What Are the Major Themes in Othello by Shakespeare?
Written sometime between 1603 and 1604, Othello is another masterpiece of William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is partly an adaptation of a short Italian tale. However, the events in the play occur during the contemporary Ottoman-Venetian War (1570 to 1573), fought for the control of Cyprus.
As one of Shakespeare’s iconic tragedies, it would be an understatement to say that Othello has inspired many other literary works. Fans of classic English literature can enjoy several adaptations of the tragedy, including the films of 1951 and 1995. Its appeal has spread over four centuries with endless stage performances in theatres across the globe.
So, what is Othello’s success due to ultimately? Partly, it is because of the timeless topics and underlying messages. The play abounds with dilemmas that resonate across periods and cultures. The most significant themes include love, jealousy, betrayal, duplicity, and racial injustice. In addition, Othello’s plot is full of symbols that convey universal truths. Here are the predominant topics elaborated in one of the best plays ever written in verse.
The green-eyed monster is a major theme in the play. It becomes intertwined within the plot when Iago’s wife, Emilia, tells Desdemona that jealousy is inherent to people’s nature. While mysterious at first sight, Iago is the epitome of envy, and this trait defines his character.
Hence, many college teachers require students to discuss the scenes highlighting Iago’s lack of integrity. You can view more essay examples on Othello and explore the undoings of Iago’s jealousy. In short, he envies his master and Cassio, who got promoted over him. He also believes Emilia slept with the Moore, and there are speculations that Iago is jealous of Othello’s happy marriage.
Another character that can’t stand Desdemona’s passion for her husband is Rodrigo. He helps Iago to destroy the Moore but fails in his plans and ends up killed. Iago further ignites Othello’s jealousy of Cassio, telling him that he has feelings for Desdemona. Iago uses social expectations and personal insecurities to trigger Rodrigo and Othello’s jealousy, thus causing their ultimate demise.
Undoubtedly, love is the predominant theme of the play. This driving force usually finds its way, but in this instance, it squanders due to the intriguing webs woven by evil characters.
In this masterpiece, love comes in many shapes. The passion between Othello and Desdemona is a striking example. They truly cherish each other, but due to Othello’s wrong judgment of characters, he devastates the marriage. Victories on the battlefield don’t count because he fails his devoted wife.
Rodrigo’s lust for Desdemona and her fondness for Cassio since he is Othello’s best friend are different forms of affection. Yet, the jealous Moore misinterprets kindness for adulterous love. Moreover, Emilia and her mistress like each other and have a special bond. Emilia dares to stand up for Desdemona’s honor after her death and thus risks her life.
Iago’s greed for money is the ultimate instance of love. In his world, this feeling has a broader and falser sense. Besides gold, he also feels sexual attraction toward Desdemona. All in all, love is nothing but leverage for Iago.
Racial prejudice is vital for the play’s plot. We encounter this theme in the first act when Brabantio says that a Moor cannot win the heart of a Venetian girl like his daughter. He believes she got seduced by witchcraft, revealing that Venetians weren’t fond of Black people.
Desdemona decides to abandon racial prejudice because she loves Othello truly and, hence, marries him. But Othello is concerned and suspects whether a white girl like Desdemona can remain devoted to him. Manipulated by Iago, he leaves the seed of jealousy to grow in him and banishes his wife to death.
Prejudice roots deeply into the protagonist’s personality. The absorbed race difference fills him with thoughts like “I don’t deserve her” and “If she loves me, there must be something wrong with her.” Iago instills these ideas carefully by pronouncing them halfway. Othello’s insecurities quickly give him away besides being appreciated in Venetian society for his bravery.
Appearance vs. Reality
The tragedy hinges on the villain’s capacity to mislead other characters and encourage them to misinterpret what they see in reality. Othello is susceptible to Iago’s schemes because he is honest, straightforward, and of free and open nature.
The protagonist believes what he sees because, to him, proof of the truth is always visual. Hence, he demands Iago to prove his wife is a whore by showing him ocular evidence. Instead, Iago offers imaginary pictures to feed his restless mind. As Othello loses control, these hallucinations overpower him.
While developing his plot, Iago creates scenes within scenes. He manipulates Othello by making him witness a pre-conceived conversation between his wife and Cassio. Moreover, Shakespeare often addresses the audience through Iago’s soliloquies. This way, the playwright tries to create an onstage appearance that tricks the spectators into seeing falsehood over reality.
The main reason for Othello’s downfall is his trust in Iago. Contrary to what he demonstrates in public, Iago is a scheming backstabber that loathes his master. With duplicitous intentions, Iago leads the general into thinking that Cassio is mischievous and unreliable. The inability to judge characters and believe his wife over others drowns the protagonist. Unfortunately, he sees no reason to think Iago is trying to trick him.
Iago’s treacheries spill over to Roderigo, and while treating him as a comrade, he attempts to kill him and cover up his guilt. Still, Roderigo is no fool and can see through Iago’s schemes.
Emilia also plays a double game and exposes Iago’s intrigues. Nevertheless, she reveals her husband’s wrongdoings with a greater goal in mind. As a result, the audience approves of her actions and won’t mistake justice and honesty for duplicity.
Service vs. Betrayal
By comparing Cassio and Iago, readers can find perfect examples of service and betrayal. Cassio is loyal, humble, and trustworthy but gets only rejection and violence in return. Conversely, Othello rewards the evil and treacherous Iago with trust and respect. This irony spurs tension among the audiences, leaving them wondering about the core values in life.
The main themes are critical to understanding Shakespeare’s play Othello. Such topics reflect the personalities and motivations of the major characters. Moreover, the plot drives us to the cruel reality of battling for power. Finally, the play is relevant to modern society and challenges anyone ready to let hatred guide them into committing social crimes.
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