When we first meet Othello and Desdemona their love seems to be powerful. They have overcome the social boundaries to be married with Desdemona speaking in court to explain how the love was true and was not a result of the witchcraft her father had accused Othello of using. However, their love ends in tragedy with Othello killing himself and Desdemona. It could be argued that Othello kills Desdemona because of his love as he says in the final scene that he “loved not wisely, but too well”. Alternatively, it is Othello’s naivety in his love that causes the tragedy. He does not really understand what love means as his life has been as a warrior. His view of himself as a moor also leads to his insecurities in his love and so again this adds to his vulnerability to Iago’s manipulation. Iago himself does express his love for Othello “My lord, you know I love you” . While the two men have been in battle together it is clear here that the expression of love is about manipulating Othello.
Jealousy is a very important theme within the play, most obviously with Othello’s jealousy about Desdemona. Even though Othello states that he believes jealousy is dangerous he soon falls victim to “the green eyed monster”. In his final words he suggests that he “is not easily jealous” and one may agree with this as Iago is such a skilful manipulator it would be hard for anyone to resist his plans. However, it could be argued that Othello falls into jealousy too easily and never gives Desdemona the opportunity to defend herself. Iago’s plans could in themselves be because of jealousy. He is jealous of Cassio as he was made the lieutenant over him when he felt that he was more deserving of the position. He also states that he believes Othello and Cassio have had a relationship with his wife so that he wants revenge for this. However this jealousy is questionable as the audience are never completely convinced these affairs happened so the jealousy seems to be an excuse for his evil actions.
In many ways revenge within the plays is closely linked with jealousy. Othello wants revenge on his wife for committing adultery, Iago wants revenge on Othello for his jealousy about Cassio being given a promotion rather than him. Othello could be viewed as a revenge tragedy, a popular form in Shakespearean times with plays such as The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kidd. It does have many of the conventions of such plays with villains, malcontents and corpses.
At the very start of the play in Act I scene i we hear racial abuse from Iago and Roderigo about Othello with language such as “an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” and “What is a full fortune does the thick lips owe”. Despite such racist language and the fact that the play was written in the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare is doing something very interesting with race. Indeed, the language heard at this point of the play is voiced by the villain and his accomplice, so hardly characters that we are meant to sympathise with. In fact, when we meet Othello he is a very well regarded man who has reached a high position in the Venetian society. Shakespeare has chosen a moor to be the hero of the play and this would have been breaking with conventions where black characters were often seen to be the villains. However, there are complications about race. When the Duke speaks about Othello in Act I the Duke says, “Your son in law is far more fair than black” suggesting that Othello has been accepted because he is more like a white man rather than the fact they have accepted his race. Othello himself talks about black being in some way evil and corrupt when he speaks about how his view of Desdemona changed when he thought she was having an affair stating:
Her name, that was as fresh
_ As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black_
_ As mine own face. (Act III scene iii)_
By the end of the play. Therefore it can be seen that race is a complicated issue within the play.
- What are the issues about Othello’s love for Desdemona?
- Your answer should include: Insecure / Naive / Loved / Not / Wisely
- Where is jealousy evident in the play?
- Your answer should include: Othello / Cassio / Iago
- Why could Othello be viewed as a revenge tragedy?
- Your answer should include: Villains / Malcontents / Corpses