Othello: its Themes

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Othello: its Themes

In the Shakespearean tragedy Othello how many themes are there? And which ones predominate. This paper seeks to elucidate the reader on this subject.

In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the seeming predominance of the theme of loss in the drama:

In any event, what comes to us most forcefully from the stage in Othello is not mystery but the agony of loss, loss all the more tragic, in some instances, for not being inevitable. Brabantio loses (in every sense) his much-loved only child and eventually dies of grief. Cassio in a drunken moment loses his soldier’s discipline, then his lieutenancy and his cherished comradeship with Othello. Othello, in turn, losing under Iago’s tuition his ability to distinguish the individual woman he married from the standard cynical stereotype, abandons with it all pride in his profession together with the self-command that made him the man he was. And Desdemona, through no real fault of her own, loses the magical handkerchief. (131)

The theme of loss, however, is not the theme on which the play opens. Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes indicates that hate is the theme on which this play opens:

It is then on a theme of hate that the play opens. It is a hate of inveterate anger. It is a hate that is bound up with envy. Othello has preferred to be his lieutenant a military theorist, one Michael Cassio, over the experienced soldier Iago, to whom has fallen instead the post of “his Moorship’s ancient”. Roderigo questions Iago:

Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

And the reply is a torrent of proof of the hatred for Othello...

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Ferguson, Francis. “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.

Gardner, Helen. “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from “The Noble Moor.” British Academy Lectures, no. 9, 1955.

Jorgensen, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.
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