Free College Essays - The Setting of Venice in Shakespeare's Othello

Free College Essays - The Setting of Venice in Shakespeare's Othello

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 The Setting of Venice in Othello  

Othello is a fundamentally different character to all others in the play [1]. He is an outsider to Venice and therefore an outsider to the customs and society of Venice. In one way this is good for him. He is a renowned strong general who is much in demand from the Venetians. Rather than fight the war against the Turks for themselves, they hire Othello to do so, indicating that he is respected by the Venetians but not considered, as a civilized Venetian would be, above having to fight wars barbarically. This lack of cultural acceptance is indicated by the way Brabantio is willing to Îloveâ, invite to his house and ask him to tell battle stories. However, when there is the possibility of Desdemona marrying Othello, Brabantio is vehemently opposed, exclaiming;

"Destruction on my head".[2]

Venice is a haven of civilization, on the border with the land of heathenism and disputes. When Brabantio is told he has been robbed, he answers inconsistently;

"What tellâst thou me of robbing? This is Venice; My house is not a grange."

This not only shows that Venice is a quiet, civilized, uneventful place, but that its inhabitants (or at least Brabantioâs generation) believe it to be themselves.[ LINK TO 3] They live by a code of behavior and upbringing which views someone like Othello as barbarous, uncivilized, and almost amusing in a superior cultural kind of way. Every time a character calls Othello "the Moor" a sense of derision and superiority is conveyed and all the other feelings of distance inherent in Venetians.[4] 

Iago says that Desdemona is a "supersubtle Venetian"[5] as if the calculatedness of her thoughts and deeds were not too a feature of himself, which they certainly are. The implication is that civilised people are conniving and scheming people, and are in that sense understood to one another while this adds to the irony of the constant reference to Iago as "honest Iago". It also contrasts the Venetian way of social dealing with the open nature of Othello. Othello is clever, as his style and military prowess show but is to content of Venice he is na•ve. He is too trusting and misunderstands the subtleties of Venetian society it is the combination of his openness and decisiveness, pride and trustfulness that allows super subtle Iago to destroy him, powerful as Othello is.

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Therefore it could be argued that the contrast between Venetian and Othelloâs nature is the main reason for his downfall. [6] 

Iago is not really a Venetian. There is no reference to him being so in the text, and it fits the purposes of the play better if he does not belong to any culture or society. Moorish culture is extraordinary for its powerful spirit (embodied in Othello), Venetian culture is extraordinary for its civilization art and religion. Iago is on the contrary, highly ordinary, for this facet his evil is all the more terrible, he can infiltrate Venice without detection and use the various aspects of Venetian civilization against Othello. For instance, he can use rhetoric like affected doubt and naivety. The effect Iago is to create as a rift in the otherwise civil Venice, as Brabantio would lead us to believe.[7] 

The way Iago describes Desdemona, and the way Othello says she had a "greedy ear" devouring up his discourse leads us to think that Desdemona can use her manner o get what she wants, she knows that Venetian society stipulates that a daughter must be obedient to her father, but she can bend the rules to show that she owes loyalty more to her new husband Othello. She knows the ways of Venice perhaps more than anyone else in the play who is Venetian. This casts her in utter contrast to Othello and serves to highlight how much of an outsider Othello is. It also adds to evidence against her later on. If he knows she is capable of manipulation, Othello will believe that he is the more deceived. 

Though it only forms the backdrop to one of the acts, Venice as a place is one of the most significant themes in the play. It creates an atmosphere of scheming and deceit. Iago and Othello are both outsiders in their own ways, but Iago can turn the manners of Venice against Othello more effectively than any Venetian could.

Comments

A

1. A start to the essay, but make sure it's on the central topic - Venice, not Othello. It's some time before the student focuses on the way in which Venice is presented. You need to direct the examiner to your argument as quickly as possible. 

2. Always make sure you choose the most suitable quotation - and include it in your sentence if it's short. What does this add? 

3. This does finally concentrate on Venice - and makes some excellent points, which could well have come earlier. 

4. This brings together the idea of Venice and the character of Othello himself, but this superior, sneering view of Othello needed a better range of quotations. Sometimes a list of very short phrases can be useful. 

5. This is a very apt quotation, but leaves out some other words which would have been effective, for example "In Venice they do let God see the pranks/ They dare not show their husbands." 

6. Points are developed clearly here, although further reference to support this view of Othello's fundamental naivete would have been useful. On a comparatively minor note, always avoid phrases like "It could be argued". What do you think? Thatâs what the examiner wants to know. 

7. This paragraph does not add much to our idea of Venice in the play. Iago is certainly an outsider, but this bitterness stems from so many sources - the essay needed to pinpoint how he disrupts the social fibre - perhaps quote racial / sexual language in Act 1. 

8. It's certainly true Desdemona is the well brought up daughter of a rich Venetian. In what way is she seen to be Venetian? Rather than - say - an immature / innocent girl, a victim - or even as she is sometimes played, a sparky girl who has chosen Othello to make a serious statement about her lifeview? 

9. I don't think the essay has really discussed Venice as a theme. In any case, you need to be careful about the word - the play's locations are part of the dramatic representation of themes in the play, and certainly provide a key contrast between the 'old' society of Venice and the 'frontier' world of Cyprus, but it is not really a theme in itself. 

FINAL COMMENT 

This is the type of essay question which seems straightforward but needs careful handling. The word 'mean' needs to be interpreted in a dramatic sense, rather that in a rather arid symbolic way. 

Overall, this essay is generally fluent and clearly written, with some apt reference.

 What it does lack, and this is self-evident from the very start, is an argument, a clear answer to the question. What does Venice mean in Othello? 

Quite understandably the candidate has concentrated on the characters, but there needed to be some precise statements about Venice itself. The opportunities presented by the question have not been grasped. 

The essay is a low B grade piece, although the candidate shows a potential higher than this suggests.
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