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Othello

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Liza Backman

on 17 April 2014

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Transcript of Othello

Iago is explaining his intentions to Rodrigo in his first major monologue. The premise of the play’s action is explained here, and this is also one of the places we get closest to an explanation of Iago’s inner motivations. It is also significant that Iago is addressing Rodrigo in a monologue very much intended to get the reader or audience up to speed and to explain Iago’s character. This monologue is a time of clear explanation to the audience, and as such it is significant that Shakespeare didn’t write this portion as an aside to the audience but rather as an explanation to Rodrigo. Trusting that Iago is telling the whole truth here is rendered impossible by his explanation of his own deceitful nature and Shakespeare’s choice to have our first monologue with Iago be one win which he is speaking to a fellow character Iago has an interest in convincing. This distancing from the audience serves to isolate us from Iago, (compare this to Richard III’s opening monologue), and lets the audience know that they have no reason to pity him. Key lines include “In following him, I follow but myself (I i 58) and “But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/for daws to peck at. I am not what I am” (I i 64-65). It is noteworthy that Iago does not say “what I am on the outside I am not on the inside”, his deception goes deeper than that, so deep that some scholars have asked whether Iago is a physical manifestation of evil on earth ( ) or a figure of evil comparable to the serpent in Genesis ( ).

Othello
Theatre
History
Literary Analysis
Past IB Paper 2 Questions
Paper 2: Essay Comparing Two Dramas
There are five assessment criteria at HL.

Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding 5 marks

Criterion B: Response to the question 5 marks

Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre 5 marks

Criterion D: Organization and development 5 marks

Criterion E: Language 5 marks

Total 25 marks
Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding

How much knowledge and understanding has the student shown of the part 3 works studied in relation to the question answered?

To receive (5) full marks:
There is perceptive knowledge and understanding of the part 3 works in relation to the question answered.
How well has the student understood the specific demands of the question?
To what extent has the student responded to these demands?
How well have the works been compared and contrasted in relation to the demands of the question?

To receive (5) full marks: The student responds to all the implications, as well as the subtleties of the question, with convincing and thoughtful ideas. The comparison includes an effective evaluation of the works in relation to the question.
Criterion B: Response to the question
Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre

To what extent does the student identify and appreciate the use of literary conventions in relation to the question and the works used?

To receive full (5) marks: Examples of literary conventions are perceptively identified and persuasively developed, with clear relevance
to the question and the works used.
Criterion D: Organization and development

How well organized, coherent and developed is the presentation of ideas?

To receive (5) full marks:
Ideas are persuasively organized, with excellent structure, coherence and development.
Criterion E: Language

How clear, varied and accurate is the language?
How appropriate is the choice of register, style and terminology? (“Register” refers, in this context, to the student’s use of elements such as vocabulary, tone, sentence structure and terminology appropriate to the task.)

To receive (5) full marks:
Language is very clear, effective, carefully chosen and precise, with a high degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction; register and style are effective and appropriate to the task.
"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on." -Iago (3.3.170-173)
Themes
I
II
III
IV
V

Modern Translations

As you read Othello (or anything written in old English) you will notice that the language they use is different from what you’re familiar with. This activity is designed to help you familiarize yourself with the writing and have a little fun with it.
1. Look back to the purple passages mentioned in (insert location of purple passages)
2. Choose the passage you find most interesting, or one that you’re struggling with.
3. Copy it down on a flash card with the Act, scene, verse and an indication of who is speaking.
4. Now try to get a basic idea of what the passage is saying. Look at the words, the footnotes, use your dictionary, do a web search, or whatever is most comfortable for you.
5. On the other side of the flash card, write a modernized version of the old English text.
You can use whatever form of language, colloquialisms (words used in common conversation) or slang you wish. Avoid using crass or vulgar language. This will be challenging at some points because Shakespeare has the propensity (tendency) of being vulgar.
6. Compare it to a classmate’s. See what other people are writing, notice if there is any difference between what you thought was being said in the scene and what other students thought was being said.

For Even More Practice

Find modern renditions of Othello (the film ‘O’) or search different parts of the play online. Notice any differences. What is interesting about these differences? Why do you think they chose to change that? Would you have done it this way? Why or why not?





As you read Othello (or anything written in old English) you will notice that the language they use is different from what you’re familiar with. This activity is designed to help you familiarize yourself with the writing and have a little fun with it.
1. Look back to the purple passages mentioned in (insert location of purple passages)
2. Choose the passage you find most interesting, or one that you’re struggling with.
3. Copy it down on a flash card with the Act, scene, verse and an indication of who is speaking.
4. Now try to get a basic idea of what the passage is saying. Look at the words, the footnotes, use your dictionary, do a web search, or whatever is most comfortable for you.
5. On the other side of the flash card, write a modernized version of the old English text.
You can use whatever form of language, colloquialisms (words used in common conversation) or slang you wish. Avoid using crass or vulgar language. This will be challenging at some points because Shakespeare has the propensity (tendency) of being vulgar.
6. Compare it to a classmate’s. See what other people are writing, notice if there is any difference between what you thought was being said in the scene and what other students thought was being said.

For Even More Practice

Find modern renditions of Othello (the film ‘O’) or search different parts of the play online. Notice any differences. What is interesting about these differences? Why do you think they chose to change that? Would you have done it this way? Why or why not?

Othello
Iago
This portion of the study guide will cover portrayals of Othello, possible portrayals of Iago, and discuss the 1995 movie of
Othello
.

Iago’s blatantly racist and animalistic language regarding Othello and sex during this passage give us more information and questions about Iago’s character (or true-self) and his relationship with Othello, race, sex, and human nature. Key lines include I i 111 “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” and 116-117 “your daughter and the Moor are making the beast with two backs”. This is the beginning of Iago’s comparisons between Othello and animals, and his passionately contemptuous and bizarre language surrounding sex. This passage can certainly be read as a racist, and the immediate assumption is that Iago’s language in this passage is a result of clean-cut racism toward Othello. Reading the passage in this way, one can add “racism” as yet another reason to our growing list of Iago’s possible motivations. However, because we as readers must constantly question Iago’s nature if we are to gain any understanding of him, one should also question whether Iago’s language here purely a tool of manipulation. Iago’s language clearly has an affect on Brabantio who in turn draws public scrutiny and paranoia to Othello and Desdemona’s relationship; a key piece of Iago’s method of destruction and manipulation. This passage, especially lines 116-117, may also serve the argument that Iago’s hatred of Othello is motivated by sexual jealousy.
Jealousy
Jealousy is core to the plot development, motivations, and action of the play. Jealousy is the force which brings Iago to initiate his plan of revenge against Othello, and it is also the tool Iago uses to destroy Othello. In the case of Othello’s jealousy of Casio, jealousy appears to be an agent of dehumanization and reversion to primal nature. This arch asks the reader and audience to question in what ways Iago’s jealousy is different and similar to Othello’s. The nature of sexual jealousy specifically is important in this play, as an agent of violence and corrupter of purity.
This play is very concerned with identity, reputation, and human nature. Shakespeare’s main thesis of human nature here is dualistic; man is both human and animal, made up of learned civilized behavior and natural animal behavior. For Othello it seems clear that he begins a man and ends a beast, for Iago this path is less clear and more up to debate, though we believe the theme is still relevant to his character.
Human Nature
In our questioning of Iago’s motives one comes fairly quickly to the question of race. The play doesn’t shy away from the topic in any regard, diving right in with the father of the interracial couple accusing Othello of casting spells to woo his daughter (I iii 60-64). We dissect this statement by Brabantio to have to do with Othello’s race being associated with the supernatural or “other” and also in Brabantio’s disbelief that his daughter could love a person of a different race. We also see blatant racism in Iago’s language about Othello which seems obsessed with comparisons between Othello and animals, and in the court’s apparent surprise with Othello’s humanity and “civilized” nature. Shakespeare’s choice to make a play largely concerned with primal nature about a black man who goes from civilized to murderously animalistic should also be questioned as possibly racist. Whether in the overall writing of the play or in the character’s treatment of Othello, it is vital for any reader of this play to keep in mind the subject of race and its relationship to the other themes and characters of the play.
Race
Evil
Evil in this play seems distinctly human and linked directly to Iago, unlike in Macbeth for example where evil seems to be a separate force which acts on the characters. Is evil present in human nature in only the primal part of us? Is it more present in our defense of reputation? Is Iago a manifestation of evil on earth or does he have human motivations for what he does? Asking the question “where does evil lie?” in this play enriches one’s reading experience and thematic analysis, and is a question which should be asked often when considering Othello.
Sex
Sex in this play is the primary place where we see jealousy’s influence (and Iago’s influence) corrupting purity. In this play, in a traditional reading, Sex itself is not impure, but its ability to de-civilize Othello and its power in relationship to jealousy is key to Othello’s downfall. Fidelity as evidence of love, ocular proof of infidelity, and sex/love being a bridge between the primal part of human nature and the civilized world are all relevant themes to keep in mind while studying Othello.

II i 182-222
The reunion of Othello and Desdemona is significant for a number of reasons. The innocent joy of their reunion and love is highlighted by the simplicity with which their lines are written. Yet despite the apparent joy of this reunion, the passage is also heavy with foreshadowing whether in the heavy enjambment of this passage, (denoting liminal space-lack of resolution), or in the prophetic lines of Othello “if after every tempest come such calms,/May the winds blow till they have waken’d death” (185-186). Wakening death is spoken lightly here, meant to reinforce how powerful a peace would follow, but ultimately the power of this love will indeed “waken death” in the form of Othello’s murder of Desdemona. In this way the couple is attempting to bless their marriage when actually they curse it, mirroring Iago’s use of their own goodness to destroy them.
II iii 340-362
Another Iago monologue, this one alone on stage, in which we see some of the clearest biblical imagery as well as more explanation of the way Iago’s plan functions. Iago seems almost gleeful in this monologue, applauding himself for how well his plan is working and luxuriating in how well it will continue to work, the purity of his targets (353, 360), and his own villainy 351-352). Significant lines include “So will I turn her virtue into pitch/And out of her own goodness make the net/That shall enmesh them all” (360-363). Duality of color is clear here, Iago’s corruption will change Desdemona’s color to that of Othello’s as Iago continues to conflate purity with white and corruption with black. Iago intends to use Desdemona’s goodness to enrage and dehumanize Othello which is part of what makes this play so painful to read and what makes Iago so evil. Iago doesn’t exploit other’s evil, he exploits their best qualities--no purity is safe from Iago’s evil. It is also significant that Iago’s language waxes biblical here, it is no coincidence Iago uses the word “fruitful” on like 341 when speaking of Desdemona, nor is his language of devils and hell on 350-351. The innocent lovers of the Garden of Eden being corrupted by a serpent seems relevant to Othello, though Shakespeare complicates this story by making the terrible knowledge which causes the lovers fall falsified by the serpent (Iago).
III iii 279, 363, 440-451
The handkerchief drops in this scene and is found by Emilia. The handkerchief for Othello represents Desdemona’s love and becomes the final ocular proof Iago needs to drive Othello over the edge. By putting Othello in a place where he requires ocular proof Iago renders impossible Othello’s recovery of his trust in Desdemona, there can be no true proof of fidelity, only its opposite, and so some scholars argue that Othello loses in this scene and the rest of the play is no longer a struggle but a downward spiral (Bradley 195). Noteworthy how misogynistic Iago is in this scene and how Emilia thinks her finding of the handkerchief might gain her some favor with her husband only to find that he is still obsessed entirely with the destruction of Othello (307-315). Also bizarre that the handkerchief is lost as Desdemona is attempting to heal Othello’s infirmary; again her goodness is her undoing, but this time it happens by accident (or fate) not by direct meddling by Iago (285-299).
IV iii
Desdemona has been ordered to bed by Othello and ordered to dismiss Emilia, but Emilia stays to prepare Desdemona for bed. Desdemona, staying idyllic and innocent to her end (78-79), embracing her identity as an absolutely chaste and pure woman even as Emilia attempts to persuade her that women are as whole and complex as men and as likely to cheat for the same reasons men are (90-95). Despite all of Iago’s perfect planning, all could be undone if Desdemona had chosen just for once to stop being the perfect renaissance wife, but she continues to stay loyal to Othello and chooses “not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend” (105). The sparring ideologies of Emilia and Desdemona on womanhood and marriage are significant in this passage, as is Shakespeare’s choice to have Desdemona sing her own eulogy in the “willow” song. Important questions include To what extent does Desdemona know Othello will kill her tonight? How does Emilia’s view of sex and marriage differ from Desdemona’s?
V i 23-110
This is the ambush scene, when Roderigo and Iago attack Cassio. The dramatic irony of Iago’s cowardly wounding of Cassio (27) followed by Othello’s glorified envisioning of Iago’s attack display how deeply Iago’s poison has taken root in Othello’s mind, and the extent to which Othello’s delusion has become self-perpetuating (31-36). Rodrigo’s final lines to Iago “O damn’d Iago! Oh inhuman dog!” (62) brings back the theme of animal vs man as humanity’s key duality, and we have a testament from Rodrigo, perhaps the character who knows the most about Iago, testifying to his inhumanity and deep rooted animalistic nature (despite language being Iago’s primary weapon throughout the play).
This passage gives the reader pause when questioning the validity of Iago’s hate-filled claims against Othello, as Desdemona has just proclaimed to her father the validity of their love and that it wasn’t garnered by immoral, magical, or opportunistic means. Brabantio seems mollified by the accounts that Othello and Desdemona have given, and, even if the marriage was attained under the cloak of secrecy, there is a certain amount of resignation in Brabantio’s character to the worthiness of Othello’s claim to his daughter. This is shown in the lines immediately following this passage as Brabantio capitulates to Othello’s militaristic acumen… in other words, she could do much worse in marrying Othello. These rhyming couplets break the strength and rigidity that the prose has given the reader to this point, and they whimsically give the Duke recourse to both bless the unity of Othello and Desdemona and re-enlist Othello’s military service for the coming Ottoman threat. This passage is key to defusing the initial tension that Iago lays at Brabantio’s feet, and has a clear moral message that tells the audience to learn to let go of past transgressions as they will foster further discontent (204-205). It is also a verdict that speaks to Desdemona’s goodness and Othello’s social and sexual innocence, for they still have yet to consummate their marriage.
I iii 199-209
This is the conversation scene between Iago and Roderigo, immediately after the Duke assigns Othello on his mission and Othello entrusts Iago and his wife in the care and deliverance of Desdemona to him in Cyprus. This is also where Iago expounds upon his deep-seated hatred of Othello and lets us know how his manipulations are nothing short of evil incarnate. The references to a garden are key literary tools as they signify the growing animosity within Iago and how his body is just a vessel to implement the “fruit” of his consternation. Iago bribes Roderigo to begin implementing his plan of Othello’s demise, content that by putting the lovers in a juxtaposed position it will create the chasm necessary to destroy them. There is no questioning Iago’s mindset here: he says twice “I hate the Moor” (366, 386) and thinks of this plot as “sport” for his personal amusement (386). The motivations for Iago’s conspiracy are still somewhat murky, but he may believe that his wife has had sex with Othello “‘twixt my sheets [H’as] done my office” (388) or he may feel slighted that he has not been promoted within the military ranks as quickly as Othello. Or he may just hate blacks in general. But Iago is using Othello’s “free and open nature” (399) to gain his misled confidence and lull him into a false sense of security. Iago is a master conspirator and manipulator, and will now stop at nothing to see his vision realized, as evidenced by the last couplet: “Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.” (403-404)
I iii 310-405
II iii 164-266
IV ii 1-22, 136
Character Analysis (big 3)
Iago
Othello
Desdemona
Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson was one of the first successful African-American actors to portray Othello, and his portrayal was significantly different than the Othello's seen before him. Instead of being an elaborate moor general with a temper, he put more effort into the more emotional, softer side of Othello. When asked about it, he said he felt Othello "kills not in hate but in honour", because Desdemona's betrayal represented "the destruction of himself as a human being, of his human dignity".
Listen to Robeson's performance of Act V, Scene II, and think about the way Robeson portrays his character as one of honour.
Laurence Olivier
Olivier's portrayal of Othello is mostly trying to bring Othello to the center of the play. As Iago tends to end up "leading" the play, or being more of the main character, Olivier increased the dramatics of all of Othello's parts in order to make the play centered around Othello.
It is interesting to note that Olivier felt that the role of Othello was a badly written role, and that he was challenged by a fellow actor to take it up.
The scene of Desdemona’s murder is significant not only to plot but also because of how straight-forward and emotionally powerful it is. The scene is like watching a train wreck happen--we already know the outcome before the scene even begins, because we know Iago won as soon as he provided Othello with ocular proof and his own means to grow his jealousy, yet this scene still hits hard for the reason this entire play is so tragic--Othello and Desdemona love each other deeply to the very end, and it is this purity which destroys them. Symbology related to love and marriage is heavy in this scene, as is the candle’s relationship to human nature, light and dark. The symbology of the candle Othello contemplates before Desdemona is awake (7-15) involves how the play compares light and dark to knowledge and ignorance, purity and corruption, and the civilized and the bestial. Othello’s line “Put out the light, and then put out the light” (7) displays his connection between extinguishing both the candle’s light and the light of Desdemona’s life. He remarks that the candle can be re-lit where Desdemona cannot. These lines objectify Desdemona as a force which brings light (and civilization, social status[?]), to his life in a way which is irreplaceable. In this way the reader knows the death of Desdemona will be the final event which drives Othello entirely into the darkness of his bestial nature. The line “I will kill thee and love thee after” (18-19) proves Othello still loves her deeply, and it is this same love which drives him to such extremes. Coupled with his love is Desdemona’s own goodness and refusal to tell anything but the truth, even if it costs her her life. Her constant denial of any wrongdoing in this passage shows the reader Desdemona is good, innocent, and naively bound to truth at her core, while in Othello’s corrupted mind this deep-rooted honesty can only be interpreted as deep-rooted deception(77), (ironically the very type of deception so core to Iago’s character!).
V ii 1-83
V ii 339-356
V ii 284-304
1995 Movie
Iago's purpose for villainy is vague. In the text, he gives the audience two reasons for his plan. (1) He feels Cassio's placement as Othello's right-hand man was unfair. (2) He has heard rumors that Othello has taken his place and has had sex with his wife, Emilia.

Because of this, Iago is often played based on what the actor/director decides is Iago's "true" motive, and it's often not one of the two described above. Many people have argued that Iago is a gay character, and that his hate is fueled by that. In Verdi's opera
Otello
, Iago has a piece known as the "credo", where Iago basically admits to being a satanist. Some argue that originally Iago was just having fun, but then became power hungry.

Activity: Try to think about possible reasons for Iago's villainy and decide how each of these reasons may affect the way Iago is portrayed onstage.
Verdi's
Otello
Iago's Credo
Interesting fact: Because Othello and Iago are (on some level) both the main character of the play, often stage actors playing the two will swap roles each night.
In at least two literary texts that you have studied, to what extent has an awareness of context enriched or enhanced your understanding?

With reference to at least two literary texts that you have studied, how could the text be interpreted differently at different historical times?

With reference to at least two literary texts that you have studied, discuss the extent to which they reveal the prevailing values and beliefs of the periods and places in which the texts are written or set.

With reference to at least two literary texts that you have studied, discuss how an understanding of gender or ethnicity influences how the texts may be understood.

Setting can often reflect the underlying ideas in a play. In the light of this statement consider the importance and use of setting in two or three plays you have studied.
Past IB Paper 2 Questions
“In creating characters in drama, one may begin with stereotypes, but must end with individuals.” Discuss how far such a “rule” is demonstrated or not in plays you have studied.

“A play should make you laugh or should make you cry.” With reference to at least two plays you have studied, discuss the methods playwrights use to generate emotional response in their audiences.

“In plays, no one arrives on or leaves from the stage without contributing in some way to the complexity of the play.” Considering two or three plays you have studied, compare the impact on meaning of some arrivals and departures from the stage.

“All plays pose questions about the world, yet some questions are easier to ignore than others.”
In the light of this statement, evaluate the questions raised in two or three plays and show how and to what degree these issues are explored.

“Comedy exposes human weakness; tragedy reveals human strength.” How and to what extent does this claim apply to at least two of the plays you have studied?

III iii 89-170

-The Andrews’ article (see Bibliography for further reading) suggests that people of dark skin color are predisposed to the idea of conjuring and superstition. He discusses the conception that people of dark skin are overly lustful and manipulative, as opposed to Othello’s initial audience reaction as a character who is passionate and amiable. This is an idea that still permeates the fabric of today’s society.
-Magic is an important theme to Europeans as well. Shakespeare uses it’s unknown qualities to shape the perception of the audience and point the moral compass so to speak. The idea that Othello could attain Desdemona is thought to be the product of “witchcraft” (3.3.211) because of the very fact that Othello is black. We discuss this more in the Race section. He refutes this prejudice by telling the court to call on Desdemona to give honest testimony (1.3.94-98).
-The handkerchief as a supernatural element is also powerful, as it has the ability to both unite and destroy Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. As it signifies fidelity and infidelity at the same time, the handkerchief shows the profound sense of meaning that can be associated with any object, and how this relevance can be used to either unite or separate people. Iago plots to attain this valuable symbol, as he knows the indiscernible nature of the handkerchief fulfills the images of indiscretion that roam through Othello’s head.

Magic
-The linear progression of family structures is extremely important in the early 17th century, and suitors are readily assigned to women of nobility to secure and consolidate power and/ or wealth. Although not completely undesirable to Brabantio because of his military acumen, Othello would be viewed as undermining the feudal system with his elopement.
-Sex was (and remains) a major point of conflict between people. Biblically, adultery was a pillar of the commandments and has been the source of harsh punishments ranging through time. As women were considered chattel for their husbands, such an egregious offense often meant physical retribution and social castration. Iago is relying upon the power of sex (and infidelity) to undermine Othello’s idealism and undercut his admirable persona. As a reoccurring theme in Othello, the idea of sex permeates the play: Iago believes Emilia has been with Othello, Othello believes Desdemona has betrayed him with Cassio, and, of course, there is the line “old black ram is tupping your white ewe,” said by Iago to incense Brabantio into violent action (1.1. 88-89). It is somewhat cursory that Brabanito takes respite in the Duke’s verdict, as his daughter has eloped with someone that he may see as a usurper, thus inherently becoming less desirable.

Sex/Marriage
-The use of Cyprus as a setting is a nod towards Shakespeare’s use of the “unknown” to foster belief from the audience… in a land far, far away…
-The Stanivukovic article (see Bibliography) suggests (and is affirmed by the play) that a deep animosity existed between the Turkish and Venetian forces. The valuable nature of trade routes emerging through colonialism placed added emphasis on maintaining and coordinating shipments of resources, and supported the idea of militaristic interaction and protection. Competing for such vast array of trade and commerce fermented this division between the nations, and helps explain how Iago’s distrust of the moor could easily be contrived and manipulated to his liking, while substantiating the nature of Othello’s character as an important and commendable piece in the commercial chess game of the time.
-Geographically, Cyprus sits squarely in the middle of trade routes that ran through the Mediterranean, a convenient port for commerce between Asian, African, and European cities. It is also an island which has built its wealth on commerce, much like Venice, and serves as a melting pot for cultures to interact. Worthy of note is the rather long distance between Cyprus and Venice, and that the island nation is much closer to Ottoman territory than Italy.
Setting/ Location
-Key passages in Othello that show racial animosity include: Iago’s venom (1.1.66, 87-88, 110-117) where the racial slurs flow like water (black ram tupping the white ewe/ Iago telling Brabantio he will have horses for grandchildren) and Brabantio’s lamentation for his daughter (1.2. 69-72). Even Othello seems to affront himself and his race by comparing his darkness to Desdemona’s degeneration, placing physical characteristics above moral ones in status (3.3. 386-388). This points to a double-consciousness that Othello must endure, being both Venetian and a Moor.
-Race is a socially constructed mechanism. “God, in willing himself, wills all the things that are within himself; but all things in a certain manner preexist in him by their types (rationes),” by Saint Thomas Aquinas shows how deep seated or firmly entrenched the idea of race is in the world. Thus, by using the preexisting associations of the time, Shakespeare casts dispersions at Othello to elicit reactions from the audience (for the better part of the play, most reaction would involve sympathy). It is only towards the end of the play that racial classification becomes less and less importance; for in killing Desdemona, Othello has used any sympathetic currency he may have accumulated.
-Major impact player in Othello. Although before imperialistic slavery, negative connotations toward Africans and Middle-Easterners were prevalent. Andreas’ article (see Bibliography) disseminates nicely how Iago’s attitudes toward Othello and his race are bigoted, giving us noteworthy lines (see below). These lines give the audience Iago’s state of mind, and shows how his character believes this to be enough to enact his plans for vengeance.
This portion of the study guide covers theme overviews, character analysis of the three most important characters to the play, and chronological exploration of the passages of Othello you need need to know.
Note: All line numbers are referencing the Riverside Shakespeare text.
This portion will give you the relevant historical background necessary to navigating the setting and social atmosphere of Venice in the late 1600s, as well as some information on how people thought about Othello's themes in Shakespeare's time.
This is where Iago first introduces Desdemona’s betrayal of Othello, and is therefore very significant. We see more evidence here that Desdemona has brought an extreme level of light and passion to Othello’s life, a reminder yet again of the energies Iago intends to use to fuel Othello’s downfall (3.3.90). The seeds Iago lays in this scene serve two purposes; he wants Othello to become jealous of Cassio and hurt by Desdemona AND he wishes to gain a space in Othello’s mind as being his sole confidante, the only person Othello can trust in these matters. This scene contains several elements of dramatic irony. One of the first examples, “Think, my lord? [By heaven], thou echo’st me, As if there were some monster in thy thought too hideous to be shown”(3.3.106-108). Thou dost mean something.” Here, Othello thinks that Iago knows a terrible secret (the monster), when in reality the audience knows that the hideous monster is Iago’s own bestial nature. Shortly afterward Iago introduces more dramatic irony saying, “Men should be what they seem, or those that be not, would they might seem none!” (3.3. 127-128). The first level we read this on is as more evidence that Iago is quite enjoying his destruction of Othello and is equivocating to make his victory that much more sweet. But given the importance of humanity in this play its interesting that Iago is insinuating that he is not a man but an animal, a slave to primal urges. Why would Iago say this? Is this a freudian slip on Iago’s part, revealing some self-hatred? Disdain and intentional distancing from humanity in general?
In this scene, we see Emilia telling Othello that he has misunderstood Cassio and Desdemona’s relationship. She is telling him that the jealousy he feels is doing him no good and that he should rid his mind of these thoughts. Even though Emilia is telling him everything he needs to know, that Desdemona has been faithful to him, he is totally incapable of hearing a thing she says: “She says enough; yet she is a simple bawd that cannot say as much….” (4.2.20-21). Iago’s planted jealousy has totally overtaken Othello’s mind and he is unable to hear anything which does not align with the narrative Iago has planted. This scene is significant because it is yet more evidence that Othello had already lost to Iago and his downfall is inevitable, given how persuasive and useful Emilia’s testimony should have been to him. In regards to the multiple ways we can read Othello’s transformation; either as purely a corruption by Iago, a summoning of Othello’s primal nature, this passage provides evidence mostly for the first reading. Othello’s misogynistic language in this passage is fairly new to us, and it seems not natural to Othello but more something he’s picked up from Iago’s way of seeing women.
ACTIVITY
Race
Othello is a character valued for his virtue, courage, and exceptionally civilised nature at the beginning of the play. Yet Shakespeare leaves it unclear to what extent the Duke and Nobles’ praise of Othello is a result of their surprise at his un-barbaric nature considering his race, and also unclear to what extent Othello’s portrayal at the beginning of the play fulfills the Noble Savage stock stereotype. The Noble Savage is a racial stereotype in which a non-white character’s simplicity and innocence render them worthy of admiration by whites (though this role still deeply limits a nonwhite character’s potential as a whole person and protagonist, and is therefore racist). A popular example would be the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar. Shakespeare complicates Othello’s portrayal of this stereotype by making the nobles admire Othello while still holding up civilisation as a positive core quality for Othello. The audience is called to question whether Othello’s uncivilised inner nature is prompted by Iago to consume his outward civilised front, or if Iago’s primitive nature is the corrupter of Othello’s sincere and deep rooted civilization. This also questions white society’s assumptions about race and civilisation, and where the darker primal instincts of human nature most clearly lie.
The biblical metaphor present in this text, Iago as the serpent and Desdemona as the oblivious vessel of corruption places Othello as this story’s Adam; a character representing fundamental humanity in judeo-christian consciousness. This reading of Othello can also be compared to medieval morality plays, in which an angel and a devil vie for the fate of a character representing humanity. Shakespeare complicates this reading as well, since Desdemona’s purity is Iago’s primary weapon against Othello, rendering Iago the most in control of the play’s action.
Othello as Adam
In addition to being a deeply (at least) outwardly civilized, valiant, and commanding character, Othello also has a deep sexual, (and to some extent), social innocence which is also core to his character. Othello’s absolute trust and love of Desdemona is testified by him personally many times, whether in front of the Duke and nobles (I iii 268-274), or in meeting her again at Venice (II i 183-222). Desdemona’s apparent sexual betrayal cuts Othello so deeply because he never imagined that Desdemona would betray him, this part of sex is an area Othello has never considered; the naivety of Othello’s love is the same naivety which drives him to such extreme acts of jealousy.
Innocence
Iago is a fascinating character because any given readings of his motivations never quite seem enough to justify his insatiable evil, and Shakespeare certainly gives us no clear answers as to Iago’s motivations. Iago gives Rodrigo a few justifications, saying at the start of the play he hates Othello for promoting the undeserving Cassio above him (I i 7-20), and later briefly adds possibly some sexual jealousy to the mix by mentioning the rumor that Othello is sleeping with his wife (I iii 385-390). Neither of these motives are especially convincing considering the lengths Iago goes to destroy Othello so completely, Iago’s hatred and evil seems to come from an even deeper place than his wife's infidelity or his career aspirations.

Important Passages
Race
Paper 2: Essay Comparing Two Dramas
There are five assessment criteria at HL.

Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding 5 marks

Criterion B: Response to the question 5 marks

Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre 5 marks

Criterion D: Organization and development 5 marks

Criterion E: Language 5 marks

Total 25 marks
Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding

How much knowledge and understanding has the student shown of the part 3 works studied in relation to the question answered?

To receive (5) full marks:
There is perceptive knowledge and understanding of the part 3 works in relation to the question answered.
How well has the student understood the specific demands of the question?
To what extent has the student responded to these demands?
How well have the works been compared and contrasted in relation to the demands of the question?

To receive (5) full marks: The student responds to all the implications, as well as the subtleties of the question, with convincing and thoughtful ideas. The comparison includes an effective evaluation of the works in relation to the question.
Criterion B: Response to the question
Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre

To what extent does the student identify and appreciate the use of literary conventions in relation to the question and the works used?

To receive full (5) marks: Examples of literary conventions are perceptively identified and persuasively developed, with clear relevance
to the question and the works used.
Criterion D: Organization and development

How well organized, coherent and developed is the presentation of ideas?

To receive (5) full marks:
Ideas are persuasively organized, with excellent structure, coherence and development.
Criterion E: Language

How clear, varied and accurate is the language?
How appropriate is the choice of register, style and terminology? (“Register” refers, in this context, to the student’s use of elements such as vocabulary, tone, sentence structure and terminology appropriate to the task.)

To receive (5) full marks:
Language is very clear, effective, carefully chosen and precise, with a high degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction; register and style are effective and appropriate to the task.
Paper 2: Essay Comparing Two Dramas
There are five assessment criteria at HL.

Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding 5 marks

Criterion B: Response to the question 5 marks

Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre 5 marks

Criterion D: Organization and development 5 marks

Criterion E: Language 5 marks

Total 25 marks
Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding

How much knowledge and understanding has the student shown of the part 3 works studied in relation to the question answered?

To receive (5) full marks:
There is perceptive knowledge and understanding of the part 3 works in relation to the question answered.
How well has the student understood the specific demands of the question?
To what extent has the student responded to these demands?
How well have the works been compared and contrasted in relation to the demands of the question?

To receive (5) full marks: The student responds to all the implications, as well as the subtleties of the question, with convincing and thoughtful ideas. The comparison includes an effective evaluation of the works in relation to the question.
Criterion B: Response to the question
Criterion C: Appreciation of the literary conventions of the genre

To what extent does the student identify and appreciate the use of literary conventions in relation to the question and the works used?

To receive full (5) marks: Examples of literary conventions are perceptively identified and persuasively developed, with clear relevance
to the question and the works used.
Criterion D: Organization and development

How well organized, coherent and developed is the presentation of ideas?

To receive (5) full marks:
Ideas are persuasively organized, with excellent structure, coherence and development.
Criterion E: Language

How clear, varied and accurate is the language?
How appropriate is the choice of register, style and terminology? (“Register” refers, in this context, to the student’s use of elements such as vocabulary, tone, sentence structure and terminology appropriate to the task.)

To receive (5) full marks:
Language is very clear, effective, carefully chosen and precise, with a high degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction; register and style are effective and appropriate to the task.
The 1995 movie
Othello
came out of a "Shakespeare movie renaissance" that started with a 1993 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

This movie primarily shows the storyline as a sex tragedy, as it includes several sex scenes that do not exist within the play. Theses scenes also help the audience to define certain characters/the relationships between certain characters. For example, we notice that the relationship between Othello and Desdemona could be described as slightly nervous, but very loving newlyweds. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see Iago having sex with Emilia, and it seems as if it is all about him having power and pleasing himself.

Kenneth Branagh played Iago in this movie and many people critiqued him because they felt he played Iago as gay. However, when asked about it Branagh claimed that he felt like Iago truly loved Othello, but he was not in love with Othello, and he played him as thus.

Note: When you watch the smothering scene, notice how Othello is crying while Desdemona is dying. Also notice how her flailing hand ends by caressing Othello's face, before falling down beside her dead body.
Note: you may want to continue by watching part 12 on youtube
Iago's Given Motives
Sexual Attraction?
Some read Iago’s motivations as being sexual, that Iago is attracted to Othello and repulsed by himself so strongly he projects this inner hatred to the Moor. This reading is possible, Iago lets slip some indicators of self-hatred throughout (V i 19-21), (III iii 127-128), and his marriage with Emilia is certainly not what Desdemona and Othello have at the start of the play, but this reading still doesn’t quite satisfy given Iago’s inconsistent self esteem and just the level of evil Iago unleashes in this play.
Trailer
Smothering Scene
This intensity of evil has also led to the reading that Iago is perhaps the devil incarnate, some physical manifestation of satan. There is little biblical imagery in the play to back up this claim on anything but a metaphorical level, (the Garden of Eden metaphor isn’t quite that overbearing), but Iago’s ability to stay so unknowable to the audience because of his deep-rooted deceptiveness puts him in a class of his own. Iago plays the serpent in many ways in this play, laying his poisonous seeds in Othello’s mind in the garden of the citadel (III iii), and Othello is certainly the character in who we look to messages about human nature, just as Adam is in the Bible. Despite these similarities Iago is still serving his own ends, very unlike the serpent in Genesis, and understands people and how to manipulate him in a way that in some ways speaks to a deep worldliness and understanding of humans perhaps inaccessible to a physical manifestation of the supernatural. Reading Iago’s motives different ways throughout certainly yields varied and interesting results, but scholars are still undecided as to the exact cause of Iago’s hatred.
Iago's Evil
Desdemona in many ways seeks and succeeds to be the perfect wife to Othello following her early individualism in eloping with Othello in the first place and in talking back to her father (I iii 528). Desdemona is constantly forgiving, pure of intention, lovingly devoted to Othello throughout, from her early meeting to her final attempt to protect her murderer on her deathbed (V ii 123-124). Shakespeare is perhaps critiquing the standard of absolute fidelity expected of women during this time which Desdemona embodies, especially in his comparison of Desdemona’s views on women to Emilia’s more liberal ones in IV iii. Whatever the gender politics of Desdemona’s character, her steadfastness to her husband and her commitment to do only good at any cost is at least as admirable as Othello’s commanding noble presence, but where Othello is deeply changed by jealousy Desdemona remains totally untainted by any negative emotion other than mild frustration and deep confusion toward the final two acts of the play.
Wife
Fidelity
The idea of Fidelity’s relationship to Desdemona’s character cannot be underestimated. The gender binaries of “whore” and “virgin” accepted in the renaissance manifest in this play with virgin being the truth of Desdemona’s character and whore Othello’s delusion. Her own goodness and fidelity, her refusal to ever commit any wrongdoing, drives Othello deeper and deeper into rage and jealousy time and time again (IV ii 30-40)(V ii 50-57, 40-41). Ultimately she is smothered by her own wedding sheets, driving home how her marriage and its consequences stifle her to death (V ii 83).
Notice how Olivier is a much more dramatic actor than Robeson, especially in the way he changes tones very quickly from one line to the next. Also make sure to notice how this affects his performance. Are we drawn to it/forced to acknowledge his presence because of it?
Reading Othello as a biblical metaphor is most confused by Desdemona’s portrayal of Eve. While Iago (the serpent) certainly uses her to destroy Othello, she is not the one planted with evil like in the Bible, instead her fidelity and its questioning if the source of Man’s downfall in this play. Where blame fell on Eve for her trusting open nature, the same falls on Othello, not Adam, yet Othello also acts as our metaphor for humanity in the way that Adam does. Desdemona is therefore in some ways less involved logistically in Othello’s Fall and more involved in that her unchanging goodness is exactly what Iago counts on to complete his plan. Desdemona by the end of the Ωplay is almost enigmatic in her goodness in the same way Iago is in his evil. Shakespeare is asking us, why is Iago so evil? Why is Desdemona so good?

Desdemona as Eve
A soliloquy from Othello before he commits suicide, Othello is attempting to apologize to his dead wife and give the witnesses bearing as to the kind of man he strove to be, full of lamentation and conscience: “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice” (341-343). He continues to describe his attributes with “Of one that lov’d not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealious, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme” (344-346). The last part of those lines further validate the idea that Othello now knows who has perpetuated his untimely demise. The ending of this passage is lamentation, as Othello now joins the forces he so vehemently defended against in the grave. The statement he “threw a pearl away” (347) simply shows contrition to the fact he has murdered his wife for reasons that escaped his control. Interesting structure here as Shakespeare makes it a point to soften the opening lines, then counteracts it with the harshness and abbreviation of the final six lines. It adds urgency to the finale of the play.

This is following the murder of Desdemona by Othello, and ultimately when Othello understands that he has been set up by Iago. Othello attempts to kill Iago, and only succeeds in wounding him, making Iago gain sympathy from the uninformed group that is in his company (Lodovico, Cassio, Montano, and the officers). In this scene, Othello is confronted, disarmed, and put into submission. His fall from grace is highlighted by Lodovico’s statement “O thou Othello, that was once so good, fall’n in the practice of a [damned] slave” (291-292). Although brief, the passage is full of tension and drama, as Emilia has just confronted Iago in front of Othello, describing how she attained the handkerchief. This instinctively forces Othello into action for revenge, which he fails to attain, and Iago kills his wife for her “disloyalty.” Iago does scampering away, but is quickly put under guarded watch to answer for his crimes. It is a tremendous amount of action to condense, but through it the audience knows that nothing is going to end positively in this play, and Othello simply has no time left; he is going to die.


While some passages are open to interpretation of characters, this scene works to show Iago’s true calculative nature. His actions can only be seen as playing on specific aspects of people’s personalities that he feels he can manipulate and control. He uses Cassio’s alcoholism in order to bring out his worst side while on guard. Violence then ensues and Cassio is dismissed by Othello for his misconduct. From here Iago’s plan continues to fall into place as he plays off of Desdemona’s kindness so that she will try to comfort Cassio. While defending Cassio to Othello and trying to help him see that Cassio is just a little flawed, but overall not a bad lieutenant or a bad person, Othello only hears Iago’s poisonous words of deception, that Desdemona is surely being unfaithful with Cassio.



Bibliography
I i 41-65
I i 107-117
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Liza Backman, Amanda Thompson, Niall Donegan, Raun Blanchard
Full transcript