Themes in Shakespeare's Othello

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Othello was written by Jacobean playwright William Shakespeare in 1603. It proved a huge success when first performed in 1604, in front of a huge audience. The story is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedy themed plays. Othello is the black protagonist and highly esteemed Venetian general. Iago is the ambitious but scheming villain of the play. When Othello promotes a man called Michael Cassio over Iago, he is furious and launches a malicious campaign against Othello. Meanwhile, Othello has married a white woman, Desdemona, without her father knowing. Through Iago’s plotting, Othello suspects that his wife is having an affair and after many murders and plots, Othello smothers his wife. But he finds out the truth about Iago, and horrified at his actions, kills himself.

In Shakespearian times, when people lived under the rule of King James, attitudes were completely different. The slave trade contributed to racial hatred and prejudice against black people. There was prejudice and assumptions that black people were evil. Black was associated with evil, black magic, and blacks were seen as dangerous savages. These stereotypes were challenged by portraying Othello as a calm, composed character at the beginning of the play.

The main themes introduced in scene one of the play include- racism, hate, xenophobia, jealousy, love, nobility, honesty and sexism and appearance vs. reality theme. Shakespeare uses dialogue, imagery; soliloquies, settings and characterisation throughout the play.

Hate and duplicity are introduced through Iago. In scene one, Iago also shows his fraudulence and expressing his hate towards his ‘master’ Othello when he says:

‘I follow him to serve my term upon him.

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters


... middle of paper ... about their jealousy. Iago is jealous of Cassio, his position and authority. He says: `I know my price, I am worth no worse place'. Iago believes he was the better man, the more experienced soldier. He thinks Cassio is a feeble man with no practical experience he says: ‘bookish theory’. This long dialogue introduces jealousy because Iago is using prose, meaning he is uncontrolled and frustrated. Iago also seems to be jealous of Othello because of a rumour that Emilia slept with Othello. He remarks in his soliloquy:

‘I hate the Moor,

And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets

He’s done in my office. I know not if ‘t be true,’.

So this is a stronger motive for destroying Othello’s happiness. The dramatic irony suggests that Iago is jealous and wants revenge for more than not securing his promotion, and the audience wonder what other motives he has.
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