Thursday, 5 January 2012

Othello Essay

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Characters play an important role in assisting playwrights in developing themes. In Shakespeare’s Othello the characters play an essential role in being able to communicate the themes of the play and how they are relevant to their society. Othello tells the story of a black man marrying a white woman, whom he murders because he becomes convinced that she is unfaithful. In the text, the characters and their responses to one another inform the audience of the importance of themes, such as class, power and relationships. Through the use of character in Othello, Shakespeare is enabled to communicate the differences in class, power and relationships in relation to society.

The character of Iago is used to portray the power in his relationship with Othello. Othello is a powerful military figure, he commands like a “full soldier”. He is a respected general in the army, being called a “worthy governor” for the commission of Cyprus. As a soldier, Othello is impenetrable to Iago, so for Iago to destroy Othello, he must find a vulnerability for Othello. By finding Othello’s vulnerability, his relationship with Desdemona, Iago shows he has a great understanding of people. Othello says that Iago “knows all qualities with a learned spirit of human dealings.” By being able to recognize Othello’s weakness, Iago shows himself to be perceptive and intelligent. Iago then uses this information to manipulate Othello, whispering ideas of Desdemona’s infidelity, subtly suggesting and implying that Desdemona was in a relationship with Cassio, “Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio.” Iago then further cements the idea in Othello’s mind, using his cunning to manipulate circumstantial events, making Othello jealous and desiring to kill Desdemona. By being able to manipulate Othello, Iago shows the difference of power in their relationship, not physically, but mentally, in favour of Iago as he is able to control Othello’s thoughts through manipulation, as a result of Othello’s complete trust in Iago’s “honesty”. Iago holds the balance of power in the relationship. This is contrary to society’s expectations as they expect Othello to hold the power because he is of a higher class than Iago. Shakespeare is able to communicate the differences in power in Othello’s and Iago’s relationship to that of the expected relationship between a general and his Ancient because it is Iago’s character and his ability to manipulate that enables him to have power over Othello, in contrast to society’s expectations that dictates that power in a relationship depends on class.

The difference in the nature of Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship is communicated through the character of Othello. The marriage of Othello and Desdemona was brought about by the admiration of each other. Desdemona admired Othello’s adventures and Othello admired Desdemona’s willingness to listen. Othello says, “She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her, that she did pity them.” They both respected each other, which they also mistook for love, and because they respected each other, society expected their relationship to be long and happy. They then embark on their own adventure, off to Cyprus, with Desdemona wishing for some excitement saying that when she is left without Othello, “The rites for which I love him are bereft of me.” However the excitement quickly recedes, with the Turks having been fought and defeated as soon as they have landed. This allows Othello and the others to be idle, having no other preoccupation than themselves and their relationships. This permits Othello to become completely preoccupied with his insane jealousy and paranoia towards Desdemona. However, in his mind, and through what he can perceive, Desdemona does not give him the same attention, continually changing the subject to that concerning Cassio, “This is a trick to keep me from my suit. Pray you let Cassio be received again,” and “I pray, talk me of Cassio.” This lack of attention from Desdemona justifies his change in feelings in his mind as the loss of her attention results in the loss of her love. Othello does not make any concessions for Desdemona, he demands all or nothing, the loss of her love thus resulting in the loss of her obedience and devotion. Othello shows that obedience and devotion is what he considers to be love as when he disowns Cassio for his disobedience, “And he that is approved of this offence, though he has twinned me at a birth, shall lose me.” This characteristic of Othello would have stemmed from his life as a soldier, obedience and devotion rewarded, disobedience and disloyalty punished. This distorted view of love changes the nature in Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship, because, to Othello, Desdemona’s disobedience and disloyalty must be punished. Othello has lost his respect for Desdemona, which is also a cause of the change in nature of their relationship. Othello’s behaviour towards Desdemona has changed because of loss of respect, which enables Shakespeare to communicate the differences in relationships with respect to relationships without respect as the audience is able to see the consequences to the relationship when respect is lost.

In the play, it is obvious to the audience that Othello has transcended classes. Being a Moor, Venetian society should have considered him to have little or no social status, to be of a lower class. However, Othello is a general in the army, respected by society, the Duke of Venice says he is “far more fair than black”. Othello was able to show that his qualities were different to that of the stereotype of a Moor and so society accepted him, allowed him to be of a high class and have power. However, Othello is taken over by jealousy as he believes Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Othello accepts the evidence that Iago offers, because Othello has great trust in Iago. Thus, Othello becomes jealous. As a result of Desdemona’s supposed indiscrepancies, Othello feels his honour has been obliterated, which he believes would also damage his high social standing. To prevent himself from losing his honour and his social standing, he thinks he must kill Desdemona, he says, “An honourable murderer if you will for naught did I in hate, but all in honour.” However, as soon as Othello becomes jealous, he begins to lose his honour. When Othello’s jealousy commences, he ceases to be the eloquent speaker that he was in Act I and II, but becomes crude and more like Iago in his speech, he says, “Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!” By becoming more like Iago, he is lowering himself to Iago’s level, voluntarily lowering his social class, which lowers the power which he has in that relationship, according to society’s expectations. Lodovico says, “Is this the noble Moor, whom our full senate call all-in-all sufficient?” By murdering Desdemona without sufficient evidence against her, Othello is eliminating any honour remaining and showing the qualities of a barbarous stereotypical Moor. When he learns the truth, he realises this, and to keep any shred of honour left, he kills himself, saying he will “die upon a kiss”. He draws parallels with that of Jesus dying as a result of a betrayal by Judas’ kiss, implying he was betrayed by Iago. By trying to keep his honour, Othello was trying to protect his social class and the power he has obtained as a result of being of a high social standing as his honour and other qualities that were not stereotypical of a Moor had allowed him to transcend classes. Shakespeare is enabled to communicate the differences in class through Othello’s willingness to blame Iago as that does not require Othello to take responsibility for his actions, which means he can remain of a high class because his barbarous, stereotypical Moor-like actions, which would have caused his return to the lower classes, have now been blamed on Iago.

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The class of the women in Othello determine how they are perceived by others. In Othello, the patriarchal society offered women little, if any, power over men. Yet the women are still categorised into a class system, even though they have no power to gain from it. Desdemona is of the higher class, and because of this, society says that she must be desirable as a wife, in other words, she must be perfect. Cassio calls her the “divine Desdemona” saying that the “grace of heaven” surrounds her. When Iago suggests that she is “full of game”, Cassio ignores it, singing her praises. However, Cassio shows no desire to be in a relationship with Desdemona. He does not praise her because he is in love with her, like Othello and Roderigo, but he praises her because he perceives her to be perfect as society expects and demands the upper class woman to be perfect. Cassio would not have a romantic relationship with Desdemona because ultimately he would find some imperfections in her which would oppose society’s expectations. Because Desdemona is upper class, her relationship between Cassio is more or less that of equals. Cassio has respect for her and is able to ask things of her which can be seen when Cassio asks Desdemona to put him in Othello’s favour again. Cassio treats Desdemona with respect in their relationship because society says that she deserves it because she is upper class. Bianca is of the lower class. Being of a low social status, Bianca is not perceived in the same way. She is treated with disrespect, called a “strumpet”, implying that she is a prostitute because she is lower class. However the text provides no real evidence of this, it is only that society treats her as a prostitute because of her low class. Cassio’s relationship with Bianca is different to that with Desdemona. Cassio treats Bianca as a prostitute, ridiculing her behind her back, calling her a “monkey” and a “bauble”. He laughs at the idea of marrying her, “I marry her! What! ... Prithee bear some charity to my wit do not think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!” Because Cassio perceives Bianca to be a prostitute, he cannot respect her, therefore he cannot consider her suitable material for a wife because society dictates that a wife must be perfect, and being of a lower class, Bianca is certainly not perfect. Emilia is of the middle class. Because of this, she is not given much attention by anyone, except those closely associated with her, Iago and Desdemona. Because she is middle class, she is able to make mistakes without disturbing society’s expectations, still being the idealistic wife, but she is not expected to be perfect, neither is she expected to be a “strumpet”. This allows Emilia to speak out against Iago, disobeying him saying, “’Tis proper I obey him, but not now.” Emilia is able to speak out, and be listened to because she is not expected to be perfect and submissive because she is middle class. Because Emilia is middle class, she has no significant relationships outside of her husband and her mistress. Cassio acknowledges her presence with a “bold show of courtesy” but then she is ignored as society has not placed a distinctive stereotype on her that causes her to be noticed. Shakespeare uses the behaviour of Cassio towards the women to communicate the differences in class for women as the audience is able to see the changes in his behaviour towards the woman according to their social standing in society.

Through use of character, Shakespeare is enabled to communicate the differences in class, power and relationships in Othello. Through the use of the character of Iago, Shakespeare shows the difference in power in Othello’s and Iago’s relationship to the society’s expectations of the power as it is through Iago’s ability to manipulate that allows him to have power over Othello, contradicting society’s expectations that Othello holds the power because he is of a higher class. Through the use of the character of Othello, Shakespeare is able to communicate the differences in Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship to society’s expectations of their relationship as it is Othello’s loss of respect for Desdemona that changes the nature in their relationship, which the audience is able to see the consequences of. Shakespeare communicates the differences in classes through Othello, as Othello’s willingness to blame Iago allows him to preserve his social standing as his barbarous actions would have caused him to be of a lower class again. Through the behaviour of Cassio towards the women in Othello, Shakespeare is enabled to communicate the differences in class as the audience can the changes in Cassio’s behaviour towards the women in certain social classes. The differences in class, power and relationships is enabled to be communicated by Shakespeare through the use of character.

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