Othello: critics, venice/cyprus, themes



·         “the most unbearably exciting” of Shakespeare’s tragedies

·         Iago is a seductive character as “his victims lack humour, Iago appeals to us as more amusing”

·         Shakespeare’s “dramatic perspective compels us to see with his eyes, and to share his ‘jokes’. His humour makes him seem cleverer than his victims”

·         Iago’s humour “either intends to give pain or allows him to bask in his sense of his own superiority…very rarely at his own expense”

·         Iago “enjoys a godlike sense of power”

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·         Othello’s love for Desdemona “is the love of a possession. She is a prize, a spoil of war”

·         Othello is “a man of action, not a thinker”

·         “In his very first speech he (Othello) subconsciously acknowledges the social pressure he is under”  

·         Othello “feels constantly threatened and profoundly insecure”

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Dr Johnson

·         “The character of Iago is conducted, that he is from the first scene to the last hated and despised”

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·         Iago has a “motiveless malignity”

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·         Othello’s deeds “fit in with the prejudice that his face…excited”

·         Othello’s tragedy becomes “a tragedy of the loss of faith”  

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·         Othello’s murder has “the stamp of heroic” because Othello “acts from inner necessity…It must be done”

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·         “Othello’s denial of the ****** element in love is related to Iago’s denial of the loving element in eros (God of Love)”

·         “Othello tries to purify the lustfulness from love, and Iago tried to rationalise the love out of lust”

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  • “Male jealousy hinges upon racial differences as well as upon female infidelity”
  • “Venetian society has been built by letting in the very foreigners who threaten to undermine it at a different level”  
  • "Othello 'the Moor of Venice' is a Moor who cannot fully become a part of Venice"
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·         “Othello dies belonging to the world of action in which his true part lay"

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  • By 1603 when Shakespeare started writing Othello, Venice had been employing paid merchants and frelance generals likes Othello - who had their own armies- to protect th wealth of the city.
  • It was a cosmopolitan place, where personal advancement was possible in spite of the rigid hierarchical social structure that existed.
  • In 1600, Venice was a major trade rival to England, but also an important trade link with North Africa and the East. As a major trading post, Venice was a 'melting pot' which attracted foreignrs of many different races. Thus it would not be unusual for Venice to hire a mercenary general like Othello.
  • There was a craze for setting plays in Italy since the end of the 16th century in the English theatre as it was seen as a place of tight political plots and loose women.
  • Famous for its mercantile prosperity.
  • To a Jacobean audience it was a byword for new money and the new unscrupulous capitalism that succeeded in challenging the old European feaudal powers
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  • In Greek myth, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was thought to have risen from the sea on the west coast of Cyprus as the island of Venus. Because of these associations, Cyprus is a fitting - and ironic- setting for a tragedy about love.
  • Shakespeare's audience would have also identified the island as a place of danger and isolation. This is because there were continuous wars between Christians and Muslims for control of the Mediterranean during the Renaissance.
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  • Jealousy
    • Aform of tyranny in Othello that destroys love, honour and nobility in those it afflicts.
    • It makes both male protagonists murderous and violent.
  • Love and Relationships
    • Double standards between men and women: men have more personal freedom, and women are judged by them in relation to them.
  • Race and Colour
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