OTHELLO The Tragedy by William Shakespeare Dr. Neighbours
The Tragedy of Othello Venice, Italy – the Setting of Othello
Othello – A Shakespearean Tragedy • Othello is a Shakespearean Tragedy • It encompasses elements of tragedies such as: • It ends with the death of numerous characters including the title character • It encompasses historical and military details • The protagonist is admirable, but flawed, with the audience able to understand and sympathise with the character. • The protagonist is capable of both good and evil • Free will is insisted upon – the protagonist must always be able to back out of a situation or to redeem themselves – but always towards their inevitable doom.
The world’s greatest… • By the time he’d written Othello (around 1604), Shakespeare was considered the greatest playwright of his day. • Many feel that Shakespeare's later plays show a darker, more pessimistic view of the world than his early plays. • Under King James I (his rule is referred to as the Jacobean period), England lost some of its power and prosperity. • Conflicts between Catholics and Protestants led to civil strife. • Shakespeare's earlier plays reflected Elizabeth's golden reign. By 1604, when Othello was first produced, the glory of the Elizabethan period was recent history. • This is reflected in the fact that, unlike his other tragedies, there is no resolution to the conflict caused at the end of the play.
Othello: Themes Passion… Hypocrisy… Prejudice… Jealousy… Revenge…
Principal Characters: • Othello: A Moorish general in the service of Venice • Iago:Othello’s ensign from Florence • Michael Cassio: Othello’s lieutenant • Roderigo: A Venetian suitor of Desdemona • Brabantio: Desdemona’s father • Gratiano: Brabantio’s brother • Montano: Former Governor of Cyprus • Desdemona: Brabantio's daughter, Othello’s wife • Emilia: Iago’s wife • Bianca: A Courtesan in Venice, friend and lady in waiting to Desdemona
Plot Elements • Genre: Romantic Tragedy • Time: Shakespeare probably intended the time to be early 1500’s • Setting: Venice, Italy and Cyprus • Year Produced: 1604
The plot for Othello was developed from a story in the Italian author Cinthio's collection, The Hecatommithi, which it follows closely (1565). The only named character in Cinthio's story is "Disdemona", which means "unfortunate" in Greek The other characters are identified only as "the standard-bearer", "the captain", and "the Moor". The first known performance of the play occurred on November 1, 1604 at Whitehall Palace in London. About the Plot
Cyprus was off the coast of Syria and Turkey. Venice is up the Adriatic Sea.
Cyprus coastline The Venetian coastline looks vastly different from that of Cyprus.
Venice was known for its wealth and prosperity during the Renaissance. Cyprus was not.
Othello is described in the play as a moor, and a general in the Venetian Army. The origin of the word “moor” comes from the word “mauri” which was used to describe a group of people called the Berbers, who came from North Africa. It can also be supposed that he was from Morocco, although Libya is sometimes referred to as “Moorish” Othello – a moor
Moors were characterized in Elizabethan England as being alternately or simultaneously noble or monstrous, civil or savage. It was often the case (in literature) that a moor was presented as someone accepted by society to a certain point, but then rejected due to other factors. The majority of Moors were Islamic; whereas Venice would have been Christian What does it mean to be Moorish?
Traditional “Moorish,” Moroccan People Moorish skin tone varies, but most definitely stood apart from the traditionally Romanesque feature of northern Italians from Venice.
Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most sinister villains, often considered so because of the unique trust Othello puts in him, which he betrays while maintaining his reputation of honesty and dedication. Shakespeare contrasts Iago with Othello’s nobility and integrity. Iago is a malcontent – he has a bitter and cyncial view of the world around him. The name Iago is a shortened version of the Spanish name “Santiago” or “St James”. Saint James of Spain was also known as “St James the Moor Killer” which seems appropriate within the play. The Great Villain – Iago
Othello: Plot Othello is a general, a military leader, in Venice hundreds of years ago. But he is an outsider because he is from another country—and of another race.
Othello: Plot When Othello secretly marries the young, beautiful and noble Desdemona, Her father, Brabantio, wants Othello to be arrested. But Desdemona loves Othello and doesn’t care that he is an outsider.
Othello: Plot At the same time, the men in the army under Othello can’t be trusted. Cassio means well but is open to bad influences. Iago pretends to be Othello’s friend, but secretly resents him for passing him over for promotion.
Othello: Plot Iago is determined to get revenge. He decides to attack Othello in his most vulnerable spot… his love for Desdemona.
Othello: Plot Will Othello be able to see through Iago’s schemes? Or will jealousy and revenge turn to murder?
Othello: Plot Othello is from North Africa, while Desdemona is from Venice, in Italy. Their marriage is a meeting of cultures and races.
Othello: Plot Othello, again, is sometimes referred to as “the Moor.” Moors are people with mixed Berber and Arab groups living in northwestern Africa. Shakespeare included Moorish characters in other plays: The Merchant of Venice andTitus Andronicus. He used them to represent outsiders.
Othello: Plot Racism is an important concept in Othello, As is the idea of judging others on the basis of their appearance rather than what’s in their hearts.
Othello: Plot The way a character speaks in Shakespeare’s plays signals the way his or her mind is working. It can also tell you what kind of person the character is. Othello often uses animal imagery. Desdemona often speaks about her faith.
Othello: Discussion Starters • What groups are sometimes treated as outsiders in the United States today? • Why are they seen by others as outsiders? • How do others react to them?
Othello: Discussion Starters • Othello depicts many problems that arise from jealousy and greed. • Do these emotions still cause problems today? • If so, what problems have you seen them create?
Other Interesting Themes and Issues in Othello Controversial in Elizabethan times, but still hold true today……
Men were expected to go through distinct stages of courtly love in order to woo a woman. It was thought that love wasn’t entirely platonic, but that it was based on sexual attraction. As the etiquette of courtly love became more complicated, the knight might wear the colours of his lady: blue or black were the colors of faithfulness; green was a sign of unfaithfulness. Winning a fair lady…
The stages of courtly love: • Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance • Worship of the lady from afar • Declaration of passionate devotion • Virtuous rejection by the lady • Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty • Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness) • Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady's heart • Consummation of the secret love • Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection
A typical wife receiving her instruction The husband, in the accepted role as head of the household, gives moral direction to his wife and children--who sit obediently listening. “Ye women, submit your selves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the wife's head, even as Christ is the head of the Church, and he is the saviour of the whole body. Therefore as the Church in congregation is subject unto Christ: so likewise let the wives be in subjection unto their own husbands in all things” (“The Book of Common Prayer”) The Wife’s Status
The men in Othello have differing views of women: Othello who idolizes his wife (Desdemona) to Iago who sees love as "merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will“. The attitudes of the audience at the time are likely to have been varied too. In the Elizabethan times there was a long and well established tradition in the Church of what we would now call misogyny Women were distrusted simply because they were women. At the time it was assumed that women would cheat – it was part of their nature! Evil Women!
Any man whose wife cheated on him (without his knowledge) was known as a cuckold. The word derives from “cuckoo” – the bird known for laying their eggs in another’s nest. It was highly undesirable to be considered a cuckold. All of the community would find out about it and it was considered a public humiliation. Cuckolds were often described as having horns – a hangover from the days when a cuckold was forced to parade around his town wearing antlers as a sign of his wife’s infidelity. The Cuckold
Jealousy • Jealousy was viewed as something irrational and linked to the deadly sin of envy. • It was viewed as a sudden infection against which there was no prevention or cure. • It was thought of as eroding trust and it dissolved the bonds holding together marriages, families and social frameworks. • Being jealous could let in evil and chaos and it was a state greatly feared by Shakespeare’s audiences.
Task • On the following slide are some lines spoken by, or about, various characters in the play – consider what you think each quotation reveals about the person speaking/being spoken about and what they are like as a character.
Iago - describing Othello: “loving his own pride and purposes” • Iago - speaking about his relationship with Othello: “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” • Iago - speaking about himself: “I am not what I am”. • Iago - speaking about Othello: “The state cannot with safety cast him; for he’s embarked with such loud reason to the Cyprus wars” • Othello - speaking about himself: “My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly” • Othello - about Iago: “A man he is of honesty and trust”. • Othello – to an angry Brabantio: “Hold your hands, were it my cue to fight , I should have known it”.
Think about the cultural rules that you live by. Think about the cultural rules that were lived by in the day and age of Othello. Consider these questions rhetorically….. What rules dictate the behaviour of young men and women in relationships today? What are the things “nice girls” just don’t do? What are the things “nice boys” just don’t do? What do you think the consequences are of breaking these rules? Today’s Culture/Othello’s Culture