Reputation and Desdemona-
Rumor, the swiftest of evils. She thrives on speed
And gains power as she goes. Small and timid at first,
She grows quickly…By day she perches on rooftops or towers,
Watching, and she throws whole cities into panic.
Gossip and rumors are fun house mirrors that twist Desdemona’s good qualities into bad ones, leading to her downfall. Her assertiveness and strength become perceived as instability and even wantonness. Iago says, and believes, she will soon need to kindle her fire with another man and “give satiety a fresh appetite.” Further, her desire to break the mold of what is acceptable and love a man for his own goodness become wicked betrayal against her father. Brabantio warns Othello, “She has deceived her father, and may thee.” Even Othello, because of his inability to see through the falseness of rumors, is swayed by them and ends up murdering her. Thus, her elopement with Othello has destroyed her reputation. “He that files from me my good name / Robs me of what which not enriches him / And makes me poor indeed.”
A reputation takes years to build and only a moment to destroy, like Cassio’s single drunken night, but a woman’s is particularly precarious. In Iago’s words: “Reputation is an idle and most false impression: oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”
Famous Quotations from Othello
"‘T’is neither here nor there." Othello Quote (Act IV, Scene III).
"I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at". Othello Quote (Act I, Scene I).
"To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on". Quote (Act I, Scene III).
"The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief". Othello Quote (Act I, Scene III).
"It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock". Othello Quote (Act III)
RACISM: Hatred is often skin deep . Racial prejudice is a crucial issue in the play, for it isolates Othello. Iago plays on the racial prejudice of those around him to turn people against Othello.
TRUST: Jealousy has the power to destroy . It destroys both Iago (jealous that Michael Cassio got an appointment over him) and Othello (jealous that his wife may love Cassio). RELATIONSHIPS: True love sometimes needs courage . Desdemona marries Othello knowing that his color, his cultural background, and his advanced age will arouse controversy. But she never wavers in her love for him, even when her own father–a prominent Venetian–speaks out against him; she never allows the bigotry of other s to affect her.
The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Othello, according to the first definition, occurs in the third scene of Act III, when Othello becomes convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful and resolves to retaliate against her. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Othello kills Desdemona and discovers the horrible mistake he has made.
Trust In the play Othello , Iago weaves a web of innuendo and suggestion to entrap and confuse Othello. Likewise, Shakespeare, in writing Othello , carefully doles out bits and pieces of information in such a manner that the audience can easily be misled. And again it is Iago who often feeds us information, which may or m ay not be true. For example, when Othello falls into a trance , Iago claims it is an epileptic seizure, and that it has happened before. Should we believe this diagnosis? It is Iago who describes Bianca as a whore, although we see nothing that necessarily proves that assertion. The Othello we meet in the second scene of the play is completely unlike the Othello described in the first scene of the play. In the third scene, the Senators receive letters about the Turkish fleet which contradict each other. Throughout the play, Shakespeare warns us not to believe everything we hear. (Barter)
Themes Three major themes of Othello are: • appearance and reality, • society's treatment of the outsider; and • jealousy
Othello doesn't show himself to be jealous early in the play. Manipulated by Iago's skillful lies, Othello must confront emotions he can't handle. His jealousy literally drives \him mad. Anger and hate replace his wisdom and judgment, and the power of these destructive emotions leads to this sorry end.
Themes and Motifs
Self-Esteem. The importance of self-esteem is a modern cliché, but Shakespeare, who would have known self-esteem by the name of "pride," has some insights about the subject, too. This page indexes characters' direct statements about themselves. (The entries for Othello, Desdemona, and Iago are repeated on separate pages, which you can find via the Major Characters page.)
Jealousy. In Othello, we see the kind of jealousy which is envy of what others have, and the kind which is fear of losing what we have.
Romantic Love. To Iago, love is only lust; to others in the play it is much more.
Brotherly Love. In Shakespeare, characters say they "love" one another in situations where modern (C.E. 2011) people usually say they are one another's "best friends." It is the kind of love which we feel for our parents or our children. This kind of love is an ideal which is honored by Othello, Cassio, Desdemona, and Emilia. Iago, on the other hand, uses the ideal of brotherly love for his own vile ends.
Reputation and Honor. Iago is a clear example of the idea that the difference between reputation and honor is the difference between appearance and reality. He has a good reputation, but no true honor. However, Iago is a monster who doesn't care about his honor. For other characters in the play, especially Othello, it's not so easy to distinguish between honor and reputation.
Waters. Storms, rushing waters, a fountain, a stream, and tears signify passions from love to hatred.
Black and White. Not only is Othello a black man in a white world, but the contrast between black and white is used as a metaphor, even by Othello himself.
Proof and Judgment. In courts of law various kinds of proof are offered, including physical evidence, circumstantial evidence, evidence of motivation, testimony of witnesses, and statements by the accused. Othello comes to believe that he has all of these kinds of proofs of Desdemona's unfaithfulness, and passes judgment on her, then discovers that the proofs proved nothing.
The Handkerchief. The handkerchief is a visual reminder of the blindness caused by passion. It first appears when Othello is already in the throes of jealousy, and then is used as Iago's main "proof" in his case against Desdemona. Finally, at the end of the play, Emilia's knowledge that her husband took the handkerchief leads to Othello's discovery of the truth of the situation.
The Devil. Characters in the play speak of the devil as a liar and a hypocrite, as one who both tempts people to sin and punishes their sins. Cassio thinks that the devil is in drink, Othello comes to think that the devil is in Desdemona, and Iago thinks that Othello is the devil simply because he's black. At the end, Iago is shown to be the true devil of the story.
Slaves. The play contains quite a few occurrences of the word "slave," but we need to avoid unwarranted assumptions about their significance. American students may assume that all slaves were black, but that wasn't true in Shakespeare's time. Slaves came in all colors. When Christians fought Moors, the Christians considered it their right to make slaves of all prisoners of war; the Moors had the same idea about the Christians. The Moors also conducted raids in which they enslaved non-Islamic Africans; Venetians made their slave raids in the Greek islands and bought blonde slaves on the coast of the Black Sea. Also, the word "slave" was a general term of contempt, used without any reference to actual slaves, as "clown" may now be used without any reference to circus performers.
Music. Desdemona's "Willow Song" is famous, but the play also contains two other songs, and some references to music.
Men and Women. There's an interesting contrast between Iago's diatribe about women and Emilia's long speech claiming that if there's anything wrong with women, it's the fault of their husbands.
Duke of Venice Brabantio , a Senator, father to Desdemona Gratiano , Brother to Brabantio Lodovico , Kinsman to Brabantio Othello , a Moor, General in the service of Venice Cassio , his Lieutenant Iago , his Ancient Roderigo , a Venetian Gentleman. Montano , Othello's predecessor in the government of Cyprus Senators , Officers , Messengers , Heralds , Sailors , Attendants Desdemona , Daughter to Brabantio, and Wife to Othello Emilia , Wife to Iago Bianca , a Courtesan, mistress to Cassio
SCENE The First Act in Venice; the rest of the play at a seaport in Cyprus.
The Source of Othello Shakespeare delighted in taking old st ories, adding his own particular br and of genius, and creating something new and better. He based Othello on a story in a collection of tales, called Hecatonimithi, written in 1565 by Giraldi Cinthio, an Italian. A short sy nopsis of the original story gives some indication of how Shakespeare merely borrowed stories and made them his own. • The heroine, called Disdemona, falls in love with a Moor. Her family agrees reluctantly to her marriage with him, and the couple lives toge ther in Venice for awhile. • The Moor (given no name) is sent to command the troops in Cyprus. The Moor and Disdemona travel there together, and it's in Cyprus that the en sign (Shakespeare's lago) plots against them. • The ensign is in love with Disdemona. He feels that her rejection of him come s from her love of the captain (Shakespeare's Cassio). Therefore, the en sign's plot is against Disdemona, not the Moor. • The captain loses his job when he attempts a fight w ith another soldier; he isn't drunk, and the character of Roderigo has no counterpart. • The ensign steals Disdemona's handkerchi ef (while she is hold ing his child) and places it in the captain's house. The captain finds it and tries to return it to Desdemona, but he leaves quickly when he hears the Moor's voice. • Together, the Moor and the ensign kill Disdemona by hitting her on the head with a sandbag, and then making the roof collapse to make it lo ok like an accident, The Moor is ev entually killed by a relative of Disdemona, and the ensign is tortured to death for another crime. The ensign's wife has known the story all along. By making the Moor the center of his tragedy, Shakespear e created a charac ter of nobility and sympathy. (The Moor in the Cinthio tale is unsympathe tic.) He transformed an ugly little ta le of sexual jealousy into a character study of a good man who, for all his virtue, is caught in a trap of evil and can't escape. It was Shakespeare's genius to take the stuff of melodrama and transform it in to tragedy of the highest.
Othello has become a play about its hero's blackness, and, for many, a racist play. Until the nineteenth century, the Moor was a tragic hero whose color was irrelevant and whose greatness and savagery could be considered together without contradiction. Once his color became important, that union was no longer possible...
A Moor was a Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent. Berbers were North African natives who eventually accepted Arab customs and Islam after Arabs invaded North Africa in the Seventh Century A.D. The term has been used to refer in general to Muslims of North Africa and to Muslim conquerors of Spain. The word Moor derives from a Latin word, Mauri, used to name the residents of the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa. To refer to Othello as a "black Moor" is not to commit a redundancy, for there are white Moors as well as black Moors, the latter mostly of Sudanese origin
Othello (1604) has often been considered the most painful of Shakespeare's tragedies. The fall of a proud, dignified man, the murder of a graceful, loving woman, and the unreasoning hatred of a villain, have all evoked fear and pity in audiences throughout the centuries. If it lacks the cosmic grandeur of some of Shakespeare's other well-respected dramas, Othello nevertheless possesses a power that is perhaps more immediate and more strongly felt than that of his other plays.
Othello is also unique among Shakespeare's great tragedies in that it is set in a private world...