Othello is one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies which thrives on a group of themes. Let’s see if we can sort them out and determine the dominant ones from the lesser ones.
The pain which the audience experiences is no accident, but rather one of the themes written into the play. Critic Caroline Spurgeon in “Shakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells Us” explains the significant contribution which imagery makes to the theme of pain and unpleasantness running through the play:
The main image in Othello is that of animals in action, preying upon one another, mischievous, lascivious, cruel or suffering, and through these, the general sense of pain and unpleasantness is much increased and kept constantly before us. More than half the animal images in the play are Iago’s, and all these are contemptuous or repellent: a plague of flies, a quarrelsome dog, the recurrent image of bird-snaring, leading asses by the nose, a spider catching a fly, beating an offenceless dog, wild cats, wolves, goats and monkeys. (79)
One of the themes, which we see manifested early in the play, is that of magic or witchcraft. Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains:
The theme of witchcraft, first introduced by Brabantio to account for the unnaturalness of his daughter’s marriage, is taken up by Iago in the temptation scene, and finds its most memorable expression in Othello’s account of the handkerchief. (43)
A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the theme of sexual jealousy in Othello:
But jealousy, and especially sexual jealousy, brings with it a sense of shame and humiliation. Fo...
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...ft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.
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.
Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Spurgeon, Caroline. “Shakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells Us.” Shakespearean Tragedy. Ed. D. F. Bratchell. New York: Routledge, 1990.
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