Essay: William Shakespeare’s Othello

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
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  • Published on: July 16, 2019
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  • William Shakespeare’s Othello
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William Shakespeare’s “Othello” was set in the late 1570’s in Venice, Italy. The play follows the destruction of Othello, a general of African descent who is essentially looked down upon by society due to his ethnicity. Throughout out the play, it becomes evident that he too, views himself as inferior to the venetian society. Othello’s self-doubts in his interracial marriage result in him being easily manipulated by Iago and his thirst to raise his position in the hierarchical social system, which leads to the destruction of his sanity and in return Othello’s honour. Shakespeare’s incorporation of dramatic techniques and literary devices, allows for the audience to feel as if they are part of play and in return understand the importance of every scene.

Othello was composed in the year 1622 by William Shakespeare. When it was first presented, the public did not view the play as being primarily focused on race as society does today. This is where the new historicist readings come into play. New historicism is centrally focused on understanding the way people in a certain time thought, through the interpretation of literature. It is often argued on whether race was an element used when presenting non-English people in the Elizabethan Era. Race plays a huge role in the play Othello, as the protagonist, Othello, stands out from the rest because of his difference in appearance and in return his African descent. Othello’s race is what essentially leads to his downfall, as it can be interpreted throughout the play, that Othello considers his ethnicity as what makes him inferior to the other Venetian citizens and an outsider in society. The thought of the feeling of being inferior to the rest is reinforced though his actions of eloping Desdemona. It can be interpreted that this done because he does not view himself as good enough for Desdemona and thinks Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, will refuse to accept him as his son-in-law. Iago uses this fact to his advantage and advises Brabantio of the marriage. “Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!”- Brabantio (1.2.65). Through the allusion of black magic, Brabantio insists that Othello has casted a spell on Desdemona as he believes Othello is not worthy of his daughter and she, in the right mind would never give consent to marry him. This reinforces his struggle to come to terms with the fact that his daughter would marry someone of African descent. Subsequent to Brabantio’s reaction to his marriage, with the help of Iago’s accusations, Othello’s self-esteem takes a turn and is further persuaded and indoctrinated to believe he is not good enough for Desdemona. Once told of Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello deems it as true and almost immediately wants to take revenge on Desdemona as he believes his insecurities were true, that she indeed did not love him, and his race was to blame. “Her name, that was as fresh, As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black, As mine own face.”- Othello (3.3.397). Shakespeare incorporates a simile in the attempt to make evident the severity of Iago’s accusations and Desdemona’s actions. The comparison of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness and Othello’s dark skin, reinforces the seriousness of Othello’s insecurity. It is made evident he is not happy with being black when he describes Desdemona’s face as being grimy and black. Black and white imagery is heavily present here as Desdemona is not seen as pure and innocent anymore rather dark and not trustable. Othello is no longer happy to be married to Desdemona. Infidelity still resonates today, the concept of “homewreckers” is unfortunately quite popular in today’s society.

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