This is an analysis of Williams Shakespeare’s drama, Othello by Omotayo Ogunkanmi, an active member of this forum. He offered to contribute to the blog by analysing Othello. Thanks to Omotayo.
The play opens with Roderigo and the villainous Iago, an ensign soldier. Iago reveals his displeasure at Othello, a powerful
general (called The Moor) in the Venetian army for appointing Michael Cassio as the lieutenant; a rank which he (Iago) covets so
much. This is against his (Iago’s) expectation as he believes Cassio is only good at arithmetics while he (Iago) has acquired a wealth of experience in the army.
Similarly, Roderigo is unhappy with The Moor who has won the heart of Desdemona, a young lady he also wishes to have. However, Desdemona does not lovehim. He (Roderigo) gives Iago some money to ensure Desdemona marrieshim as the duo make plans to bring Othello down by all means. So, Iago has his accomplice in Roderigo!
Their first plan is to report Desdemona’s elopement with Othello to Brabantio, her father, who doesn’t want their marriage, simply because of colour differences. Othello is black!
Iago and Roderigo take the news to Brabantio, who doesn’t believe at first. He is desperate to hurt Othello as he accuses him of seducing his daughter by witchcraft at the Duke’s court but for the quick affirmation of Desdemona that their love is natural. Brabantio alleges: “She is abused, stolen from me, and corrupted/By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks…”
Meanwhile, the Duke sent for the valiant Othello on reports of theTurk’s invasion in Cyprus. Being the general, he is sent to the battle in Cyprus. Othello leaves for Cyprus with his wife Desdemona, Michael Cassio, Iago and Emilia, Desdemona’s attendant and wife of Iago. The war in Cyprus was averted as a result of the destruction of the Turkish fleet by a wild storm. Othello throws a party to celebrate the Turks’ withdrawal and his marriage to Desdemona. While on duty, Iago gets Cassio the lieutenant drunk. Cassio misbehaves and fights Roderigo and gets suspended by Othello; a scheme perfected by Iago.
Yet, Iago appears innocent and gets very close to Othello with the aim of bringing him down. Iago is trusted by Othello and his deceitful appearances make him quite credible and acceptable to everyone. On many occasions, he unjustly informs Othello that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona.
He confirms Iago’s constant rumours of Desdemona’s promiscuity, when one day, he catches Cassio briskly leaving his wife
while he and Iago walk in. Meanwhile, Iago has earlier arranged the meeting that Cassio talks to Desdemona to plead to Othello on his
behalf to reinstate him.
Also, Iago asks Emilia his wife and Desdemona’s maid to steal a handkerchief which is a symbol of love between Othello and his wife. Emilia takes the ‘napkin’ and gives Iago. He plants it in Cassio’s lodge and the suspended lieutenant innocently offers it to
Bianca, a lady he sleeps with.
Desdemona’s inability to provide the handkerchief on demand annoys Othello and he decides to kill her for being ‘promiscuous’. Iago encourages him and promises to kill Cassio himself. He says “Do it not with poison; strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated…And for Cassio, let me be his undertaker: you shall have more by midnight” (Act 4:1: lines 200-300).
Iago instigates Roderigo to attack Cassio in the dark, but Cassio fatally injures Roderigo instead. Iago who witnesses the fight comes from his hiding and injures Cassio in the leg under cover of darkness. He pretentiously joins others to resuscitate Cassio who identifies him as one of his assailants. Iago stabs Cassio to death to prevent him from divulging his evil acts.
However, Emilia takes the news to Othello only to meet her dying mistress (Desdemona) who has just been strangled by Othello. By the play’s end, Othello has transformed from a noble general and loving husband into a jealous, irrational killer.
Also, after he learns the truth as revealed by Emilia (that he has killed the ever-faithful Desdemona for no good reason), he decides to end his own life. But Iago is quick to kill Emilia for revealing his schemes, especially the tales of the handkerchief.
Meanwhile, Cassio is to take up his master’s post at Cyprus while Othello is to face punishment for his murder of Desdemona in Venice. However, Othello kills himself with a dagger as he could not bear the shame of living without Desdemona. Iago is arrested and is set to be brought to book!
The following are some of the central ideas in Shakespeare’s Othello:
1. Racism: Othello is one of the first black heroes in English literature. Despite being an army general, Othello’s status as a black-skinned
foreigner in Venice marks him as an outsider and exposes him to some pretty overt racism. His father-in-law, for instance believes his
daughter’s interracial marriage can only be the result of Othello’s trickery.
Othello, the tragic hero however views his own racial identity as undesirable, and it is this lack of confidence in himself that makes him believe Iago’s false allegation that Desdemona is cheating on him.
2. Jealousy: Iago is full of jealousy and this makes him seek Othello’s downfall. His jealousy also makes him seek
Cassio’s suspension/dismissal. Roderigo is also jealous of Othello’s marriage with Desdemona.
3. Love and Marriage: The strong emotional feelings between Othello and Desdemona make the latter elope with him even against her father’s dictates. Also, Desdemona remains faithful to Othello due to her love for him, even to the point of death.
4. Warfare: Though the only actual battle the play promises is avoided, thanks to bad weather, yet the real battle in the play is
internal, caused by jealousy, hate and race.
5. Hate: Hatred is supposed to have a cause, some concrete event or insult that inspires a lasting rage. But in Othello, the play’s
villain is motivated by a hatred that seems to elude any reasonable definition.
The play is set in Venice and Cyprus. The play starts in Venice and eventually shifts to Cyprus in anticipation of a war with the Turks. The setting reveals the socio-political structure of Venice with the Duke (head of government) at the top of the hierarchy. The setting also portrays the ethno-racial politics that runs through the play.
The play is not written in contemporary English. Most of the words used are archaic. However, the use of metaphors, soliloquys, asides, allusions and symbols let the reader into the minds of the characters.
Like other works Shakespeare, the language of the play is poetic and most of the lines are in verse form.
Othello is the hero of the drama as the play essentially revolves around him. He is a dedicated soldier whose hard work leads to his being appointed a general. The Duke appoints him to lead the war against the Turks because of his confidence in his military prowess.
Othello is trusting, loving, and good natured. Iago exploits these attributes and orchestrates his downfall.
Othello is adventurous, daring, proud and overconfident. He loves to tell the story of his life which consist mainly of battles, disasters and fortunes. Desdemona gets attracted to him because of these stories. He often boasts of his royal ancestry and tells Iago that his bravery makes him more than worthy to marry Desdemona.
Othello is a jealous lover and husband. His jealousy prevails over his sense of judgment and he kills Desdemona as a result.
He is fair, honest and decisive. He sanctioned Cassio for drunkenness and takes his own life upon discovering that has killed Desdemona in error.
OMOTAYO Ogunkanmi is a graduating student of Obafemi Awolowo University,
Ile-Ife, Nigeria where he studies Education and Language Arts. He has
passion for teaching and has been teaching O’Level and UTME candidates
subjects like: Literature and English Language for years.
He loves creative writing, reading, talking and devotes his time to