Themes of Love in Shakespeare's Othello

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Romantic Love

  • "She loved me for the dangers I had passed/And I loved her that she did pity them" - Othello, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 166-7.  Love as healing, or as mutual sympathy in times of despair
  • "And this, and this, the greatest discords be/That e'er our hearts shall make." - Othello, Act 2 Scene 1, Lines 190-1.  Serious irony and tempting fate, idealism

Love and Sex

  • "if I be left behind/A moth of peace, and he go to the war,/The rites for which I love him are bereft me" - Desdemona, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 251-3.  Consummation of marriage, Elizabethan gender roles and female sexuality, marital sex
  • "We have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts" - Iago, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 321-3.  Lust as an animal instinct separate from human intelligence, sex as a completely primitive thing
  • "Her name, that was as fresh/As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black/As mine own face" - Othello, Act 3 Scene 3, Lines 387-9.  Elizabethan fear of female sexuality, ideas about virginity and purity and then conversely corruption
  • "Let husbands know/Their wives have sense like them" - Emilia, Act 4 Scene 3, Lines 89-90.  Female perspective on sexual desire- Elizabethan ideal of outward female chastity versus the reality that women also have the capacity to desire
  • "The fountain from the which my current runs/Or else dries up- to be discarded thence/Or keep it as a cistern for foul toads/To knot and gender in!" - Othello, Act 4 Scene 2, Lines 58-61.  Sex as procreation, perhaps a dehumanising view of Desdemona- 'fountain' reduces her to her womb and capacity to have children, and adultery corrupts and ruins her from the inside out

Love and Loss

  • "I had rather adopt a child than get it" - Brabantio, Act 1 Scene 3, Line 189.  Familial/parental love: betrayal, ideas about bloodlines and blood relations, Elizabethan patriarchy and paternal ownership of daughters
  • "Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away/Richer than all his tribe" - Othello, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 343-4.  Loss through disposal.  Ironic echo of one of Othello's first monologues, talking of his exotic adventures seducing Desdemona- tales of far-off things are now what he uses to describe losing her
  • "I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak:/My mistress here lies murdered in her bed" - Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 183-4.  Urge for revenge and justice; female power and avengement
  • "O Spartan dog,/More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea,/Look upon the tragic loading of this bed" - Lodovico, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 357-9.  Different meaning to a loaded bed

Social Conventions and Taboos

  • "an old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe" - Iago, Act 1 Scene 1, Lines 89-90.  Black/white dichotomy shown throughout the play; ideas about 'worth' in society and in love; livestock analogy?
    • "the devil will make a grandsire of you" - Iago, Act 1 Scene 1, Line 92.  Elizabethan racist stereotype with the devil


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