Othello – Controversial Tragedy By Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s most controversial and intriguing tragedy was written in 1603 and named Othello. It is a cruel and malicious play with a limited supply of humour and wit present. The play is very precise and clear-cut yet it has elements of anticipation and excitement. It mainly focuses on domestic issues and exercises the audience’s judgment by using the signified / signifier throughout the script. Critics such as Bradley have said in the past that “Othello is one of the most painfully exiting and the most terrible tragedy written by W. Shakespeare. This reinforces the audience’s judgement after they familiarise with the play.
By writing Othello, Shakespeare may have intended to shock and captivate his audience’s attention with a play that is undemanding yet gripping. Shakespeare does not introduce any sub-plots in the play and keeps it at consistent scenery. This contrasts with the characters who change their personality traits repetitively. Desdemona contradicts the typical stereotypical role of a woman in the Elizabethan times as they were expected to be timid, well spoken and never defy or dispute their father’s or husband’s judgements.
Desdemona opposes her father and sides with her new husband. She portrays characteristics such as determination, strength and even level headedness which are all characteristics that are associated with males in the Elizabethan times. However when her life is threatened at the end of the play Desdemona retreats to her original stereotypical role. She becomes withdrawn and defenceless. Her abrupt change of characteristics emphasises the power Othello possesses over her. Similarly to Desdemona, Othello transforms his character traits from a respectable, noble Moor to a cold hearted murderer.
The audience originally expected Othello to be a malicious character however his beautiful language conveys their thoughts and formulates an ideal persona of Othello in their minds. Shakespeare also toys with a variety of themes such as the signifier/signified, black and white, heaven and hell, Iago and Othello, appearance and reality and even sexuality preferences. All these themes are explored through Othello and Iago, the two main characters. Othello is noble, strong, modest and decent.
Speaking on Barbantio’s behalf, Othello explains “He loved me” which demonstrates that Othello possesses an effortless and down-to-earth character. Iago, on the other hand, is a complete contrast to Othello. He is evil, manipulative and controlling. W. H. Auden describes Iago as a “Practical joker of a peculiarly appalling kind. ” W. H Auden attempts to portray Iago as a more humane character, than originally characterised by the audience during the play. Iago possesses a deadly coldness in his heart who finds is effortless to manipulate everyone around him.
He takes delight in directing the lives of the people around him and then observing how their lives crush around him. His obsession with Othello’s downfall encapsulates his whole life. His grievance at being overshadowed and undervalued lead him to a fixation to hurt Othello with the only weapon he knew how, his new wife Desdemona. Iago’s enclosed split personality aids him to operate his calculating plan. Othello describes him as a “fellow of exceeding honesty”, Cassio says “I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest” referring to Iago.
Even Desdemona is blinded by his cold calculating manipulation as she refers to him as “an honest fellow”. She is so enchanted by his kindness that she even asks for his assistance in understanding why Othello is accusing her of being unfaithful “O good Iago, What should I do to win back my lord again? ” The full extend of Iago’s dimensional and evil character is portrayed when even his greatest pray is relying on his assistance and support. This increases his superiority over the other characters in the play and gives him an advantage that he is only to willing to use in his favour.
The unanimous confirmations of the characters illustrate Iago as a kind and honest man which keeps the audience gripped to the storyline throughout the play. However Iago portrays a very diverse character to his audience. Through his soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 1, the audience is informed by Iago himself “I am not what I am”. This reveals Iago’s true nature instantly. It can be argued that Iago uses his audience as therapists and as a means to mediate. The audience are emotionally connected to Iago throughout the play as he as always honest with them.
He never tries to deceive them and always explains his intentions to them beforehand. The audience are therefore relying on him to inform them of any sub-plots that may occur in the future. Through Iago’s soliloquies he aims to convince his audience as well as himself that he does have a motive for hurting Othello. In one scene Iago expresses his feelings towards Othello as “Like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards. ” His motives however appear and disappear all through the play. Iago also expresses resentment towards Cassio due to him being appointed to lieutenantry instead of Iago.
In Act 2, Scene 1, Iago swears to “Strip you out of your lieutenancy” when referring to Cassio. His hatred dominates him just like he dominates all the other characters. Another suggested explanation for Iago’s behaviour can be his bitterness that he lost the lieutenancy and therefore lost his ‘social class’. His anger and irritation is shown early in the first few scenes when Brabantio declares: “Thou art a villain! ” and Iago replies with spite “You are a senator! ” this shows the true extend of his resentment toward the ‘higher class’ population in the Elizabethan times.
His manners and class is further belittled when Cassio says to Iago – “Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, That I extend my manners. ’tis part of my breeding that gives me this bald show of courtesy. ” This infuriates Iago furthermore and adds to his desire to cause the ruin of everyone’s future ambitions and aspirations. Iago is seen as an incredibly intelligent persona due to his calculating techniques in obtaining what he needs in his life. Harold Goddard criticises Iago’s intelligence by saying: – “Iago excels in short term tactics but not in long term strategy.
His opinion may have been concluded from the fact that Iago underestimated his own wife. Her ability to draw light to all of Iago’s dishonesty “A lie, an odious, a damned lie” takes Iago by surprise as the thought has never occurred to him in his plans. This can be due to Iago never fully understanding the values that are cherished by other human beings. Loyalty, love, friendship and guilt are all emotions that make us human. Iago misunderstands this concept of feelings which leads him to his downfall. The loss of emotional feelings in his character leads his audience to question his humanity.
The insinuation of dreams and inner thought is also explored in Othello. Iago’s imaginary invention of Desdemona’s betrayal and the false creation of Cassio’s dream of adultery explore ideas of dreams and inner thoughts and inventions. “I lay with Cassio lately…… in sleep I heard him say ‘sweet Desdemona, let us be wary of our love, let us hide our love’ and then he kissed me hard as if he plucked up kisses by the roots that grew upon my lips. ” Iago understands the significance of unconscious thoughts and feelings and uses this to convey Othello’s judgment of Desdemona’s disloyalty.
Othello and Iago are Shakespeare’s most original characters. Iago is second to none when in comparison of evil nature. It can be argued that his evil character traits are natural. That he is born an evil and ruthless man however it would be very constricted opinion to form as environmental factors could play a key role in his character formation. The nature / nurture aspect of character development is debatable in Iago’s case as the audience is never informed of Iago’s upbringing and his social status while growing up. There is no evidence to support either the nature or nurture aspect of Iago’s persona.
Othello on the other hand is portrayed as a ‘purely noble, generous and trusting’ man who is calm and collected and easy to engage in a conversation. Othello’s language is beautiful and lyrical. It is eloquent which contradicts the signified/signifier aspect. It is expected of Othello to have a direct and sharp language but the audience is presented with an intellectual and beautifully spoken Moor. However at times his language can be considered almost comical due to the overdramatic emphasis on certain words. On the contrary it is Iago’s language that is sharp and direct.
Iago possesses an extremely descriptive character and continuously uses animal imagery while engaging in conversations (either with his audience or his fellow acquaintances). In one of his soliloquies Iago says: – “Plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender herbs, or distract it with many. ” This shows the full extend of Iago’s animal imagery in his language. The consistent use of such extraordinary comparison of human behaviour and animal imagery can show certain character traits of Iago.
It is suggested in the Middle – Eastern Counties that animal’s are associated with unsophisticated and uncontrollable behaviour. It is believed that plants and animals portray hidden desire that is within every human being. Through his language Iago shows an earthiness persona. He shows a mechanical and sexual part of his personality. Plant and animals don’t debate over what they desire to do; they just go with their feelings. Iago similarly to plants and animals does not think of the tragic consequences of his actions. He just follows his own feelings to entertain himself.
In many ways he can be compared to nature and its desire to expand its life upon every part of the world. Nature is impossible to control or stop. Iago is also unstoppable and difficult to trap. Iago and Othello don’t just differentiate in their language; their approach to situations is very varied. While the Othello approaches difficult situation whit a calm and controlled manner. When Brabantio exclaims “Down with him, thief ” referring to Othello, Othello does not engage in conversation with him in anger or aggression. Shakespeare portrays him as a thoughtful man who does not enjoy being vindictive or malicious.
In contrary, Iago enjoys being malicious. Shakespeare presents Iago as a malcontent character to his audience. The consistent complaining and whining of Iago’s unsatisfactory life dominates the play in many ways (quote not found). However Othello and Iago, both find themselves in very similar positions. They are both located in a foreign country where they have been assigned to as soldiers. Both of the men are joined by their wife’s in their journeys to Cyprus. They feel disappointed and betrayed by their wife’s and conclude the play by killing them to gain revenge for their sins.
Although their characters can be contrasting they are both very original characters. Iago has a very restricted emotional range and his relationships with the other characters are very intense as he does not relate to them or share any emotional connection with them. Controversially to Iago, Othello has a varied emotional range and is able to connect to other characters as he is more emotionally available than Iago. Nevertheless, what binds Othello and Iago together mostly during the play is the incredible necessity to be accepted in their society as equals.
Shakespeare’s Othello is written in an attempt to demonstrate the varied split personalities that are present in different characters. He also corrupts the signified and signifier theory and explores the effects it can cause within a play. Shakespeare’s attempt at producing an original play which was able to capture his audience’s attention is classed as successful with many critics. The continual rejection of the characters natural stereotypical roles leads to a tragic climax at the foundation of the play. Many characters try to over-compensate with some character traits in order to nullify the characteristics they lack in.
Othello is the main character who continually tries to over-compensate with his beautiful language in order to abolish the fact that he is of black race and therefore of lower intelligence in his stereotypical role. Shakespeare uses very perplex and violent language at times to illustrate the intensity of the play. He aims to astonish his audience and present them with a mesmerizing and fascinating story-line. His aim has been accomplished with the fascinating story of Othello and his tragic life narrative.