Though there is contention among literary critics regarding the universality of fascination with Shakespeare’s dramatic tragedy Othello, among many generations of viewers there is a sharp consensus in favor of the universal attraction of the play.
Is characterization the dominant 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 advantage – his creations are relatively timeless, they would not mean so much to us if they had not been timely in their day. Nor would they have made their lasting impact, if their author had not been past master of his exacting and exciting medium, linguistic, poetic, dramatic.[. . .] The book-learning that Shakespeare displays here and there is far less impressive, in the long run, than his fund of general information. His frame of reference is so far-ranging, and he is so concretely versed in the tricks of so many trades, that lawyers have written to prove he was trained in the law, sailors about his expert seamanship, naturalists upon his botanizing, and so on throughout the professions (2-4).
Shakespeare’s universality – his ability to please every taste, to win “all men’s suffrage,” in Ben Jonson’s phrase – was compounded out of his very heterogeneity, his appeal to individuals through a concrete understanding of their concerns. (18)
Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” ranks the play Othello quite high among the Bard’s tragedies:
Othello, written in 1604, is one of the masterpieces of Shakes...
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...sher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Rpt. 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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