Othello Criticism Analysis
Shakespeare delivers the concept of tragedy as an adaptation to classical tragedy allows many debates to be opened as to whether or any of his influences, e. g. Senecan drama and the political side in the Elizabethan era, allows the audience, to cast judgements upon whether or not positivity can be drawn. With many criticisms on the construction of the play, such as Rymer saying it was “unbelievable”, it appeared that the negatives out shadowed the positives.
The frail nature of the play, and the hamartia of the characters themselves, either allowed the audience to be cathartic or not to be cathartic, and this catharsis heavily influenced the audience’s response to the play. The undergoing of catharsis is one of the issues debated by one of the early critical interpreters, Rymer (1), and, A. C Bradley(2). A. C Bradley said that the “tension is very painful”, and the “remaining of the play permit of very little relief”.
This judgement was based upon the time scaling of the tragedy and how when the “middle of the tragedy is reached”, extreme tension arises and a catastrophe occurs for the audience as the conflict appears to develops very “slowly”. This strained suspense cuts down on the catharsis towards the end. Rymer said that the “play did not provide a satisfactory moral for the audience to take home”; this view was most likely based upon the “short and long time” scale (a double time scheme).
The long time scheme shows that events have occurred over a long period of time, for example: in act 5, scene 2, Othello says that “Cassio hath the act of shame/ A thousand times committed”. This allows the audience to take this as ‘deceit’, as it shows that they aren’t shown everything, such as Cassio committing adultery a ‘thousand times. This gives us the link into Elizabethan society where it was a time of spies and deceit. One can say the deceit allows us to feel less cathartic at the end. There are also short time intervals and a hastened force within the play.
Iago’s soliloquies show speed as he comments on the action completed; it is a type of “driving force” which unfolds further action. This stream of thoughts doesn’t allow the audience to pause for consideration and thus allows us to feel uncomfortable which creates a sense of claustrophobia within the audience. To some extent, Rymer’s point is true, however, one can say the time scheme creates an heightened impact on the jealousy and the power of it, as the long time scheme portrays how jealously slowly poisons Othello’s mind.
This impact could have made it more cathartic for the audience towards the end when Othello realises his hamartia, and we can see some sense of closure if we do undergo catharsis, therefore positivity can be drawn from the play in the sense that Iago is now a prisoner and we are now satisfied. The lack of satisfaction and catharsis is intensified as Iago’s story is left unfinished because nobody says ‘why’ it happened, even though the “devil” is “a prisoner”. We clearly can’t see any sense of justice here, and it therefore allows us to dwell on the uncertainties on the world.
The lack of satisfaction at the end of the play, and Othello’s late self-awareness process in Act 5, Scene 2 (O fool fool fool), allows us to not like Othello, unlike in Macbeth, the climax is in the middle, when Lady Macbeth commits suicide after she says “out damed spot”. Here, we come to like the ‘tragic hero’ towards the end. Therefore we can fully understand the closure of the play and sympathise with the tragic hero and so a “satisfactory moral” is attainable (tragedy shaping us), which makes the play positive as justice is done to human nature and the villain is “punished”.
However, it does allow us to think about the poetic justice in the play, for example: Desdemona getting ‘damned’ for doing no ‘crime’, and therefore this makes us think about the uncertainties of the world. The play can show positivity by portraying that a new regime will take place in the death of Othello and amendments will be made to the society for future stability. Shakespeare may have been influenced at the time by Seneca, a Roman philosopher, writing at the time of Shakespeare.
Seneca found “material for his tragic drama in Greek mythology”.. One distinguishing factor Senecan (3) dramas had was that the there was some kind of “super natural feature”. In act 3, scene 3, Othello says: “If she be false, O, then heaven mocks itself”. To Nicolous Marsh, it “makes no sense”. To an extent, it does, as one can say that heaven is “supernatural” and therefore by saying heaven is Desdemona, Desdemona is a great importance to the world.
Just before that, he says: “and when I love thee not/Chaos has come again”. An extended image can show that if Othello doesn’t love Desdemona, a supernatural element, then chaos will come and the order of the world would collapse. If we refer back to the Genesis 1:1:31, it says: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep”. This suggests a universal disorder, so not loving Desdemona would create disorder to the universe and would go against God’s will (4) as god created ‘order’.
Towards the end of the play, we ask our self whether Othello dies loving Desdmona, with ‘order’ being maintained, or not loving Desdemona, leaving a sense of disorder at the end of the play. Othello says: “I kissed thee ere I killed thee”. This perfect balance is made by the assonance of ‘kissed’ and ‘killed’ and shows perhaps a balance between love and death, and how Othello isn’t dying upon hate, nor love, but both, as he doesn’t accept why he killed Desdesdemona, but does take some responsibility in the “I”. This shows some limbo of disorder and order, and there is, therefore, some sort of chaos towards the end.
Eliot commented that Othello is only “trying to cheer himself up”. To an extent, yes, as Othello is trying to rationalise the situation, but ultimately Othello tries to regain his nobility by attempting to not die with hate, as disorder will be maintained and the world will become fragmented. Othello’s attempt to maintain order is positive positive, yet the outcome is negative due to disorder In the 1989 production of the play (Starring Ian Mckellen), the final image is left on Iago, which leaves the viewers unsatisfied.
Because despite Iago being imprisoned, there is some sort of social chaos still there and we do not learn a lesson as evil still conquers. In the play, Iago’s story is left unfinished and doesn’t satisfy us; in this interpretation of the play, Iago still has power, even without him speaking a “word”. It portrays that Othello’s soul will remain tortured, as Iago dominates. This links into the idea of the ‘tortured soul’ in Greek tragedy, but this interpretation twists the convention by suggesting Othello’s soul will be emotionally tortured in the after life and not physically tortured.
In act 5, scene 2, there are semantic fields of heaven and hell such as “hurl my soul from heaven”; this is important in the break down of Othello as it shows that Othello is a believer when situations become out of hand and when Othello is tortured. In act 3, scene 3, Othello’s use of “I am to blame” shows false modesty, and like Greek tragedy proposes, human nature is shown to have flaws build upon us, and this flaw is merely false modesty. This can be compared to Romeo and Juliet; when Romeo has killed Tybalt, he classes himself as “fortune’s fool”.
Also, A. C Bradley said that in Oedipus Tyrannus, with the star crossed mortals, showings a feeling of a sense of “no escape from fate” and that “fate has taken sides with a villain”. Oedipus curses himself when everything is revealed and he knows that the child would kill its father. A concept is shown of pre-destination, however, Shakespeare uses this in a satirising way as both Romeo and Othello find it hard to realise their own flaws. Othello perhaps shows a lack of self awareness and also a lack of awareness in the sense of social responsibility.
When Othello says: “I kissed thee ere I Kileld thee”, it is quite dramatic in the sense that it takes away legal retribution and shows a lack of social responsibility. This draws on to the idea of ‘answer to crimes’ in Elizabethan society. The lack of self awareness, shows chaos in itself, but Othello’s language intensifies it: ‘Down strumpet! ‘; the fragmented nature of the language shows a fragmented society. As Chaos is an ‘undoinng’ of God’s actions, it shows that the characters go against the whole concept of pre-destination in maintaining chaos and not realising their own fatal flaw .
As a 17th century audience, the theists wouldn’t therefore show pathos to Othello, therefore closure isn’t possible and therefore the ending is negative, as nobody justifies ‘why’. Though one can say that when he dies “upon a kiss”, religious connotations of Judus betraying Jesus is shown. Judus’s betray of jesus not only symbolises Othello betraying Desdemona, but symbolises the greater betrayal of Iago and Othello. The fact that this is his last phrase shows a sense of recognition that Iago betrayed Othello.
The comparison of this to such a heavy betrayal of Judus and Jesus shows the importance in friendship. Either way, the recognition brings us to a sense of closure and helps us to take a way a message about a battle between deception and reality, and the fai?? ades which friends put on to manipulate you. Peter Cairns (4) says that “if Othello’s love is not admirable, he is no hero and the play is no tragedy”. This is agreeable, as we do admire his love, firstly because he is a ‘fair warrior’ that proclaims love in elevated iambic pentameter, showing confidence.
For example: “Vouch with me, heaven, I therefore beg it not” in Act 1, Scene 3. However, this is later disrupted by the animalistic break down (“Down strumpet” in act 5, scene 2).
His masculinity, by dying “upon a sword” can be seen as heroic. His masculine fai?? ade is intensified in act 1, scene 3, when Othello says: “since these arms of mine had seven years”. Othello attempts to gain nobility by military heroism (“And very-sea mark of my utmost sail”); therefore, by taking Cairns saying, one can say this love is admirable and he is a hero.
However, in act 1 scene 2, Othello says “keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them”, to Iago and Roderigo. If we refer to the Bible, a reflection of Christ commanding Apostle Peter to “put up your sword” is made. Yet this is hugely ironic towards the end of the play, when Othello “stabs” himself, with a sword, and points it down.
This satirises Christianity in a way, as the bible is invaluable and Othello ‘goes against it’ by being immoral. Therefore we can now say that Othello does not maintain a heroic figure, but is merely a coward.
As a whole, we question whether the deception we had as an audience from the long time scale and the delay results in a lack of catharsis, and therefore seeing the love as not admirable meant viewing the end with negativity, or can we think of Iago’s love as homosexual as he blatantly thinks that sex between man and woman is disgusting (a black ram is tupping your white ewe’), and therefore see through the eyes of the 17th century as ‘justice’ being done by Iago being imprisoned.
Justice has been done because in the 17th century, being “homosexual” was sodomy and therefore one can see this is satisfaction and view the end in a positive light. If my interpretation was taken into account of Iago being possibly “homosexual”, we can see how Shakespeare reverses tragic convention on the Elizabethan era, and we may think that Shakespeare delved his political views into the book as at the time, this was the only way to express your views.