Here we go…
How to clearly explain Shakespeare’s harrowing tragedy, Othello? Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello can be summed up in either a sentence or a novel. I shall therefore do my utmost to find a reasonable middle ground which helps you to understand what this wonderful play is all about – given that reading or seeing it clearly didn’t work out so well for you…
Simply put: Iago is angry at Othello because he didn’t give him a promotion, so he takes some quite exorbitant vengeance.
Useful first point
Othello is a moor. My self-doubt won’t let me define this with absolute confidence, however, (in a vague generalization) I believe he has some affiliation with North Africa. Basically, the importance of this is that he is an outsider, though he is also a general, so of very high status. Yes, I’m confused too… let’s take a breath together. Now don’t lose confidence, I think I do get the story…
Where are we? Venice. That’s Italy.
Though named Othello, in truth, the story is more about Iago. I think. He is quite deliciously villainous. Iago is Othello’s ensign (junior rank in the army). From what I can gather, he is very annoyed that Othello has made Cassio (a younger, presumably more good-looking man) his lieutenant. There is also some reference to Othello sleeping with Iago’s wife, yet Iago doesn’t seem to be entirely enthralled with lovely Emilia anyway, so who knows. Regardless, Iago is not particularly happy with Othello. At least one must presume as much, as he proceeds to ruin the man’s life, of course, in a delightfully cunning and Shakespearean way. This isn’t Transformers.
- Iago tells Desdemona’s dad (Brabantio) that Othello has stolen her away and married her. (True fact: they secretly got married – Desdemona is therefore Othello’s wife).
- Othello goes to court and half sorts it out as Desdemona was consensual in the marriage. Failure one: Iago.
- Othello then leaves to fight a war in Cyprus.
- Attempt two: Iago gets Cassio drunk and instigates a fight which causes Cassio to lose his rank. High five Iago.
- Cassio, clearly devastated, is then convinced by Iago to try to get back in Othello’s good books by appealing to Desdemona.
- Iago then does a whole lot of stuff, basically planting the seed of an idea in Othello’s mind that Cassio is in love with Desdemona and that they are having an affair. With a bit of classic Shakespearean trickery from Iago, Othello is convinced.
- Othello then gets Iago to kill Cassio, and Othello then kills his love, Desdemona.
- Iago sends his right-hand man Roderigo to do the job. He fails and Cassio survives.
- It unravels that Iago is arguably the worst human in history, having knowingly killed or enabled the killing of several people, all over a promotion (or lack thereof), and Othello is devastated to have murdered his innocent wife. He proceeds to kill himself.
- Iago, true to character, stabs his wife and runs away, but is captured. Was it really worth it, Iago?
- Cassio is named governor of Cyrus.
- One is left in desperate need of a modern rom-com after this macabre mess.
In all honesty, it is an absolutely fabulous play and a must read. I have listed some great monologues and scenes from Othello for y’all to check out…
Female[spoiler title=”Othello (Act 4 Scene 3)” open=”0″ style=”2″]Emilia: Yes, a dozen, and as many to th’ vantage as
Would store the world they played for.
But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall. Say that they slack their duties
And pour our treasures into foreign laps;
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite,
Why, we have galls: and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too. And have not we affections?
Desires for sport? and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. [/spoiler]
Male[spoiler title=”Othello (Act 2 Scene 1)” open=”0″ style=”2″] Iago: That Cassio loves her, I do well believe’t:
That she loves him, ’tis apt and of great credit.
The Moor – howbeit that I endure him not —
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature,
And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona
A most dear husband. Now, I do love her too,
Not out of absolute lust — though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin —
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards:
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am even’d with him, wife for wife,
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure. Which thing to do,
If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trash
For his quick hunting, stand the putting on,
I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,
Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb—
For I fear Cassio with my night-cap too—
Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass
And practising upon his peace and quiet
Even to madness. ‘Tis here, but yet confused:
Knavery’s plain face is never seen tin used. [/spoiler][spoiler title=”Othello (Act 5 Scene 2)” open=”0″ style=”2″] Othello: Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know’t —
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am: nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well:
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplex’d in the extreme: of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe: of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum. Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus. [/spoiler]
Male/Female[spoiler title=”Othello (Othello/Desdemona), 5.2 ” open=”0″ style=”2″]Another fantastic scene in which Othello, convinced Desdemona has betrayed him, kills his love. It is intense and has very high stakes.
Othello enters. Desdemona in her bed asleep.
It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul!
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars,
It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
And smooth as monumental alabaster:
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light!
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore
Should I repent me. But once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume: when I have plucked the rose
I cannot give it vital growth again,
It must needs wither. I’ll smell it on the tree;
O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more.
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after. One more, and this the last.
He smells, then kisses her
So sweet was ne’er so fatal. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears: this sorrow’s heavenly,
It strikes where it doth love. She wakes.
Who’s there? Othello?
Will you come to bed, my lord?
Have you pray’d tonight, Desdemona?
Ay, my lord.
If you bethink yourself of any crime
Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace,
Solicit for it straight.
Alas, my lord, what do you mean by that?
Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by.
I would not kill thy unprepared spirit,
No, heaven forfend, I would not kill thy soul.
Talk you of killing?
Ay, I do.
Have mercy on me!
Amen, with all my heart.
If you say so, I hope you will not kill me.
And yet I fear you, for you are fatal then
When your eyes roll so. Why I should fear I know not,
Since guiltiness I know not. But yet I feel I fear.
Think on thy sins.
They are loves I bear to you.
Ay, and for that thou diest.
That death’s unnatural that kills for loving.
Alas, why gnaw you so your nether lip?
Some bloody passion shakes your very frame,
These are portents: but yet I hope, I hope,
They do not point on me.
Peace, and be still!
I will so. What’s the matter?
That handkerchief which I so loved and gave thee,
Thou gavest to Cassio.
No, by my life and soul:
Send for the man, and ask him.
Sweet soul, take heed,
Take heed of perjury; thou art on thy deathbed.
I? – but not yet to die!
Therefore confess thee freely of thy sin,
For to deny each article with oath
Cannot remove nor choke the strong conception
That I do groan withal. Thou art to die.
Then Lord have mercy on me.
I say amen.
And have you mercy too. I never did
Offend you in my life, never loved Cassio
But with such general warranty of heaven
As I might love: I never gave him token.
By heaven, I saw my handkerchief in’s hand!
O perjured woman, thou dost stone my heart
And makest me call what I intend to do
A murder, which I thought a sacrifice!
I saw the handkerchief.
He found it then,
I never gave it him. Send for him hither,
Let him confess a truth.
He hath confessed.
What, my lord?
That he hath – ud’s death! – used thee.
He will not say so.
No, his mouth is stopped. Honest Iago Hath ta’en order for’t.
O, my fear interprets! What, is he dead?
Had all his hairs been lives, my great revenge
Had stomach for them all.
Alas, he is betrayed, and I undone.
Out, strumpet, weep’st thou for him to my face?
O, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!
Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight!
Nay, if you strive–
But half an hour!
Being done, there is no pause–
But while I say one prayer!
It is too late.
O Lord! Lord! Lord!
He smothers her.[/spoiler]
Othello placed 6th in our list of Best Shakespeare Plays.
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