For 400 years the audience has found William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello to be relevant to their lives and tastes. Why? What enduring qualities does the play possess in order to ensure its continuing success?
Does the reason lie in the great heterogeneity of characters and scenes and actions within the play? Robert B. Heilman in “The Role We Give Shakespeare” relates the universality of Shakespeare to the “innumerableness of the parts”:
But the Shakespeare completeness appears graspable and possessable to many men at odds with each other, because of the innumerableness of the parts: these parts we may consider incompletenesses, partial perspectives, and as such they correspond to the imperfect (but not necessarily invalid) modes of seeing and understanding practiced by imperfect (but not necessarily wrongheaded) interpreters and theorists of different camps. Each interpreter sees some part of the whole that does, we may say, mirror him, and he then proceeds to enlarge the mirror until it becomes the work as a whole (10).
Indeed, the reader finds a wide variety of “parts” from beginning to end of Othello. This is seen in the fact of about 20 characters with speaking roles; and in their variety of occupations from duke to clown; and in the numerous scene changes; and in the differentiation in speech, actions, manners between every single individual character.
Is characterization another cause of the dramatist’s broad popularity? Harry Levin in the General Introduction to The Riverside Shakespeare finds other reasons for his appeal:
Universal as his attraction has been, it is best understood through particulars. Though – to our advan...
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... Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.
Frye, Northrop. “Nature and Nothing.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Heilman, Robert B. “The Role We Give Shakespeare.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.
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