Shakespeare's tragedy Othello, written and performed in 1604 and first printed in 1622, is largely taken from the short story Un Capitano Moro (Moorish Captain) published in the collection of short stories De gli Hecatommithi (1565), Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio where he published love stories of jealousy and betrayal; however, the characters, themes, and attitudes of the two works are very different, with Shakespeare's play more involving the study of human nature and psychology. What is interesting to modern readers is how Shakespeare adapted these stories, turning naked narratives into a comprehensive drama.
Given that Shakespeare in his works, and especially in this one, offered different analyzes of human behavior in certain situations, we can consider Othello a tragedy with an emphasis on the complexity of interpersonal relationships, intelligence, manipulation, naivety, and impulsiveness. One of the main deviations from the source is the motivation for writing the character Iago. Cinzia's Iago was motivated by revenge when Desdemona refused to have an affair with him; while Iago's motivations are not nearly as clear as in Shakespeare's version.
Shakespeare is known to have used other stories as the basis for the plot of many of his plays. He took some from history (Macbeth, for example, is based on the Holinshed Chronicle), and some from stories circulating in books at the time.
Othello also touches on one major problem in Europe at the time - the mixing of Muslim religion and West culture. Written just a century after Muslims were expelled from Spain as part of the Reconquista, within the play about Othello's Moorish origins and his differences in religion and culture, hostile themes become apparent. The enmity between the West and the East is also shown in the conflict between Venice and the Turks. Christian Venetians want to protect Christianity from the influence of Muslim Turks, and ironically, Moor Othello was sent to complete this mission and thus become the most popular dark-skinned protagonist (main character) from the time of early Western literature.
Othello is considered a great example of Aristotle's drama; it focuses on a very small number of characters, one of the smallest seen in Shakespeare's work, has little distraction from the main character, and is concentrated on just a few central themes. As such, it is one of the most intense plays Shakespeare has written, and it has also enjoyed great popularity from the period when it was first shown to the present day.
His character is a variation of the figure found in earlier notions of morality; deviates from this model due to the lack of clear motivation and portrayal as a very evil character. However, Iago is of a smaller character than a changeable type of plot and in that sense is a clear descendant of the ubiquitous character of "vice". Iago's manipulative abilities and almost supernatural perception mean that he is also a very dangerous enemy, which makes Othello's fall even more inevitable and tragic.
One of the reasons for the great popularity of the play is that it focuses on two people who defied society in order to follow their hearts. Shakespearean scholar Walter Cohen cites the popularity of Othello in times of great rebellion and unrest; the play was most popular during the European wars of the mid-19th century, the fall of tsarist Russia, but also during World War II in America. These productions emphasized nobility and love for Othello and Desdemona, so they looked at their "fall" more tragically and less deservedly.
Othello, like all other Shakespearean plays, was written with a combination of prose (speech) and poetry (verse), and the composition consists of the so-called "empty verses" in which there is no rhyme and only every other syllable is emphasized.
The objective in the plot, the narrator speaks in the third person, and the work is characterized by motivational speeches, strong dialogues, a unified plot, and a five-part structure in which the first part explains the situation, introduces the reader to the main characters, and begins the plot.
The second part responds in the form of action, development, and introduces complications. The third part, the crisis (or climax), leads all the way to the main plot. In this part, there is a change of direction or an overflow of understanding. The fourth part includes further developments that inevitably lead to the fifth part, which explains the latest crises of action, discovery, and solutions.
The author emphasizes a significant race in the drama: the main character is a black man led by whites, and since the first performance of this tragedy, the viewers have faced complex ethnic problems. Shakespeare's contemporaries would expect that because of the murder of the white woman, Othello was a villain, not a hero, but instead, he represents another victim until the end. In line with Mukarzowski's interpretations, the publication sees what Othello cannot do, and that is the demonic nature of the real villain in this play, Iago, who directs every event without the knowledge of other characters.
The characters and the dark-skinned protagonist had never appeared before. Shakespeare himself incorporated dark-skinned characters in two dramas before - Aron in Titus Andronicus and Prince of Morocco in Venetian merchant, but both characters were formed on the basis of the Elizabethan stereotype of the moral and intellectual inferiority of blacks in relation to whites.
During the four centuries of performing this tragedy, both the actors and the publication struggled to accept the idea that Othello could be both a black man and a protagonist at the same time.
As the protagonist of the play, Othello has all the characteristics that are expected of a dramatic character - he is an exceptional speaker, especially in the first part of the play, and in the dialogue with the other characters, he reveals all the key features of his personality.
Othello's language, in the first part of the play, is refined almost poetically, but as there is a change in his personality, his language experiences change, and become vulgar and fragmentary. His statements are in line with his actions: refined expression is accompanied by exemplary, honorable, and by the last behavior, while language fragmentation is accompanied by psychological imbalance, disorder and haste in making decisions. Othello also fulfills the conditions of a dramatic character: in addition to being able to verbally express conflict with other dramatic characters, Othello also possesses an ethic of an extremely high degree, which allows him to recognize himself as the perpetrator of his actions at the end of the play.
Othello's character reflects both external and internal struggles. The external struggle is embodied in Othello's concrete conflict with other characters in the drama. He co-fights with Brabantio, the father of his wife, Desdemona, since Brabantio approves of their marriage. On Brabantio's side in the given conflict is Roderigo, who wants Desdemona for himself.
Othello also unknowingly clashes with Iago, and this conflict initially develops due to the fact that Cassio was promoted to Othello's deputy to Iago's detriment. Othello's conflicts with Iago later, as well as his conflicts with Cassio and Desdemona, are also influenced by Iago. As for the internal struggle, it is led by Othello's jealousy and love, feelings that are related to Desdemona. The final outcome of the internal struggle is influenced by Othello's sense of honor, which is dominated by jealousy. Honor is his main characteristic, and because of it, Othello finally suffers. A sense of honor drives him to accept responsibility for everything he has done, and he agrees to be punished for his actions. Moreover, Othello is the one who judges himself.
Curio's model of dramaturgical functions is the case it can be applied in two ways, depending on which force is set as the starting point, the thematic. In the first case, the thematic force is represented by the jealousy felt by Iago. At the very beginning of the drama, Iago is jealous of Cassio because Cassio received an upgrade to Iago's detriment.
Iago wants to discredit Cassio as the warrior. He states that Cassio doesn't have the necessary military experience to become Othello's deputy, but that warfare is the only theory known to him. Iago, who has the aforementioned experience in warfare, feels that the election of Cassio as Othello's deputy did him injustice. The good that Iago wants at the very beginning of the drama is to be promoted to a higher rank, but as time passes, the desire is modified and eventually grows into a desire to destroy Othello through the destruction of Desdemona.
Othello is solely responsible for the decision made on Cassio's progress. That decision was made despite the advice he received from others, which means that Othello's decision was not influenced by any external factor. As for Iago's assistants, it can be argued that this function is indirectly performed by Cassio and Desdemona, who unknowingly create Iago's difficulties with their actions: hints of Desdemona's adultery, so Desdemona's intercession for Cassio further corroborates Iago's claims and justifies Othello's awakened jealousy.
Another model can be formed around Othello, who is also influenced by the thematic force of jealousy. However, unlike Iago's jealousy, Othello's jealousy is moderate towards a different desired good - in his case, the desired good is Desdemona. Othello's jealousy occurs at the moment when the possibility of Desdemona's adultery becomes a realistic option, and then the despair appears.
There is also one collective opponent - Venice's society, which should include Brabantio, Iago, and Roderigo. Brabantio hates their marriage and is convinced that Othello enchanted Desdemona because he sees no other reason why she would marry Othello.
If it would be expected to start with the analysis of the protagonist, we will still start the analysis with the antagonist: Iago. The reasons for the reverse procedure are the following: the entire plot of the play Othello was told from his point of view, and only he and the publication saw the whole truth about the events that took place.
We can see the significant complexity of the stage dialogue that Mukarzowski talks about. In this play, the publication is equally informed as Iago, and he knows much more than all the other characters on the stage. The one who reads the play or looks at the stars is instructed in Iago's plans and the way in which he influences the actions of other characters. His knowledge dominates in relation to the knowledge of other characters because he is aware of possibilities under his control. Iago is the initiator of all events, and can to some extent be seen as the director of the docudrama.
His direction and drama coincide because the whole sequence of events of the drama is guided by his plans and desires. The dramatic conflict between Othello's jealousy would not be without Iago to start them and lead to a cathartic ending. His evil is absolute, and the absoluteness of his evil is conditioned by his personality. The absoluteness of Iago's evil is reflected in the villain who knows no boundaries and does not learn one action as long as he goes in favor of Iago's intentions and strives, no matter how many people have to suffer. Behind the absoluteness of evil is dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs as the trigger and driver of all his plans.
According to Iago's interpretation, the soul is separated from the self and has autonomy in relation to it. His property is a goal in itself and his behavior is driven by the achievement of a given goal. A key part of the self's description is the insistence on distinguishing between the mask and the truthfulness that the mask tries to cover up, the angel's disguised personality represents the negation of goodness and love. The mask with which Iago conceals his right personality is extremely convincing and can be seen from the fact that until the very end of the drama, no one doubts Iago's honesty and sincerity.
Iago represents the personification of the Machiavellian character which symbolizes the seven deadly sins. The character was used in medieval morals to persuade the protagonist to do something that would lead to his downfall. Jacobsen argues that Iago is a Machiavellian character. He emphasizes that every good warrior must, first of all, know his enemy very well.
The fulfillment of both Machiavelli's preconditions, he knows Othello's weaknesses, and in that way, he can be careful to plan the way he can hurt him the most. He also manages to convince all the characters with the skillful pretense that he is honest, sincere, and loyal while revealing his true nature exclusively in soliloquies. For Iago, soliloquies are the only places where he openly expresses his views, aspirations, and plans.
Iago's basic sin is pathological jealousy, which triggers a tragic sequence of events in the drama. Jealousy stands behind every motive of Iago's hatred: he hates Desdemona because he is frustrated by his longing; he hates Othello because of Desdemona, his wife Emilia, and finally, he hates Cassio because he is unadulterated.
The drama alone does not offer a real reason why Iago wants to destroy Othello. Samuel Taylor Coleris does not focus his analysis on the specific motives of hatred mentioned above but draws attention to the feeling of absolute evil that Iago represents. There is a big gap in the middle of his personality. Adelman builds on Coleridge's interpretation: Othello partly becomes Iago's enemy because he possesses the full-bodied man characteristics that Iago lacks.
Othello's quarrel in the drama is connected with the kind of inner strength and wholeness that serves to rebuke Iago's inner emptiness and fragmentation. He defines himself as Janus, the Roman god with two faces and repeatedly defines himself by identifying with nothing-fairy, Othello is at the beginning a man who does not waver in passion, a perfect warrior whose pure soul allows him to achieve a happy marriage to Desdemona. And Othello is destroyed by inserting "monsters" into his mind, leading him into the world of self-alienation that Iago creates.
Genre: a tragedy in 5 acts
Setting: in the first act the action takes place in Venice, and in all other acts the action takes place in the port city of Cyprus; the time of action is from 1489 to 1570
Point of view and Narrator: the entire plot of the play Othello was told from his point of view, as well as Iago's who knows much more than all the other characters on the stage.
Tone and Mood: suspicion, cynicism, dramatic irony
Style: the play is written with a combination of prose and poetry
Protagonist and Antagonist: the main protagonist is Othello, while the main antagonist is Iago
Major conflict: Othello's inner conflict, racial and cultural differences lead to discrimination and racial judgment
Climax: when Othello starts fully believing Iago
Ending: Othello, due to the loss of his wife (killed by him), kills himself next to her, while Iago is left wounded but alive
Theme: the tragic love of the dark-skinned Moorish general Othello and Desdemona; Othello's jealousy leading to a tendency to insecurity and overreaction, and eventually murder; manipulations and other deeds of Iago for which they have no grounded motivation
Symbols and Metaphors
The importance of red color in this play is great and represents love. Red strawberries, red hearts, just like the red stains from Othello and Desdemona's first night of love on the marriage sheets, all represent the love between the two lovers.
A napkin is a symbol that is intimate and special to the heart of Othello, and he expects it to be similarly special to his wife Desdemona. It is to believe that Othello gave Desdemona his napkin as his desire to have her, but, in the end, is also a reason to kill her.
The candle Othello blows out just before he kills Desdemona symbolizes him destroying her life.
Starting in Act 1, Scene 1, Iago presents the animalistic imagery. According to Iago, there is something animalistic and bestial about Othello; he's beastly and base, somehow below everyone else in Venice due to his North African heritage. The animal imagery pervades the play, constantly pointing to Othello's "otherness."
William Shakespeare frequently uses diverse locations to represent moods. In Othello, Venice symbolizes civilization, while Cyprus represents the wilderness. What happened in Cyprus would never happen in the civilized city of Venice.