive General Othello, and even moreso with the innocent and untainted Desdemona, whom Othello "loved not wisely, but too well." After reading Othello the 3rd time, I've come to a greater appreciation for the convoluted and diablolical genius that is Iago - and how masterfully Shakespeare constructed this great character and the storyline of Othello with so fewer characters than is typical of his other great plays. It is with fewer characters that the ingenuity of Shakespeare is allowed to shine. With the likes of Iago, The Bard is able to achieve as great and superior characterization in Othello as in any of his other masterpieces. While he may be the last guy on the block you might invite to dinner, you would be a knave to deny the incomparable surreptitious cunning and genius of Iago nonetheless. As far as the many Othello movies go, I must state that Kenneth Branagh is absolutely masterful and convincing as the sinister Iago. I wholeheartedly recommend Othello to any and all readers who have a flair for both wisdom and entertainment achieved as one.
on November 28, 2002
William Shakespeare is perhaps at his most subtle best in _The Tragedy of Othello_. Unlike in many of his other plays, particularly tragedies and certainly histories, Shakespeare writes on a massive scale - about the highly privileged, about royalty, about bloody family feuds and wars. Not only does _Othello_ contain none of that, but it manages to be Shakespeare's most intense play, hitting the audience harder than any other.
Like _Romeo and Juliet_, it involves star-crossed lovers: an older black officer (Othello) and a young white woman (Desdemona). Shakespeare's modernity is particularly shocking. Even in the latter half of the 20th century, audiences were not ready to see a black man with his hands upon a white woman, even if it's a white man in blackface - and yet four hundred years ago, Shakespeare wrote this play. It shatters immense racial barriers, and yet Shakespeare never intended it to be a play about race - and it isn't. Othello's race is, amazingly, highly unimportant in the grand scheme of the play.
_Othello_ hits very close to home. Rather than dealing with things most audiences never have to face, the plot is extremely domestic and straightforward - unlike in Shakespeare's other tragedies, there is no comic relief. There is one plot, one line of thought, and you are forced to deal with every minute of it. You never get a rest from the action. Then there's the domesticity of it - the villainous Iago wants to take revenge upon Othello, and so, in the guise of an honest friend, convinces Othello that Desdemona has been sleeping with fellow officer Cassio. No matter our position in life, we can all empathize with Othello's struggle between trusting his friend and trusting his wife, and the madness that comes from being overtaken by extreme jealousy. Iago's elaborate plot to destroy the lives of Othello, Cassio, and Desdemona is extremely simple to understand, even in iambic pentameter.
This is also one of the only plays where the villain, not the hero, is the one who speaks most to the audience. We learn everything about Iago and his plans, because we as an audience develop a close relationship with him as he talks to us - seeing his charming side and the side that is purely amoral and perhaps even purely evil. Shakespeare, in Iago, has created the first true villain of drama, the ultimate "charming man without a conscience." The only thing we truly -don't- know about him is why he wants to ruin the lives of these people - and perhaps that's for the best. Shakespeare has left scholars and actors to wonder about it for hundreds of years, and come up with all sorts of theories.
_The Tragedy of Othello_ just goes to prove that Shakespeare did not rely on elaborate stories of royalty and war, but could create the most intense dramas revolving around the most intimate and domestic of settings - the bedroom.
If you think you know _Othello_ because you saw the film _O_, you couldn't be more wrong. There's no such thing as a Shakespeare plot without the brilliance of Shakespearean language - and nothing captures the innocence of Desdemona and the near gleeful evil of Iago like the words of Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist to write in the English language.