Modernism and Postmodernism in Shakespeare's Othello
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Othello teaches us much about our current postmodern culture. The play connects to our ideas of sexism, male-bonding, racism and capitalism. Shakespeare uses these universal and timeless flaws in humanity along with our use of language and truth to tell his tale. Iago, over a period of about three days, uses these facets of humanity to turn Othello against his wife Desdemona and his friend Cassio. Othello reveals both the struggle of the British people of the early 1600's and Americans in the late 1900's with sexism, capitalism and racism.
In Othello men see women as objects to control, first by their father, and then by their husband. When Iago yells to Brabantio, telling him his daughter has gone off to marry Othello, he yells "Thieves, thieves! / Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags! / Thieves, thieves!" (Othello I.i.79-80). Othello has taken away Brabantio's property, his daughter, and is called a thief because of it. Desdemona refuses to be treated like property, however and makes "A gross revolt, / tying her duty, beauty, wit and fortunes" (Othello I.i.134-135) to Othello. Her marriage to Othello is not an act of a free woman, but a revolt by Brabantio's property. Desdemona is also incapable of independent feelings or thoughts. Othello must have "Enchanted her" (Othello I.ii.63), "In chains of magic" (Othello I.ii.65), because she could never make such a choice on her own. In Brabantio's mind, only he can know what is in Desdemona's best interest and then choose it for her. Brabantio tries to guard her, but Desdemona has "Run from her guardage" (Othello I.ii.70). In Othello the culture of the time treats women as objects to be guarded and watched over, too tender and gentle to fend for themselves in a dang...
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...hooses for her, this taking of a different role is similar to Othello's efforts to fit into the European world. Othello's lack of definitive truth is postmodern.
Othello does have an emphasis of characters over environment. Although the characters represent different aspects of society, Shakespeare takes great care in developing them and their internal traits. The lack of definitive truth in Othello's world creates chaos, but Othello refuses to just accept this chaos, he chooses Iago over Desdemona's version of events.
Othello combines modernism and postmodernism in its discussion of language and truth. Although Othello contains many elements from both periods, it is mostly modern, due to it's setting and need for characters. The characters decide to fight the chaos inside themselves and in the world. This fight leads to the tragic ending of the play.