A. C. Bradley
'If one places side by side with his speeches an equal number by any other hero, one will not doubt that Othello is the greatest poet of them all.'
Evaluate how far and in what ways Othello is a hero and a poet.
- Tragic hero - is his downfall the result of his own weaknesses/errors, and does it lead to realisation?
- Martial hero - Othello has gained status in Venetian society against the odds, through the respect he has earned as a soldier. He seems to say he's a man of action rather than words, but we see him speak fully and eloquently about his military exploits.
- Romantic hero - his poetic tales of martial experiences enable him to envisage a new identity for himself; that of a lover. His marriage to Desdemona is his chance to prove himself as a hero in this field. His poetry of adventure won her heart; poetry of love now earns a place.
This poetic language begins to deteriorate when his self-image as the different types of hero suffers (weather deals with Ottomites and he believes he has been cuckolded). Yet Othello's lines in the closing scenes of the play are seen as beautiful and moving poetry - after he realises his errors (tragic hero).
F. R. Leavis
'Iago is subordinate and merely ancillary. He is not much more than a necessary piece of dramatic mechanism.'
Evaluate the role and presentation of Iago in Othello.
- Iago is essential to facilitate the plot and there is therefore no question that he is a mechanism, because of his careful plotting and manipulation of events.
- Iago takes some risks in his actions that jeopardise the essential plot (involving Roderigo in Cassio's demise) which suggests that he is more than a mechanism; he is a character with a broad range of motivations and ideas.
- He can be seen as representing and exploring particular ideas, such as:
- the tendency for people to feel insecure and envious
- views of women in a patriarchal society
- a belief in self-determination and free will
- Iago is a fascinating example of a kind of evil - malignant. There seems to be a lack of motive, he just likes destruction.
'The universality of the play lies...in its presentation of man as freely choosing and expressing choice by acts.'
Evaluate how far and in what ways Othello is about freedom of choice and action.
- Othello was a slave and now is free - by choices of action he has gained a position of status, from which he can now choose whom he wishes to serve (although service is a compromise to freedom).
- Then, he chooses to adopt the role of a husband and he chooses the woman he loves. Beyond this, however, his freedom to choose becomes problematic - he chooses to believe Iago and disbelieve Desdemona, and then chooses to kill her. His realisation of these poor choices influences his final, and greatest choice, to take his own life.
- Iago expounds the theory that we determine our destinies; the plot of the play is shaped by the choices he makes, and consequently has the most amount of free will in the play. His final choice is to stop speaking and therefore stop expressing choice through words.
- Desdemona and Emilia both damn themselves through their choices, but these choices are depicted as brave and admirable.