Post-Othello Notes

Themes:

1.    Illusion vs. Reality:

a.     All characters believe Iago is honest and trustworthy

b.    Montano and Othello believe Cassio is a chronic and irresponsible drunk.

c.     Roderigo believes Cassio and Desdemona are in love.

d.    Cassio believes Desdemona will be his means of restitution.

e.     Othello is tormented, even into trances, by images of Desdemona’s infidelity.

f.      Iago partially bases his revenge on the illusion of Othello and Emelia sleeping together.

2.    Jealousy, the “green-eyed monster”:

a.     Provokes no positive qualities in Othello: It disrupts relationships and destroys the mind

b.    It is part of the illusion vs. reality theme: Jealousy is always a matter of illusion.  A betrayed lover is never satisfied about the reality of her/his suspicions w/o enduring greater misery.

c.     Othello becomes aware of the price he must pay for jealousy.

                                                             i.      “Farewell tranquil mind! Farewell content!”

                                                          ii.      Othello suspects that the demons which are destroying him are really the images in his own mind (says it would've been better if Desdemona had slept with his entire army as long as he didn't know about it).

3.    Sacrifice (particularly in Act V)

a.     Othello believes he must sacrifice Desdemona so she can pay for her sins

b.    She must be sacrificed in order to prevent more men enduring the torment Othello feels

c.     BUT she must also be sacrificed before Othello can see her loving and innocent nature.

Ending: THE THEMES ARE ALL TIED TOGETHER.

 

Handkerchief:

1.    A Plot device.

2.    Develops Desdemona’s character.  Her anguish over its loss is real.  It shows her innocent, loving, unassuming nature.

3.    A Symbol:

a.     Desdemona’s purity

b.    Most important, Othello’s image of that purity—which he believes has also been lost to him

c.     A symbol for the love Othello and Desdemona have for one another.

Iago:

1.    He is an intelligent man, beyond moral scruple, who finds pleasure in the corruption of the virtuous and the abuse of the pliable.

2.    He relies on his wit and intelligence; he believes that all can be duped and destroyed—and that there is no further purpose to his life (pathological liars).

Othello:

1.    Bases his opinions and his human relationship on intuition rather than reason (opposite of Iago).

2.    His courtship with Desdemona is brief and his devotion complete.

3.    His trust of his comrades, including Iago, is complete.

4.    Iago is NOT universally believed—not everyone completely believes what Iago says about Desdemona EXCEPT Othello.  Othello is the only one COMPLETELY deceived on this subject by Iago.

a.     Since Othello is completely deceived, Iago is able to make him play the game with unfamiliar rules.

Criticism:

T.S. Elliot on Othello:  Othello never comes to an understanding of the enormity or guilt of his crime—he realizes his error, but consoles himself in his final speech with cheery reminders of his own virtues.

 

Other Critics: Elliot is wrong.  In his final speech, Othello does seem to face up to his error with the same passion that had followed earlier misconceptions.