Analysis of the Play Othello: Destructive Behaviour of the Main Character and Aesthetic Choices in William Shakespeare
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls welcome to yet another instalment of the amazing project we have undertaken here called Shakespeare in the Classroom. My name is Nihal Bains and today we will delve into the dramatized tragedy that is, Othello, an unadulterated Shakespearian classic. Our scope will be focussed upon the play’s protagonist, Othello, and how Shakespeare’s aesthetic choices are communicated through to us, the audience. We will also be analysing a soliloquy spoken by Othello of considerable significance that will help us understand his representation at such a point during the work. Othello himself is a man of great importance, a Christian moor of African descent, he upholds the honour of the Venetian army and is well-respected for his elevated status. As you would be aware, Othello’s demise comes when he falls victim to his own insecurities, which his supposedly ‘trustworthy’ ensign Iago uses to dismantle the powerful bond he has with his wife, Desdemona.
This leads him into a downward spiral of destructive jealousy, the tragedy of the play. The soliloquy we are going to focus on is from Act III, Scene 3, lines 262-281. Taking place at Othello’s castle in Cyprus whilst him and Iago are in conversation, this speech represents the dramatically psychological tipping point of the play. Up until now, Shakespeare’s characterisation of Othello has been honourable. A well-spoken individual who is a respected general on the battlefield, and a devoted husband. But from here onwards we witness a disintegration of this characterisation as Othello’s murderous intent develops with each passing word of Iago. We are given explicit insight into his vanities both as a reticent man and public figure. All of these synthesize to build the foundations by which Othello is induced to suspect Desdemona’s infidelity. What I would like you to recognise here is that all of the ideas, attitudes and values communicated through this speech open the way for the play’s progression. The speech begins with a truly ironic assertion in which Shakespeare represents Othello as naïve, someone who is easily deceived and unwittingly assuming of others qualities. “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty and knows all quantities, with a learned spirit, of human dealings.” Shakespeare clearly presents this as a proclamation, and so it should be enacted in a confident manner like so. The effect of this is that Othello’s representation as naïve is amplified to the audience because there is no sense of doubt in his statement.
The central irony here is the use of honesty and Othello’s belief that Iago is honest, because as we know, Iago, is really quite the opposite. Interestingly, this motif also intertwines with Othello’s false perception of Desdemona as being dishonest, which as we’ve discovered is first introduced in this soliloquy. Although some truth is spoken as Iago indeed knows all qualities of human dealings, it’s his utilisation of this knowledge which Othello fails to correctly acknowledge. So already after the first sentence we are provoked to believe that Othello is a naïve individual. Shakespeare carries this perception of Othello in the audience’s mind through the play’s entirety. Quickly following Othello’s false assertions is a sequence of suppositions which represent him as being characterized by self-pity. Here he looks for reasons as to why Desdemona may betray him. “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have”. The intended despondency of Othello’s manner here is obvious. Thus I’ve taken a slower, more emotionally intensified approach to this line, which in turn reinforces the representation of self-pity attached to Othello.
When doing so, the audience truly believes that Othello curses his racial trait, encapsulating his uneasiness with being a coloured man in a white man’s world. Othello also mentions that he has “declined into the vale of years”, furthering his representation of self-pity as he blames age as a cause of his wife’s alleged infidelity. You should also recognise that this shortened line confirms Othello’s anxiety with the audience. Shakespeare here alludes to the concepts provided in Christian Europe during the Elizabethan era, the time of his writing. His primary focus is on the Elizabethan value that suggests fair, pure and courtly people are the idealisms of nature. Being coloured, aging and married to Desdemona, a young and fair woman, Othello himself is a contradiction to these societal values. Now as the audience, we are aware that Othello’s mind is torn with suggestions of his own unworthiness, ideas that he fears could turn a woman from her husband’s bed. As we approach the climax of Othello’s mental agony, jealousy is soon at the forefront of his characterisation, abruptly taking over his representation of self-pity. It is this same jealousy introduced to us now that oversees the calamity of the play. “She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief must be to loathe her”. I enact this line in a more serious tone as Shakespeare’s intention is to indicate the peevishness of the legitimacy of Othello’s jealousy.
As the audience, we see this as a transfiguration of Othello, once devoting all his love to Desdemona, now foolishly ravaged by loathing for a crime she never committed. The further we develop into the speech the more increasingly urgent Othello becomes as evident in the next line. “Oh, curse of marriage! That we can call these delicate creatures ours and not their appetites!” As indicated by Shakespeare’s use of more vehement language such as curse, this line should be spoken in an elevated and irate tone. Here it’s important to notice the contrast between.
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