What factors within William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello can explain the undying popularity of the drama? Are such factors peculiar to the Bard? Let us take up these issues in this essay.
The ability of the audience to identify with the characters in Othello– this is of primary importance. M.H. Abrams in The Norton Anthology of English Literature attributes the dramatist’s universality to his characters as well as to the relevance of his themes:
One preliminary document in the First Folio is by Shakespeare’s great rival, critic, and opposite, Ben Jonson. In it he asserts the superiority of Shakespeare not only to other English playwrights but to the Greek and Latin masters:
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
That tribute is the first formulation of a judgment often reiterated in later periods, explaining Shakespeare’s place at the very center of the English literary canon. Many earlier critics found Shakespearean “universality” displayed in the human truth of his characters and his enduringly relevant themes (467).
Does an additional reason for the unending fame 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 imper...
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...: 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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