•1603-most tightly constructed
no sub plots, no comedy, no
extraneous characters-focus is on
the tragedy alone.
Shakespearean Tragedy
• Same as Aristotle but more violence, more
complex plots/conflicts, personal
• “A story of exceptional calamity leading to
the death of a man in high estate, mainly
from the actions of the hero and of those
around him/her.”
• abnormal conditions of the mind
• supernatural
• chance/accident-handkerchief
• conflicts-outward and internal
• death
A.C. Bradley’s Definition of
Tragedy (Shakespeare)
One or two characters
leads to death of hero
depicts the troubled part of hero’s life
hero is of high degree
suffering and calamity are exceptional,
unexpected and contrasted with previous
happiness and glory
• suffering and calamity extend beyond the
hero to all involved to create a scene of woe
Other Definitions of Tragedy
• Outward finite existence vs. inward infinite
• division of man-not good vs. bad, but good
vs. good
• unfolding of the destiny or doom
• human freedom
• vision of future vs. shocking disaster
Life and Times of Shakespeare
• Queen Elizabeth succeeded by James I
• English Renaissance in full bloom-Arts and
Sciences flourished
• Shakespeare was known for his revelation
of character, language, and philosophy--his
ability to explore the complexities and
paradoxes inherent in all of us.
• Othello’s source was Giraldi Cinthio’s Tale
of the Moor
• Belief in people’s responsibility for actions
and circumstances
Language used in Othello
• Iago uses more prose than Othello(I.iii,313-19 “Tis in ourselves that we...)Parallel, antithesis, symmetry reflect Iago’s
calm and calculated manipulation.
• Iago uses verse in II. 1. 145-8 with same
syntactic control and style.
• Metaphor/Imagery-II.1. 124-5;277-8
• Iago’s speech habitually degrades human
activities to the level of the doings of
despicable animals-spider, dog, beasts of
burden, horse, ram, beast with two backs.
Issues in Othello
Appearance v. Reality
• Darkness- chaos, disorder, Othello as
outsider and a object of suspicion, death,
gradual corruption
• Animal and demonic
• white and light
• sea
• witchcraft
• drugs and poisons
• sex
• music
Rich Opposites
• Hating Iago-loving Desdemona-noble,
confiding, tender Othello
• Pure Desdemona/Practical Emilia/Sensual
• Loyal Cassio-Treacherous Iago-foolish Rod
• Opposites in language reflect themes:
devil/angel V.ii. 129-130 and water/fire V.ii.
133-40; calm/storm; reason/madness;
black/white; untamed/civilized;
foreign/familiar; Christian/witchcraft
•Setting-Venice and Cypress
moor-black African that invaded and
settled in Spain/outsider to high
Venice-city, govt., reason, law and
manners-ex. Brabantio’s passions
examined rationally by the senate.
Cypress-barbarism, riotous, wild,
passions run free, no reasons, fragile.
•Settings-Polarities of Reason
and Passion
• Venice-Duke and Reason in
control/safe/Christendom/order/justice/truth is
protected by other leaders
• Cyprus-Othello’s passions take over/exposed to
land/riot/revenge/murder/falsehood/no clues to
determine truth/Desdemona separated from family
and friends to help
• see III, iii, 203-205; 228-238; 262-267
•Iago, Othello, Desdemona-major
• Desdemona and Emilia are foils-Des. Is
pure, innocent and faithful/Emilia is
sexually aware, cynical, politcally aware.
• Othello and Desdemona have a pure and
unsullied love, not lust. In contrast,
Roderigo, Iago, Emilia and Bianca convey
love as a base physical act, not an
intellectual or spiritual union (see imagery).
Othello’s Character
• He is not as strong or as good a man as he
thinks he is
• He is not a careful observer of human
• Act 1-Self-confident, open, enthusiastic
because of his position of respect (ln.450-8)
• Act 3 sc. 3- jealousy rears its head and
brings him agony as he takes on Iago’s
language (I, 31-36;ii, 207-214;IV,ii, 58-62)
• Act 5- he has been overcome and blinded
and feels justified in killing his wife
(language is proud, rational, calm)
Othello-warrior and respected as
a war man, not comfortable with
his place in Venice so his
language is simple and precise
not flowery-EVERYMAN
He trusts, loves, acts with
absolute commitment without
hesitation, he must save
Desdemona from hurting others
and dishonoring her name.
Othello as a Child
• Immature control and understanding of
• doubts his age, race, inexperience in
anything other than the military
• purity to standards of decency, adherence to
duty, depth of love make him innocent and
• his flaw is one who loved not wisely…too
• Trust and confides in the wrong person and
doesn’t know himself like Iago does
I.iii-he woos Desdemona by
talking of what he knows bestwar and adventure-“she lov’d me
for the dangers I had pass’d, and
I lov’d her that she did pity
them.” He loves her empathy for
him. She loves his adventure and
Greatest asset (and possibly his
downfall) is his sense of justice
and his willingness to act on it
without personal bias.
II.3-“Cassio, I love thee, but
never more be officer of mine.”Slow to anger but his anger is
weakness=prime and ordinary
•3.3- he curses his wedding day
he doubts before he really sees
proof-but he must act because he
is a warrior and just.
4-2 Othello’s downfall, speech is
changed from simple and direct
and dignified to fractured
fragmented, wildly
•5.2- he must kill her not because
he doesn’t love her but because
of justice and her danger to other
Candle,rose, light, tree imagery
repeats his act of justice with
Cassio because he is conflicted
with virtue and justice
like Oedipus, he must not escape
his punishment for what he has
“speak of me as I am…of one
that loved not wisely but too
well…”-final words-he’s done
the state some service, don’t
make excuses for me, he has self
awareness of his love his pearl,
but he wasn’t wise.
He brings the same justice on
himself that he does on Cassio
and Desdemona. He treats
himself as an enemy , a Turk. He
is own judge, jury and
His language and syntax is
Reversal of fortune-yes
Recognize his consequences-yes
He achieves triumph
but his flaw is that he is “Great
of Heart” and enacts for us what
lies beneath our own lives.
•Contrasted with Roderigo who is
common not tragic but both are
Uncommon dignity in uncommon
Desdemona- “captain’s captain;
• The marriage of an older man and a
younger girl was traditionally material for
farce, but she loves him from beginning
until her death. She never wavers.
• Her love is like a mother for a child.
• She represents one half of Othello’s nature
which is his love for himself, Iago is the
other half and the play is a war of the two
• The 1st half is a celebration, the 2nd half is
one of torment and decomposition.
•Desdemona- strong and
Goes against society by marrying
Othello the foreiegner, the Moor.
I.iii-“where does your
loyalty/duty lie?
“half the wooer”=equal to
naïve-doesn’t know when to stop
•III.iii-attempts to reconcile
Cassio and Othello
III.4-pleads Cassio’s case again
4.1- Othello slaps her, she
remains dignified
4.2- Othello berates her never
stoops down to his level
•5.2- Othello comes to kill her,
she defends her honor
decency, virtue, strength and
charity-“I never…”
she dies because Othello is weak
not her.
5.2 ln 47- handkerchief actually
clears her name
Desdemona. Calls her his lord
and absolves him
but Emilia and Cassio explain the
handkerchief-opposite of what
we think, it doesn’t provide
evidence for her guilt but for her
innocence-too late like Creon
Iago’s Character
• Resourceful/creative/cunning/ambitious
• student of human nature who preys on
weaknesses and desires
• Plants the idea, others repeat it, he
reinforces (Act III sc. 3 20-28; 90-92;12123; 167-172; 204-206; 281-2- Othello calm
but the tempest/chaos is coming!
• begins a leading statement that is completed
by others
• uses words that have multiple
• never makes the damning statement-honest?
Othello’s temptation- from
rational (mannered) to mad
(bestial)-animal/hell imagery
• Attracting attn: III,iii,35-42; III,iii,103-142
• Allurement: III,iii,157-189;190-206;207228;244-253
• Rationalization: III,iii, 260-71;274-93,295304;346-89;399-409;410-440;447-65
• Acceptance: III,iii, 467-95
• Why does Iago do it? He directs/Othello
thinks and draws the conclusions.
• Iago always talks more than Othello. Why?
Iago’s Character
egotistic- doesn’t believe in anyone or
anything but himself, never doubts
• Roderigo; he underestimates his wife’s
devotion and brains, and fate must bring
order to world.
•Iago hates Othello for passing
him over and a possible affair
with his wife, but there is never
any evidence for this 1.3 – “I hate
the moor…”
- no equal in all of Shakespeare’s
villians-evil characterized 1.1-“I
am not what I am”
•2.1-soliloquy-even wife for
wife, jealousy make the moor
love me, thank me…this is
exactly what Iago does to Othello
to madness
2.3-Divinity of hell, like devil’s
that appear to be angels-gets
Cassio to drink and wound
Montano…pour pestilence into
Othello’s ear “turn her
[Desdemona’s] virtue into pitch”
all characters have weaknesses
and our responsible for their
actions; Iago is the catalyst, the
•3.3-“by heaven I’ll know your
thoughts…green eyed
monster…Iago has handkerchief .
•How does the handkefchief get
to Cassio? 1. Des. drops it.2.
Emilia picks it up 3. Iago takes it.
4. Iago plants it in Cassio’s room
5.cassio finds it there. 6.Othello
is convinced already.
Iago gives no reason for doing
this, never speaks again.
•Morality play?
Des. and Iago are the 2 angels,
impulses, universals
dramas containing characters
who represent abstract concepts
presented the struggle between
good and evil
presented a moral lesson
•Iago a viper-looks at feet but
finds no hoof? just a man
Secondary Characters
more experienced in venetian
society not the military 1.i
not aware of his weaknesses esp.
drink 2.3
Emilia-honest but her virtue can
be bought
4.3-lie about affair
Roderigo- Othello’s parallel
gives money to Iago to get
Desdemona; Iago’s pawn

1603-most tightly constructed tragedy no sub plots, no