full title · The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
author · William Shakespeare
type of work · Play
genre · Tragedy
language · English
time and place written · Between 1601 and 1604, England
date of first publication · 1622
publisher · Thomas Walkley
tone · Shakespeare clearly views the events of the play as tragic. He seems to view the marriage between Desdemona and Othello as noble and heroic, for the most part.
setting (time) · Late sixteenth century, during the wars between Venice and Turkey
setting (place) · Venice in Act I; the island of Cyprus thereafter
protagonist · Othello
major conflict · Othello and Desdemona marry and attempt to build a life together, despite their differences in age, race, and experience. Their marriage is sabotaged by the envious Iago, who convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
rising action · Iago tells the audience of his scheme, arranges for Cassio to lose his position as lieutenant, and gradually insinuates to Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
climax · The climax occurs at the end of Act III, scene iii, when Othello kneels with Iago and vows not to change course until he has achieved bloody revenge.
falling action · Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s room and later arranges a conversation with Cassio, which Othello watches and sees as “proof” that Cassio and Desdemona have slept together. Iago unsuccessfully attempts to kill Cassio, and Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow. Emilia exposes Iago’s deceptions, Othello kills himself, and Iago is taken away to be tortured.
themes · The incompatibility of military heroism and love; the danger of isolation
motifs · Sight and blindness; plants; animals; hell, demons, and monsters
symbols · The handkerchief; the song “Willow”
foreshadowing · Othello and Desdemona’s speeches about love foreshadow the disaster to come; Othello’s description of his past and of his wooing of Desdemona foreshadow his suicide speech; Desdemona’s “Willow” song and remarks to Emilia in Act IV, scene iii, foreshadow her death.
This is perhaps one of Shakespeare's more interesting plays, if you will. In comparison to Macbeth it isn't quite the walk in the park.
I think conceptually it enables the reader to see that characters can influence characters to such a degree that the original traits are masked and changed. Tragedy in this play is definitely a main component - and a great emphasis that perhaps the villain doesn't always find their true defeat. In a way, wasn't the "villain" successful? He lied to everyone and pretty much killed whomever got in his way.
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Just a theory
The role of Emelia in Othello.
Before I begin expounding on this thought, let me first say that I am not a Shakespearean “Scholar”. I am just a teacher who loves teaching Shakespeare on the off-chance that one of my students will get bitten by the bug and want to study and read more of the man than just the set works that he or she has to cover for exam purposes.
Having taught Othello to matric classes for the past 4 years, I have developed a few theories of my own about Shakespeare’s “bit” actors,... Read more→
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Othello was the final play in my effort to read all of Shakespeare before his 450th. It was a great time reading them all, and Othello was one of the most difficult and darkest (so often pitting light against darkness).
While racism in Elizabethan England wasn't the same as that of the 21st century, it certainly was a backdrop to the play, and Shakespeare, this time, seemed to challenge it.
If you're interested, see my blog on Othello: