William Shakespeare “Othello”


1. Brief biography of Shakespeare

2. “Othello” as one of the most famous tragedies of Shakespeare

2.1 general information

2.2 setting

2.3 main themes

2.4 characters

3. Conclusion

There is hardly a person in this world that doesn’t know anything or at least never heard the name of Shakespeare. This figure is famous not only because of his talent and masterpieces in literature, but for his enigmatic life as well. Only some general facts are known about him and his life, but the certain part of his life is still covered with mystery.
John Shakespeare and Mary Arden had a child in April of 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is not possible to find the record of his birth, but the baptism was written in church and thus his birth date is considered to be the 23d of April. His father was alderman in the same town. The sources do not provide enough information about the youth of Shakespeare, it is known that he attended the Stratford Grammar School and then could not proceed to Oxford or Cambridge. In the year 1582 he married the girl, whose name was Anne Hathaway. They had a daughter in a year and later on twins.
By the year 1589 people talked about Shakespeare as about an actor, a poet and a playwright. Later he joined “The Lord Chamberlain’s Men” – this was a really famous acting troupe in London. In 1599 this troupe lost lease of the theatre called “The Theatre”; they had enough money to build their own theater - “The Globe”. It was opened in July 1599, the motto of it was: “Totus mundus agit historionem” – meaning “a whole world of players” (J. Bate, 85).By the year 1603 James the first came to throne and the troupe was renamed into “King’s Men”. In their patent was mentioned that they are “free to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Interludes, Morals, Pastorals, stage plays… as well for recreation of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure.” (S. Wells, 335). Thus the entertaining programs for the king started and then lasted for another ten years, afterwards the theatre burned. The theatre was reconstructed and Shakespeare contributed to this reconstruction, but he never returned to the stage again, he went on writing his works and at the age of 52, on the same day he was born, he died.
Shakespeare is the author of many masterpieces; one of them is his play – Othello. If to take the period between 1603 and 1604 “Othello” is the most remarkable tragedy written by Shakespeare. In Othello we find the combination of most vital human emotions and feelings – hate and love. The story is serious and ironical. We can not judge about any point of view because there is no narrator in a play, the play tells the audience about an honest and noble man who can be influenced so that he is ready to kill the woman he loves. This tragedy is well known all over the world and there are even set phrases about the main hero and his jealousy.
The main plot of the tragedy comes from Giraldi Clinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi that was a tale about love and betrayal. But the characters and themes still differ a lot. Shakespeare pays more attention to human nature and psychology. The important difference lies for example in the motivations that Iago had, in the version of Cithio Iago just wanted to revenge on Desdemona for her refusal, in the Shakespeare’s play the situation is more complicated.
The play of Shakespeare is as well connected with the important matter in Europe at that time, the Muslim religion and culture and their relations with West. The play was written a century later after the Muslims were moved from Spain, and the readers and audience could feel the hostility towards Othello because of his origin, religion beliefs and culture. The conflict between Venice and Turks presents the same hostility between West and East. The Venetians are trying to protect Christendom from the coming influence of Muslim Turks, the irony is in the fact that Othello is sent to manage this mission.
Some researches state that Othello is a good example of Aristotelian drama: there are not many characters in the play, for Shakespeare this was actually the smallest set of characters, some certain distractions from the main plot line and concentration on several themes, including for example jealousy in this case. This play of Shakespeare proves to be of a great interest for its readers from the very moment it appeared.
The so –called moral plays in the past usually had the Vice figure, in Othello this vice figure is Iago, but this hero differs by his lack of motivation and by his malicious nature.
Another reason of the popularity of Othello is considered its focus on two persons who were trying to define the society according to their hearts. During the wars in Europe in the 19th century the play was most popular due to the rebellion and upheaval of people, the love of Othello and Desdemona seemed more tragic and the nobility of Othello was even more underlined.
The first performance of Othello happened in 1604 in front of James the first in England. “Othello, one of the greatest Shakespeare’s tragedies written after hamlet and King Lear, was set against the backdrop of the wars between Venice and Turkey that raged in the latter part of the 16th century” (S. Greenblatt, 16). In autumn 1603 Richard Knolles published his History of Turks and the play was written somewhat in-between that time and the summer of 1604.
The main hero of the tragedy is a Moor, he is black, a white woman from Venice fell in love with him and they got married. There were a lot of obstacles that had to face before that: age and race- were the most difficult ones to overcome, but they did it and were happy together until Iago interfered and worked out the plan to ruin their family and love. He made Othello aware of the betrayal of his wife, the main reasons for him to do so were his anger and jealousy about the lieutenancy position he was looking forward to get.
The main hero of the play- Othello is called a Moor, this would actually mean that his origin was Arabic, but in the play it is stated that he was black African. In England during the Elizabethan period blackness was strongly associated with something evil and with death. Stereotype of the Moor on the stage was as well connected with villains, but Othello broke this stereotype as he is a noble and towering personality in the play.
In the setting of the play the action moved from Venice to Cyprus. This fact is really important for the whole plot of the story. The author presents Venice as the classically ordered city, where government controls the order with the help of laws. Iago was not able to make the trouble for Othello there as there was no immediate grievance of Brabantio. Venice doesn’t allow chaos in the city. In this correlation the contrast of Cyprus is quite bright. It is surrounded by ocean and seems to be not the safest place. This place has as well some associations with mythology, here Aphrodite – the goddess of love came to the shore from the ocean. In the Cassio’s greeting of Desdemona: “the riches of the ship come ashore…hail to thee lady!” (G. Taylor, 98) this association could also be found. The readers could also return to the goddess when they are under the influence of Othello’s feelings and deepest emotions.
The readers do not actually meet Turks in the play, but their role is very important in reality. References to them and their culture have the connection to the main themes of the tragedy.
There is even an opinion that Shakespeare’s main theme was the struggle between liberal Europeans and savage Turks. But this is probably in a way exaggerated.
There are several main themes that could be separated in the tragedy.
The theme of race was already mentioned, it is a really important one, as it helps the readers to build the opinion about Othello. Because of his race Othello feels himself a stranger among the people that surround him. Because of his race Othello decides to work carefully upon his reputation in order to be on the same level as white people. It is has also to do with the theme of Othello’s pride. He is proud of himself, of his achievements, and the more pride he has the more is his pride hurt by Desdemona’s betrayal. The theme of magic is related to the heritage of Othello. He is known to woo Desdemona with the help of magic as he is “pagan”. In reality magic can be found only in stories and words of Othello. It should be also considered some magic situation when the heroes could not find the handkerchief of Desdemona. This theme is as well presented through the Othello’s trust into the symbolism and charm of that handkerchief. Actually this handkerchief is the main symbol of the tragedy, but it means different things to different characters – for Desdemona it symbolizes the love of Othello, for Iago – this is another thing to manipulate with, at last for Othello – this is the symbol of Desdemona’s faith and chastity.
The theme of order and chaos is presented not only with the help of setting but with the emotions of Othello, at first his world was ruled by reason and then by his emotions, as the result of it - he is no more able to control his fate.
Another important theme is the theme of honesty, thought this notion is used mostly ironically in the play; most heroes have to learn whom to trust and whom not to trust. The mistake of most characters is that they start to trust into the Iago’s honesty. And Iago manages to manipulate people with the help of this false honesty and to misdirect them.
In the world of magic, created by Shakespeare – such a usual things as a handkerchief could mean so much in the lives of people – being connected with issues of love and fidelity. Love and hate are important issues for literature and for people’s lives as well, these are actually two absolute opposites, but they are so closely related and mixed in “Othello”. The antagonist of the story is Iago and his hatred causes him to do everything possible to destroy love of the protagonist hero – Othello, which finally leads to the deaths. The story is about blindness also, as every human suffers from it in this or that sense. Othello sets a most enduring tragedy on himself and people surrounding him, even his love. The mind of Othello is not that difficult, he is not used to the products of civilized life and he has little experience about women. He is a noble man and is not deprived of dignity and pride. He is very emotional, moreover – he is occupied with passion, love for him is absolute, he would not agree for something withered. If he loves – he loves with all his passion, if his trusts- he trusts with all his soul, and is he is jealous – he is jealous and angry with all his self. Jealousy is a sophisticated emotion and one of the ugliest - person poisons his soul and his heart with it and usually does harm to himself and his love and others around him. One can even have the feeling that he is eager to find the proofs that his Desdemona cheated on him. And his own passion leads to the fact that he is so easily fooled by Iago. Othello is made an outsider with the help of the color of his skin, it is not only some racial meaning in it, the author could have changed the country and the color of his skin and his nationality.
Not only is the depth of the passion a bright moment in the play – but also the presentation of the characters. They are all remarkable enough: noble Othello, gentle and sweet Desdemona, villain Iago, good –natured Cassio – they are all so distant from each other. The characters of Othello and Iago form vivid contrast; moreover their features of character and the shades of their inner worlds are lifted to an extreme degree. Actually Othello is a murderer, but readers can not look at him from this point of view – his nature is absolutely tender and confident, but the tortures of jealousy and his burning blood do their work. The author brilliantly describes it like a noble tide of deep and sustained passion. The hot temper and maliciously raised by Iago deepest feelings are perfectly shown in the third act of the play.
Another character- the one of Iago – is one more example of Shakespeare’s genius. It was not only in this work, that the antagonists are even brighter depicted than the positive heroes. The author was not only an outrageous poet and writer, he was also a good philosopher, so he could present all the best and all the worst sides of human beings. Not one generation of readers was wondering about the reasons for Iago to ruin the Othello’s life. One thing is certain – the character of Iago can not be viewed upon as a simple one. He doesn’t have a couple of dirty stories in his past and he is called “honest” 15 times in the whole play by other characters. Maybe he doesn’t even need any kind of motives to do evils, they are performed for evil’s sake, but even if he did – he had such motives as wish to revenge after having heard the rumors about Othello and Emilia (Iago’s wife), as jealousy of Othello’s professional success, finally he himself starts to search for the excuses to justify his deeds.
The brightest female character of the play is without any doubts – Desdemona. She is sometimes considered to be a weak and submissive person, in reality after her first speech and after her real fury when Othello stroke her, also when she says to Emilia that she murdered herself, she proves to be strong enough. Thus she is presented from two sides, as a faithful wife and independent strong-willed person. The fact that she is able to forgive her husband influences greatly the readers or the audience. It seems rather hard to judge any of the main heroes of the tragedy only from one side, the only thing which is for sure is that people can not stay indifferent to the story, it appeals to deepest emotions and provides food for thought about many things in our lives and in personal relations, let it be either friendship or love or hostility.


1. R. Smith (1963) and E. Quinn et al. (1973); A. Nicoll, Shakespeare: An Introduction (1952), 13-58

2. G. Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (8 vol., 1957–75); 25-356

3. Campbell and E. G. Quinn, ed., The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966); 2-6

4. M. R. Martin and R. C. Harrier, The Concise Encyclopedic Guide to Shakespeare (1972); 13-18

5. M. Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare (6 vol., 1970), 89-99

6. The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (1973); 56-68

7. S. Wells, ed., Current Approaches to Shakespeare: Language, Text, Theatre, and Ideology (1988); 333-335

8. G. Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare (1989); 98-265

9. J. Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (1997); 2-87

10. H. Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1997), 113-588

11. H. Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), 26-29

12. D. S. Kastan, ed., A Companion to Shakespeare (1999); 333-339

13. S. Orgel, Imagining Shakespeare: A History of Texts and Visions (2003)45-287

14. B. Vickers, Shakespeare, Co-Author (2003), 118-444

15. S. Wells, Shakespeare for All Time (2003), 78-80

16. S. Greenblatt, Will in the World (2004),13-19

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