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By William Shakespeare

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1 By William Shakespeare
Othello By William Shakespeare

2 Key Facts… Full title: Othello Type of Work: Play
Genre: Tragic drama, historical drama First Performed: by the King’s Men at the Court of King James I November 1, 1604

3 About the play… Othello is set against the backdrop of the wars between Venice and Turkey that raged in the latter part of the sixteenth century. Cyprus, which is the setting for most of the action, was a Venetian outpost attacked by the Turks in 1570 and conquered the following year.

4 About the Play Continued…
Othello begins on a street in Venice, in the midst of an argument between Roderigo, a rich man, and Iago. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him in his suit to Desdemona. But Roderigo has just learned that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago begrudgingly serves as ensign. Iago says he hates Othello, who recently passed him over for the position of lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced soldier Michael Cassio.

5 Themes in the Play… The Incompatibility of Military Heroism & Love
The Danger of Isolation Before and above all else, Othello is a soldier. From the earliest moments in the play, his career affects his married life. The military also provides Othello with a means to gain acceptance in Venetian society. While the Venetians in the play are generally fearful of the prospect of Othello’s social entrance into white society through his marriage to Desdemona, all Venetians respect and honor him as a soldier. Othello predicates his success in love on his success as a soldier, wooing Desdemona with tales of his military travels and battles. Once the Turks are drowned – by natural rather than military might – Othello is left without anything to do. No longer having a means of proving his manhood or honor in a public setting such as the court or battlefield, Othello begins to feel uneasy with his footing in a private setting, the bedroom. Desperate to cling to the security of his former identity as a soldier while his current identity as a lover crumbles, Othello begins to confuse the one with the other. The action moves from the metropolis of Venice to the island of Cyprus. Protected by military fortifications as well as by the forces of nature. Protected by military fortifications as well as by the forces of nature, Cyprus faces little threat from external forces. Once Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Emilia, and Roderigo have come to Cyprus, they have nothing to do but prey upon one another. Isolation enables many of the play’s most important effects. The characters cannot be islands, the play seems to say: self-isolation as an act of self-preservation leads ultimately to self-destruction.

6 Motifs in the Play… Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Sight and Blindness Plants Animals Hell, Demons and Monsters Sight and Blindness The action of the play depends heavily on characters not seeing things: Othello accuses his wife although he never sees her infidelity, and Emilia, although she watches Othello erupt into a rage about the missing handkerchief, does not figuratively “see” what her husband has done. Plants Iago is strangely preoccupied with plants. His speeches to Roderigo in particular make extensive and elaborate use of vegetable metaphors and conceits. Characters in this play seem to be the product of certain inevitable, natural forces, which, if left unchecked, will grow wild. Iago understands these natural forces particularly well: he is, according to his own metaphor, a good “gardener,” both of himself and of others. Animals References to animals convey a sense that the laws of nature, rather than those of society, are the primary forces governing the characters in this play. When animal references are used with regard to Othello, they reflect the racism both of characters in the play and of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience. Hell, Demons and Monsters Imagery of hell and damnation recurs throughout Othello, especially toward the end of the play, when Othello becomes preoccupied with the religious and moral judgment of Desdemona and himself. The imagery of the monstrous takes over where the imagery of animals can go no further, presenting the jealousy-crazed characters not simply as brutish, but as grotesque, deformed and demonic.

7 Symbols in the Play… Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Handkerchief The song “Willow” The Handkerchief The handkerchief symbolizes different things to different characters. Since the handkerchief was the first gift Desdemona received from Othello, she keeps it about her constantly as a symbol of Othello’s love. Iago manipulates the handkerchief so that Othello comes to see it as a symbol of Desdemona herself – her faith and chastity. By taking possession of it, he is able to convert it into evidence of her infidelity. Othello tells Desdemona that the handkerchief was woven by a 200-yr old female prophet. Othello claims that his mother used it to keep his father faithful to her, so, to him, the handkerchief represents marital fidelity. The song “Willow” Desdemona sings a song about a woman who is betrayed by her lover. The song’s lyrics suggest that both men and women are unfaithful to one another. To Desdemona, the song seems to represent a melancholy and resigned acceptance of her alienation from Othello’s affections.

8 Significant Terms… Tragedy: a form of drama usually involving a conflict between a character and some higher power, such as the law, the gods, fate, or society. Blank verse: a verse form consisting of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Prose: the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing Pun: the humorous use of a word or phrase to suggest two or more meanings at the same time.

9 Significant Terms Continued…
Soliloquy: speech, usually lengthy, in which a character, alone on stage, expresses his or her thoughts aloud. Conflict: 1. External: dispute between the protagonist and another character or nature 2. Internal: occurs when the protagonist struggles within himself or herself

10 A few more terms… Foil: A foil character is either one who is in most ways opposite to the main character or nearly the same as the main character. Anachronism: A thing out of its time. A problem in historical fiction in that a writer may make reference to an invention or custom that was not known in the period in which his or her story is set.

11 The last of the terms… Situational irony: The discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens. Verbal irony: A character says the opposite of what he or she means. Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony is most effective when characters make fateful choices based on information the reader realizes is incorrect.

12 Introducing? Who Can You Become? The Cast of Othello…
Othello- The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the armies of Venice. Desdemona- The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. Iago- Othello’s ensign (ancient or standard bearer) and the villain of the play.

13 The Cast of Othello Continued…
Michael Cassio - Othello’s Lieutenant. His high position is resented by Iago. Emilia - Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. Distrusts her husband and is attached to Desdemona. Roderigo - A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich and foolish. Bianca - A prostitute in Cyprus.

14 The Cast of Othello Continued…
Brabanzio - Desdemona’s father. He feels betrayed that the General married his daughter in secret. Duke of Venice - Official authority of Venice. The Duke has great respect for Othello. Montano - The governor of Cyprus before Othello. Lodovico - One of Brabanzio’s kinsmen. Graziano - Another of Brabanzio’s kinsmen. Clown - Othello’s servant. Look to him for puns.

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