Othello by William Shakespeare Term Paper

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


One of the reasons why William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello never ceases to remain popular with the public is that the themes of motifs, contained in it, appear truly universal. In other words, while being exposed to the staging of this particular tragedy, viewers do recognize the essence of a variety of psychological anxieties, on the part of the characters, as such that relate to their own.

This explains why the staging of Othello can be well adapted to the realities of today’s living. In our paper, we will aim to explore the soundness of an earlier articulated thesis at length, while comparing/contrasting Shakespeare’s original play with one of its most recent cinematographic adaptations – Tim Nelson’s 2001 movie O.

Analytical part

Even though movie’s plot unravels amidst contemporary settings, with American typical high school serving as a background, director had deliberately strived for O to emanate as much of original tragedy’s spirit as possible. And, it has to be said that Nelson was able to succeed in it.

The validity of this statement can illustrated by the very fact that the names of film’s characters phonetically resemble characters’ names in Shakespeare’s play – Odin/Othello, Iago/Hugo, Desi/Desdemona, Duke/Duke Goulding, etc. Just as it is being the case in Shakespeare’s Othello, the only black character (Odin) in the film appears to be everybody’s favorite – the man on a direct pathway towards gaining social prominence.

Despite his blackness, which made him a visible minority in White suburbia’s high school, Odin had proven himself quite indispensible to school’s basketball team. In a similar manner with Shakespeare’s Othello, Odin had found himself fallen in love with white girl Desi – the daughter of school’s principal.

Both lovers’ happiness was about to prove short-lived, however, as after having initially failed at revealing Odin as a rapist, his teammate Hugo designed a plan to expose Desi’s infidelity in Odin’s eyes. Such line of a plot, of course, closely resembles that of original Othello’s.

Moreover, as it appears from the movie and the play, it is namely due to Iago and Hugo’s perverted sense of justice, that both characters wanted to cause harm to Othello/Desdemona and Odin/Desi – apparently, they both considered themselves being treated unfairly by the ‘cruel world’:

“Iago: But he (Othello), sir, had the election:

And I…must be be-lee’d and calm’d” (Shakespeare, Act 1),

“Hugo: I’m considered a utility man… I’m the MVP on this piece of shit team.., and he (Duke) chooses Michael. No way!” (00.08.27). Nevertheless, while being aware of the fact that Othello/Odin could not be challenged openly, Iago/Hugo decided to utilize a particularly sneaky method of destroying his happiness – planting the seed of jealousness in Odin’s heart. Just as it was the case with Iago in Shakespeare’s play, who prompted Cassio to initiate a drunken fight with Roderigo and to consequently lose respect in Othello’s eyes, Hugo encourages Odin’s best friend Michael to act in essentially the same way – to get drunk and to fall out of favor with Odin, as the result.

Once, this has been accomplished, Iago/Hugo proceeded further with his devilish plan – he advices Michael/Cassio to socialize with Desdemona/Desi as something that would help him getting back on good terms with Othello/Odin. Simultaneously, Iago/Hugo encourages Othello/Odin to think of the fact that Desdemona/Desi befriended Cassio/Michael as the proof of her unfaithfulness.

In other words, just as we have pointed out earlier, even watching the initial parts of Nelson’s movie leaves very little doubt as to the fact that the themes and motifs, contained in cinematic adaptation, closely match those contained in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Nevertheless, there is a striking difference between how Nelson and Shakespeare interpret the social implications of Hugo/Iago’s blackness. Whereas; in the original play the specifics of Othello’s racial affiliation do not imply him being subjected to white racism, in traditional sense of this word, in Nelson’s movie Odin is being shown as an individual who suffers a great deal from being looked upon by his even most open-minded classmates as someone who does not quite belong to their circle.

There is a memorable scene in O, where Michael articulates his deed-seated racist attitude towards Odin with perfect clarity: “Hugo: What about Odin? Michael: What about him? He is a freaking loser. The ghetto just popped out of him” (01.05.51). Apparently, while adapting original tragedy’s motifs to the realities of today’s living in America, Nelson simply could not refrain from incorporating the theme of racism into the very core of movie’s plot.

This is exactly the reason why this theme, along with the theme of political correctness, is being even explored within the context of Odin indulging in intimate conversations with Desi: “Odin: See, I can say ‘nigger’ cause I’m a nigger. You can’t cause you ain’t’ (00.15.02). Unlike what it used to be the case with Othello, Odin never ceases to remain acutely self-aware of the color of his skin.

Another difference between Shakespeare’s play and Nelson’s film is the fact that; whereas, in the play most characters are being represented as well-grown individuals, film’s characters are essentially teenagers. In its turn, this explains the lessened plausibility of film’s action, as compared to what it is being the case with original tragedy.

After all, it was partially due to Othello’s rational realization of the fact that, after having been ‘betrayed’ by Desdemona, he will never be able to get married (because of his old age and ugliness), which filled his heart with anger and prompted him to kill her. Odin, on the other hand, did not have rational reasons to kill Desi – being the most popular person in the school; he would never have a problem falling in love with just about any other white girl.

Given the fact that, as of today, more and more American teenagers tend to think of love as being synonymous to the notion of sex, it naturally predisposes them towards assessing the very concept of ‘romantic faithfulness’ as being quite irrelevant. Therefore, whatever emotionally intense the scene in which Odin strangles Desi to death might be, it can be the least referred to as utterly realistic.


As we have pointed out in Introduction, there are good reasons to consider Shakespeare’s Othello as cinematically adaptable dramaturgic piece. The watching of Nelson’s film substantiates the validity of this claim perfectly well. After all, for as long as the representatives of Homo Sapiens specie continue to remain highly social beings, they will never cease experiencing the whole range of Shakespearean emotions – love, hate, jealousy, revengefulness, etc.

Therefore, despite film’s earlier mentioned shortcomings, it nevertheless can be best defined as utterly accurate in how it tackles the theme of Shakespearian tragic love. We believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, in defense of such an idea, is being full consistent with paper’s initial thesis – in his film, Nelson did in fact succeed with popularizing the theme of tragic love as such that represents a great philosophical value.


O. Dir. Tim Blake Nelson. Perfs. Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles. Miramax International, 2001.

Shakespeare, William “Othello”. 2005. WilliamShakespeare.info. 2011. Web.

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