Othello Assessment Study

Othello Assessment Study

Characters –

Othello –

Character –

  • Tragic hero – Flaw -

-Insecurity (Jealous)


  • Controversial

-Becomes racial stereotype

-Is Othello responsible for tragedy or Iago?

  • Othello blames Iago ‘perplexed in the extreme’
  • Conflict between dualities;
  • Black and white
  • Inferior and superior
  • Arrogant and self-doubt
  • General and husband
  • Public and private
  • Hero (Venetian) and villain (Turk)
  • Trusting and suspicious

Becomes Elizabethan racial Stereotype:

  • Violent, sex-obsessed, primitive
  • Loses control (epileptic fit) – physically and emotionally
  • Animalistic
  • Redeem himself last speech – sacrifices self

Language –

Reflects personality

Noble - ‘most [potent grave on reverend signors’

Primitive – ‘O! O! O!’

He thinks he is inarticulate – ‘rude am I in my speech’

Won Desdemona through speech – exotic = ‘cannibals’, ‘Anthropophagi’

Mythical references – ‘Prometheus’ – Compares and sees himself as mythical figure.

3rd person – grand majestic figure – distant - ‘Othello’s occupation gone’

Language deteriorates as his morality and personality des – e.g. ‘repetition of ‘handkerchief’ and ‘strumpet’

Language reflects Iago’s language –

  • Repetition
  • Dual meanings
  • Asides
  • Sexual innuendos – ‘hot, hot and moist’
  • Animals – ‘goats and monkeys’

Sees himself as force of nature – ‘PonticSea’ - III.3

Iago –

Character –

  • Expert manipulation – Brabantio, Roderigo, Cassio, Emilia, Desdemona, Othello and Bianca – Audience.
  • Manipulates audience – racial stereotype I.1 – feel like accomplice
  • Dramatic irony caused by Iago
  • Janus – 2 faced God
  • Motives? – Believable?
  • Power – through language – reputation -, ‘honest Iago’
  • Opportunist
  • Stage director
  • Uses people’s strengths (Desdemona’s kindness) and weaknesses (Cassio drunk) against them
  • Astute judge in human nature
  • Possible queer – queer reading
  • Misogynist – frequently portrays women as prostitutes
  • Ends in silence – no motive? – Lacks power or retains power – Denies Othello closure
  • Ironic fat – kills wife because she betrays him – stabs her in the back

Language –

Changes language according to who he speaks to – e.g. crude with Roderigo I.2 line 53

Sexual innuendos

Animal imagery – ‘old black ram tupping your white ewe’





Asides – duality – public/private

Play on words – ‘honest’ – ‘lie’ - on Desdemona/ to Othello

Soliloquy – addresses audience

Uses others language – Brabantio I.1 ‘My house is not a grange (farm)’- Inspires Iago’s animal imagery.

Metaphor – garden – reap what you saw I.3

Poinsoner - ‘Poison his delight’

‘I am not what I am’ – irony and layers of reading

Desdemona –

Character –

  • Start – strong, sexy, independent woman – defies father – asks Duke to accompany Othello
  • End – weak, passive, victim – forgives Othello
  • Influenced by plot – believable – inconsistency
  • Naïve – Misunderstands Othello
  • Colour blind
  • Becomes very innocent – do women really cheat in their husbands
  • Lodovico comment – ambiguous, innocent? – Sexual desire? (undressing at the time)

Language –

Noble at the start – respectful but decisive

Transparent – says what she means – no match for Iago

Innocent – ‘not by this heavenly light’ – angelic

‘My lord’ – Othello or God – worships Othello like God

Reluctant to say word ‘whore’

Little ‘voice’ – can’t change anyone through her words – no-ones listening

Inconsistency in her character – joins in Iago’s crude jokes II.1

Cassio -

Character –

  • Contrast Othello
  • Natural suitor for Desdemona – white, respected, charming
  • Relationship with Bianca socially acceptable in Shakespeare’s time – modern audience judges him more harshly
  • Popular with women
  • Abuses Bianca – fulfills Emilia’s idea ‘men devour women’
  • Realizes power or reputation – ‘reputation, reputation, reputation’



Polite about Desdemona

Laughs at Desdemona

Dramatic irony – ‘honest Iago’

Contrast to Iago’s – straight forward

Emilia -

Character –

  • Practical, realistic
  • Loyal to Desdemona – dies for Desdemona’s reputation – and the truth
  • Worldly, wise – women being unfaithful ‘for the world’
  • Obedient wife – steals handkerchief, asks permission to speak
  • Innocent victim
  • Handkerchief contradiction – reluctant to give it without knowing the plan
  • Feminist character – believes in equality

Language –

Metaphor – men= stomach, women=food

Plays with words – ‘by this heavenly light’

Similarities to Iago’s but uses to reveal honest opinion – Unlike Iago, uses it to conceal.

Racist terms – ‘most filthy bargain’

Has a voice – is killed for it

(Feminist reading – women speak out threaten male patriarchy so must be silenced)

Bianca –

Character -

  • Supports Iago’s portrayal of Cassio
  • Represents what Iago portrays Desdemona as
  • Powerless
  • Victim
  • Links to stereotype of Venetian women as courtesans

Language –

Little voice= little power


Angry/jealous – not taken seriously

Themes –

Appearance/reality –

  • Whole play based on their contrast
  • Emilia most practical and realistic character (sees reality) – ‘the worlds a huge thing; it’s a great price for a small vice’ – Talking to Desdemona about cheating on Husbands for the world.
  • Iago appears to be honest, ’honest Iago’ – Dramatic Irony – Audience knows he isn’t
  • Iago appears to be faithful to Othello – then refers to him as ‘lusty moor’ and ’the devil’
  • Othello’s inability to accept reality – Desdemona chose him but fails to accept she loves him – ‘She did deceive her father marrying you’
  • Othello appears to be racial stereotype – but in fact isn’t – ‘far more fair than black’ – Black on the outside, white on the inside
  • Desdemona is portrayed as unfaithful by Iago – In reality she is innocent
  • Iago refers to himself as Janus – 2 faced God
  • Although Bianca is perceived as a ‘whore’ – she has a heart of gold – genuinely loves Cassio

Power –

Iago –

  • Most powerful
  • Manipulates all other characters
  • Uses language to gain his power
  • Uses his power to create chaos
  • ‘Plague him with flies’ – I.1
  • Uses his reputation as ‘Honest Iago’ to gain his power
  • Destroys other’s reputation for his own gain (Cassio’s, Othello’s and Desdemona’s)
  • ‘From this time forth I never will speak a word’ – Iago maintains his power by denying Othello and the others any closure and continue manipulating them through the end.

Othello -

  • Noble, powerful general at beginning
  • Loses his power and control as a result of Iago’s manipulation
  • Loses control over himself physically (epileptic fit) and mentally (loss of language – ‘O! O! O!’
  • Loses reputation and position
  • Othello’s power is based on Desdemona and when he loses her he loses everything – ‘The general’s wife is the general’

Men -

  • Male dominance

Desdemona –

  • Little power, passive victim, forgives Othello – ‘commend me to my kind lord’

Emilia –

  • Takes power, dies for it
  • Not suitable in this society for women to have power
  • Betrays her husband for the truth and Desdemona’s reputation.

Bianca –

  • Lack of power and reputation
  • Abused by Cassio

Love and Hate –

Love -

  • Othello and Desdemona – True love – destroys them

‘Then must you speak/on one that loved not wisely, but too well’ V.2

‘My life upon her faith’ I.3

‘How I did thrine in this fair lady’s love/ and she in mine’ I.3

‘Her father loved me…’I.3

  • Emilia and Iago – Faithful
  • Bianca and Cassio
  • Roderigo has lust not love for Desdemona – wants her to commit infidelity

Hate –

  • Iago’s hatred for Othello and Women
  • Othello’s hatred for Casio – ‘Thy bed lust – stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted’ V.1
  • Brabantio’s hatred for Othello – Based on prejudice, ‘O thou foul thief’ I.2
  • Iago creates hate and replaces love - without him Othello and Desdemona would have had a successful marriage,

Jealousy –

  • Othello becomes obsessive and compulsive due to Iago’s manipulation which makes his jealousy more potent - Is Othello naturally jealous?
  • Iago is a jealous character – Cassio for his job, Othello for position and status, Desdemona for Othello’s love (Queer reading)
  • Handkerchief as a symbol of jealousy – meaning put on it by Othello and Iago and Bianca and Cassio creates infidelity thoughts.
  • Roderigo of Othello and Desdemona – Loves Desdemona
  • Othello - ‘Must you speak of one that loved not wisely but woo well’ – Denies jealousy, yet jealousy caused him to kill Desdemona.
  • Othello - ‘That we can call these delicate creatures ours/ but not their appetites!’ – Jealous of Cassio sleeping with Desdemona when they may not have consummated their own Marriage.
  • ‘Tis a monster/ begot upon itself, born on itself’ – Jealousy is an uncontrollable monster that breeds on itself.
  • ‘They are not ever jealous for the cause/ but the jealous for they’re jealous.’ –Jealous people often have no reason for their jealousy. Desdemona is oblivious o Othello’s jealousy.

Justice and Judgment-

  • Men get justice for their actions – Cassio, Roderigo, Iago and Othello – Women do not receive justice, they are killed unjustly – Emilia and Desdemona
  • Misjudgment causes chaos - Othello’s misjudgment of Iago
  • Taking justice into their own hands – causes corruption and evil – e.g. How Iago decides to punish Othello and Othello to punish Desdemona and Cassio.
  • Justice in the hands of an individual allows evil and manipulation – Advocates democracy and a fair trial.

I.3 – Brabantio puts Othello on trial and misjudges him based on Iago’s information

II.3 – Othello judges Cassio – Misjudges him due to Iago

V.2 – Othello acts as a judge, jury and executioner of Desdemona after Iago’s manipulation.

  • Iago’s ultimately evil due to hi corruption of justice.
  • Divine justice acts – Cassio gets promoted into Othello’s job and Iago and Othello are both given punishment for their crimes.
  • Women receive no justice
  • Play is about injustice and misjudgment

Othello I.2 – ‘My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly’ – His confidence in justice

Othello I.3 – ‘If you do not find me foul in her report…not only take away, but let your sentence even fall upon my life’

Othello V.2 – ‘When you shall there unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as l am… then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well’

Lodovico V.2 – ‘This is thy work’ – and ‘to you, lord governor, remains the censure of this hellish villain’ – Law being enforced

Othello II.3 – ‘Honest Iago…who begun this?’ – and ‘Cassio, I love thee, but never more be officer of mine’ – Confrontation between Cassio and Othello

Race –

  • Iago plays racist?
  • Iago conjures Elizabethan racial stereotype in I.1 – Othello becomes this in V.1
  • Iago most evil – white
  • Iago – links Othello and animals – ‘an old black ram tupping your white ewe’
  • Shakespeare shows us the stereotype then destroys it – Othello-noble- more sympathy towards Othello
  • Is Othello stereotype naturally (racist) or does society/Iago force it upon him (not racist)
  • Iago links black with evil and white with good – Othello adopts this – Desdemona pure and right V.2
  • Desdemona - whit stereotype – pure, virgin?
  • Emilia – racist – ‘most filthy bargain’ V.2 – Othello – Becomes savage
  • ‘The moor’ – constantly an outsider
  • Initially Othello is exotic, interesting, storyteller
  • Duke’s compliment – ‘your son-in-law is far more fain than black!’
  • Fair= white – good – Othello Conflict
  • Othello says ‘haply for I am black’ – thinks Desdemona unfaithful because marriage was unnatural
  • Desdemona – colour blind – naïve

Other Notes –

Conflict – dualities and opposites

  • Black – white
  • Outsider – insider
  • Faith – jealousy
  • Soldier – Husband
  • Public – private
  • Men - women
  • Love – hatred
  • Words – actions
  • Justice – injustice
  • Good – evil
  • Honest – dishonest
  • Powerful – powerless
  • Virgin - prostitute

Dramatic Structure –

  • No sub-plot – adds effect of claustrophobic, painful tragedy
  • Little relief from tragedy
  • Other characters provide comparison with Othello and Desdemona – add to dramatic tension - e.g. Cassio and Bianca’s relationship
  • Longs scenes – build up tension and are interspersed with short scenes – often violent scenes
  • IV.3 – sad scene that builds up Desdemona’s death
  • Lots of opposites
  • Lots of dramatic irony – Iago is the main source of this.
  • Play relies on repetition and reversal
  • Reversal e.g –
  • Iago’s stereotype reversal – then partially fulfilled
  • Iago’s most powerful when Othello is weakest
  • Cassio’s reputation lost – then restored as is Desdemona’s
  • Iago’s ‘honest’ reputation is reversed by his wife’s real honesty
  • Othello is on trial in I.3 and is the judge ( who misjudges as he was misjudged by Brabantio) in I.3 and V.2
  • Repetition e.g –
  • Iago manipulates confusion in darkness in I.1 and V.1
  • Iago repeats his manipulation of Roderigo with all characters building up to Othello
  • Repetition f language is used for dramatic effect – persuasion, disbelief or extreme emotion – ‘honest’, ‘think’, ‘lies’, ‘The handkerchief’ and ‘My husband’
  • Men abusing women – Iago abuses all three, Cassio abuses Bianca, and the clown abuses Desdemona.
  • Othello and Desdemona echo each other – about not betraying the other for all the world
  • Iago also kills his innocent wife

Shakespeare’s use of time – Double time scale

Short time –creates dramatic tension

  • Desdemona and Othello’s wedding night same day they get to Cyprus
  • Desdemona pleads for Cassio’s job back the next day – and Iago suggests the affair.
  • AS Othello killing Desdemona has to happen fairly quickly it seems only a matter of days between arriving in Cyprus and the tragedy.

Long time –reflect Othello’s paranoia, also adds to realism

  • Emilia comments that Iago asked herto steal the handkerchief ‘a hundred times’
  • Bianca complains to Cassio ‘What keep a week away?’
  • Othello is convinced Desdemona and Cassio committed the act ‘a thousand times’

Setting -

Venice –

  • More of a democracy (compared to England)
  • Culture – Cultural sophistication, power
  • Wealth
  • Civilization
  • Powerful military
  • Order
  • Part of Italy - the Duke
  • Passionable setting for revenge tragedies

Cyprus –

  • Island – isolation, separate
  • Conflict – war- fighting over it
  • Politically unstable history
  • Chaos
  • Represents Othello – he is under attack
  • Storm – turmoil, violence, chaos, change, confusion
  • Othello and Desdemona removed form familiarity and safety