Othello Critical Anthology Summaries


Shakespearean Tragedy by David Kastan

  • Age old questions - is suffering due to human weakness, divine retribution or arbitrary fate?
  • Tragedy is the fall from "prosperity to wretchedness" - Othello is originally portrayed as a war hero but becomes a murderer.
  • The notion that a tragedy comes about through a misfortune - Othello chooses to listen to Iago over Desdemona which is the reason behind his downfall.
  • As tragedy has no answers (which human nature desires) Othello becomes more tragic.
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The Character of Othello by F.R. Leavis

  • Othello is over dramatic, using "self-dramatisation" - he doesn't learn from his suffering.
  • He acts the part - his final speech doesn't indicate any change in his character, he is still selfish and blind to his own mistakes.
  • Othello's suicide is described as "coup de théâtre" = French term meaning a sudden turn of events.
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Othello, Race and Society by Ania Loomba

  • Othello views women as either virtuous or promiscuous - he could be described as a misogynist
  • Concept that you can't pick and choose prejudice. For example you can't allow sexism without racism also existing.
  • Context = black people "typed as godless, bestial (brutal/savage) and hideous, fit only to be saved by Christians" - in this case enslaved by Iago.
  • "unnatural" relationship between a "young, white, well-born woman and an older black soldier".
  • The 'Myth of Venice' - the State was ordered but was an open society, built by letting in foreigners. 
  • Senate considers Othello fair as he is needed to defeat the Turks, but Brabantio cannot see past his colour, causing tension.
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Sexual/Textual Politics by Hemel Hempstead

  • Femininity and masculinity are artificially invented by cultural and social constructs.
  • Sex is a biological fact whereas gender is a social construct.
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The Pleasure of Tragedy by A.D. Nuttall

  • Audience enjoys tragedies, especially the disturbing aspects or pain - "enjoyed discomfort".
  • May not be conscious that the tragedy is the aspect the audience enjoys watching, "pleasure need not occupy the foreground of consciousness".
  • The way we feel is the same no matter what is pleasuring us - we still enjoy it.
  • To watch a play it has to please the audience. Iago's evil villain and the plays deadly murders is what pleases the audience due to the shocking nature of them.
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The Shakespearean Tragic Hero by A.C. Bradley

  • "No play at the end of which the hero remains alive is... a tragedy".
  • Peripeteia = reversal of fortune eg. Othello being manipulated by Iago.
  • Harmartia = fatal flaw, eg. Othello's jealousy which leads to his demise.
  • At the beginning of the play he is part of the Council Chamber of the Senate, but by the end he pleads not to be misjudged by the world.
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Othello: The Portrayal of Iago by E.A.J. Honigmann

  • Evil yet witty, his humour is wicked however we are drawn to his character because he is more complex and interesting, therefore more entertaining to the audience.
  • Described as "liar, betrayer, mental torturer of Othello and Desdemona, murderer" but it can be argued that he is calculating and smart due to his success in manipulating the characters.
  • Throughout plays our reactions to a character fluctuate, and may even "come close to sympathising with a villain".
  • As the other characters lack humour Iago appeals to us and his perspective "compels us to see with his eyes and share his 'jokes'".
  • Honigmann explains that Iago only excels in short term tactics, and discounts Emilia, refusing to believe that she could lead to his downfall - Iago is the most complex and intelligent character but isn't emotionally intelligent.
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Tragedy and Madness by Maynard Mack

  • Tragic heroes suffer madness or are associated with it, sometimes madness is used as a punishment eg. Othello once he murders Desdemona.
  • Although, Othello is still aware that he killed Desdemona so is therefore not mad - his punishment is that he remains sane and has to live with his mistake.
  • Mack mentions Elizabthan psychological lore held that "the excess of any passion approached madness", for example Othello's love for Desdemona.
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