Othello: Themes


Racial Prejudice 

Towards Othello- 'Barbary horse,' 'thick lips'

= less deserving of respect

Has an effect on Othello = describes himself with similar derogatory terms

After Desdemona's 'unfaithfulness' = becomes the monster the White Venetians accuse him of.


Focused on women's dishonest sexuality

Othello's age = used against him 

Overall: prejudice works as a strategy to identify outsiders 

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Appearance Vs. Reality

Villian - Iago misleads Othello and Roderigo 

Language of the play: mimics dreams, trances and visions - may seem real but may be fake 

Iago - creates scenes within scenes (makes Othello watch Cassio and Desdemona/Bianca)

He even addresses the audience at times 

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Iago: 'green eyed monster'- jealousy 

Othello demands Iago for 'ocular proof' of Desdemona's infidelity 

Provides the handkerchief = Othello becomes consumed by jealousy and disregard 'ocular proof'

Blinded now by jealousy Othello = convinced 

Prejudice characters make him as to be a beast/ animal = race

Honour and intelligence makes the attacks = ridiculous

Othello = overcome becomes beast-like = falling into epileptic fits = rob him of his ability to speak

Iago and Roderigo act to destroy Othello out of jealousy

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Manhood and Honour

Duke's regard for Othello (1.3) = Othello attained political power through military might

Iago robs Cassio of his honour = gets him drunk and humiliates himself

Indicates importance of 'reputation, reputation, reputation'

All that makes you human- 'I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial'

Iago - reputation more valuable than anything = 'immediate jewel of their souls' (3.3)

Another way to gain: demand faithfulness of their women 

1.1 - Iago and Roderigo question Brabantio's honour = unable to control Desdemona's sexual impulses

Iago makes Othello question his manhood - wife's faithfulness

Othello = 'A horned man's a monster and a beast' - lose control of a woman = lose humanity 

Without honour sees himself as an animal = like prejudiced characters characterised him

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Womanhood and Sexuality

Two contrasting images of womanhood:

Virtuous and loyal: Desdemona                                                                                                       

Madonna: Bianca

Don't apply to real women - male fantasies that women fulfil

Desdemona feels as though she has to declare her love to Othello in front of others = acting

Iago then takes this and manipulates Othello into thinking that Desdemona is a whore 

Emilia = confusion = between Madonna and whore 

Initially wants to please husband = handkerchief = not wholly loyal though

Tells Desdemona that she would cheat on Iago under circumstances 

Shows that women are far more complex than virtue or sexuality

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