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Othello Essay

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'Othello may have been relevant to the Elizabethans but it has little to say to a contemporary audience'.

I believe Othello is still relevant to a contemporary audience, however modern individuals often view it on a different level to the people in Elizabethan times. Shakespeare wrote the play for an audience who accepted the racist stereotypes rampant in the play, oblivious to their own racism. Othello was a tragic hero, and Iago exploited his 'tragic flaw', in this case being insecurity and jealousy. This insecurity allowed Iago to manipulate Othello into believing his lies, and this lead to his downfall. Today, Othello's ideas resonate strongly, the mistrust of peoples differences is still a highly relevant topic in modern society. Racist stereotypes still exist in many different levels in society, particularly between indigenous and non indigenous peoples in different civilisations. Shakespeare presents a dichotomy between black and white, the black man Othello not fitting in the white Italian society. Iago is perceived by his own community as honourable, and he uses this to his advantage, to eventually promote his deep rooted racist views and in fact be the villain of the play. Brabantio also shows more hidden racial prejudice, which is very common in modern society.

The Elizabethans viewed Othello as the tragic hero, with jealousy bringing about his eventual downfall. Othello, at the beginning of the play, was portrayed as an astute, intelligent, patient and controlled man, and was able to clearly convey his ideas in a succinct manner. During one of his first confrontations with Iago, he is told that Brabantio is extremely unhappy with Othello's marriage to Desdemona, and will do all in his power to dissolve the marriage and punish Othello. His reply is 'My parts, my title, and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly'. His confidence in himself, in his position as a moor and Desdemona's husband is clear, and he is showing no signs of insecurity. Previously, Iago had clearly stated his hate for Othello, after he had been rejected for the position of lieutenant, claiming that Othello chose Michael Cassio over Iago not because of his military ability ('preferment goes by letter and affection, and not by old gradation, where each second stood heir to th' first). Iago speaks in prose to convey his ideas to the audience and Roderigo, who is often deemed to be the fool of the play. Brabantio is told of his daughters antics with Othello 'even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe'. He is convinced quickly that Othello has stolen his daughter, (he already claimed he was suspicious), and upon meeting him, immediately shows his hatred towards him and his ethnicity, and claims he used witchcraft to bring Desdemona under his spell 'Would ever have, t' incur a general mock, run from her guardage to the sooty bosom'. Othello's character fits into the idea of the tragic hero, as he is a noble man, perhaps suffering from hubris. He comes across as striking and confident, however extremely trusting. This quality is easily open for exploitation by Iago. This fits in the Elizabethan context, people who were deeply influenced by Aristotle and a translation of Seneca.

Othello changes during the play from a courageous hero of war, to a jealous, gullible murderer. He changes dramatically throughout the play as Iago continues to exploit his tragic flaw, and eventually it gets the better of him. He creates doubt in Othello's mind about Desdemona's chastity, that she is having an affair with Cassio. First, Iago ensures Cassio's character is weakened in Othello's eyes, by forcing him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. 'If I can fasten but one cup upon him...he'll be as full of quarrel and offense as my young mistress' dog'. Othello arrives as Cassio is attacking Montano, and after hearing Iago's account of events, immediately demotes Cassio 'Cassio, I love thee but never more be officer of mine'. A key symbol in the play is the Handkerchief. It represents several things, however it is used by Iago to convince Othello of Desdemona's infidelity. The handkerchief, Othello's first gift to Desdemona, was dropped by her, and Iago ensured that Cassio would gain possession of it. He tells Othello as much, and this is when he starts to doubt her fidelity. Emilia claimed that Iago 'hath a hundred times wooed me to steal it', unaware of the significance it holds. Desdemona is approached and asked as to the whereabouts of the handkerchief, which she does not know. Othello's self doubt continues to increase, as Iago then claims that Cassio did indeed sleep with Desdemona. Finally, Bianca turns up, returning the Handkerchief that Cassio had picked up. Othello's destiny to kill Desdemona is sealed. This is the tragic hero's downfall, the fatal flaw of Othello has been fully exploited by Iago, and thus his character shifts.

The end of Othello is a dramatic downfall, several events conspiring to bring about the murder of Desdemona and his suicide. He kills Desdemona as his jealous conscience got the better of him, and he was forced to act. This is after a conversation between Cassio and Iago where Cassio was referring to Bianca rather intimately, however Othello believed he was talking about Desdemona. The metaphor 'it comes o'er my memory as a raven doth over an infected house,' shows the increasing magnitude of the handkerchief as a symbol. Iago's plot to bring the downfall of Othello had worked, his manipulation of Othello through the exploitation of his fatal flaw culminated in Othello murdering Desdemona. Despite Desdemona claiming that she was not unfaithful, Othello's mind had been made up, as he told her when he was about to smother her 'for to deny each article with oath cannot remove nor choke the strong conception that I do groan withal'. After she dies, all is revealed about Iago's treachery, and realising his error, attempts to kill Iago. In his final speech, he asks everyone to remember him for who he was, and admitted that he was manipulated to bring him to his jealous state 'of one not easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme.' This follows the typical pattern of a traditional tragedy, with most of the issues being resolved at the end. Tragedies were common during Elizabethan times, and Othello generally followed the conventions of an Aristotelian tragedy, which was a major influence at the time.

Today, we can view the play differently, as the world has advanced significantly since the 16th/17th centuries. Racial tensions are still common around the world, and there are many racial



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