The Play Othello by Shakespeare - Essay Sample

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George Washington University
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There is a central theme in the opposition of light versus darkness. In literature, the imagery of light' is associated with conscious mind and knowledge. The imagery of darkness' on the other hand, is associated with the unknown or mysterious and the psychological unconscious. Similarly, the theme of light versus darkness in Othello, the Moor of Venice is based on this set of opposition. William Shakespeare's play Othello deals with a tragic event following and resulting from the wedding of "Moor" Othello and the Venetian gentlewoman Desdemona. The subject of light and dark, black and white, night and day is based on the theme of appearance versus reality. Darkness in the play introduces an eerie feel in the play, and a particular disorder takes over the proceedings. With the call for light, demands a particular type of order; light versus darkness and order versus disorder are significant juxtapositions in the play. Throughout the Shakespearean play Othello, Shakespeare uses conflict, imagery, and Irony to create darkness versus light.

Othello sets of in the city of Venice, during night hours; Roderigo is talking to Iago, who is not happy about being passed up for a military post. Even though Iago is set to go for the battle, Cassio, a strategy man but with little experiences, was declared Othellos lieutenant. Iago is well informed that Desdemona, Brabantios daughter, has taken off with Othello, the black warrior of the Moors. Brabantio, however, does not have any clue of such coupling; Iago chooses to recruit Roderigo who lusts after Desdemona, to provoke Brabantio by screaming that his daughter has been taken.

The theme of appearance versus reality is quite evident in Iago's story; all through the play, he enacts different roles from advisor to a confidante and seems to be assisting people even though he is only acting out his perverted self-interests. Even at his most honest moment, Iago misrepresents how truly evil he is, in a scene with Roderigo. In his self-awareness of his villainous character, Iago parallels another character of Shakespeare, Richard II, for his lack of remorse and use of false representation.

The racial issue and theme readily surface at the core of Othello. When Roderigo calls Othello, he refers to him as "the thick-lips" with a synecdoche which only highlights the foreignness of Othello and belies the distrust of Roderigo based mainly on Othello's color (I.i.66). Racism, as a powerful theme in this work, is evident from the first scene. The significance of light and dark, and good and evil is gathered up in Othello's speech beginning It is the cause' (V.ii.1-13) with its literal truth, the accompanying metaphor, and symbolism, its fearful irony.

The other element which repeatedly surfaces in the play is the use of animal imagery. This is evident when Iago shouts at Brabantio from the street; "an old black ram tops your white ewe" (I.i.88-9). Animal imagery is used in conveying immorality, and a bestial desire. Later on, Iago compares Othello to a "Barbary horse" including Desdemona, hence underpinning a lustful depiction of Othello. The statement which Iago makes is doubly potent because it does not only condemn Othello, for his supposed lust but also contributes to the misgivings of Brabantio on the color of Othello and his outside state. The depiction of black and white, in conjunction with animal imagery, is to make a repellent image, one that inflames Brabantio to anger and action.

Iago mainly talks about the devil quite often in the text, from the start of the first scene. With this, he portrays Othello to be of devil-like, with indiscretion, lust and a strange draw to Venice. The irony, however, in this case, is that Iago quickly judges others as evil, while it is him who has more darkness and conducts foul deeds more than anyone. The devil is known to take disguises, similar to what Iago portrays.

With the depictions of Iago and increasing contraction of characters in the bounds of their fixed opinions, it is no surprise that dramatic irony should pervade the play. The confident declaration of Othello that when light-winged toys Of feathered Cupid' tampers with his commissions, Let housewives make a skillet of my helm' (I.iii.270) gains an ironic reversal. Iago points out Our general's wife is now the general for that, he hath devoted and given himself to the contemplation, denouement, and mark of her graces and parts' (II.iii. 304-7). Moreover, this entire action against Desdemona does the thing he rejected that his disports corrupt and taint my business' (I.iii. 269).

Even worse, he is persuaded by the fact that he is a minister of public justice and could accomplish a private revenge, in assuming righteousness, undertakes a criminal act, and so reducing himself to the ironical oxymoron, honorable murderer . The handkerchief which ultimately convinced Othello of Desdemona's guilt was to Iago one of the Trifles light as air' which Are the jealous confirmations strong As proofs of his holy writ (III.iii.320-22), yet they formed the final testimony of his own guilt.

Othello concurs with Brabantio's argument that Desdemona committed an unnatural act when he chooses to marry when Iago presents it to him again even though it had been rejected by Othello and the Duke. Othello's description of the magic in the web' of the handkerchiefs echoes with irony Iago's With the little web as this will ensnare a high fly as Cassio' (II.i.165.6). The eves-doping scene is a remarkably effective piece of visual and verbal dramatic irony. In the verbal irony of Iago, the hypocritical figure is much in evidence. The thread of his honesty' runs through the play, and his claim to give honest advice to Cassio among others is vital to his intrigue

Light and darkness ultimately surface when Duke declares to Brabantio that in case virtue lacks in delighted beauty, then your son in law is far more fair than black (I.iii. 290-291). In this case, black is linked to darkness, sin, and ugliness, and by far, blacks are assumed to symbolize these traits. The Duke down plays the race of Othello by saying that he is rather "fair" just or light than "black." This is not the Duke's forward-thinking, but rather an indication that he can vouch for Othello, who apparently does not have the attributes of his race. It is a backhand tribute; light, white, fairness boy show goodness, and innocence; all white symbols have these attributes. In conclusion, the combination of light and darkness, black and white always repeats itself in the play, and the color becomes symbolic in the story. Even though stereotypes invariably confront Othello, he manages to evade them by his individuality and nobility.


Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Vol. 6. JB Lippincott Company, 1886.


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