What are some examples of fate, chance, and coincidence in William Shakespeare's play Othello?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fate, chance, and coincidence all play significant roles in William Shakespeare’s play Othello. Perhaps the most obvious example of the importance of fate in the play concerns Othello’s race. If Othello were not black (an identity he obviously did not choose), Brabantio probably would have had absolutely no objection to Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. Indeed, there is every reason to expect that if Othello had been white, Brabantio would have been quite proud of have him as a son-in-law. It is primarily because it was Othello’s fate to be born black that Brabantio objects to the relationship between his daughter and Othello.

An important example of the role of chance in the play involves the unpredictable destruction of the Turkish fleet in the storm. If the Turkish fleet had not been destroyed by unforeseeably ferocious weather, Othello might have had to spend much of his time either battling the Turkish fleet at sea or hurriedly organizing and leading the defenses of Cyprus on land. He would have had far less time to devote to worries about Cassio’s possible relationship with his wife, and indeed Iago would have had far fewer opportunities to plant seeds of doubt into Othello’s mind.

An important coincidence in the play is that Desdemona just happens to lose a handkerchief that means so much to Othello and that Emilia just happens to find it and, instead of returning it to Desdemona, just happens to decide to give it to her husband, who has been seeking it.  It seems coincidental that the very handkerchief that Iago has been seeking should be precisely the thing that Desdemona just happens to lose. Moreover, Iago just happens to come upon his wife immediately after she has found the handkerchief, so that she has no time to second-guess her decision to pass it on to him:

  • Emilia. I am glad I have found this napkin: 
    This was her first remembrance from the Moor: 
    My wayward husband hath a hundred times 
    Woo'd me to steal it; but she so loves the token, 
    For he conjured her she should ever keep it, 
    That she reserves it evermore about her 
    To kiss and talk to. I'll have the work ta'en out, 
    And give't Iago: what he will do with it 
    Heaven knows, not I; 
    I nothing but to please his fantasy.

[Re-enter Iago]

  • Iago. How now! what do you here alone?
  • Emilia. Do not you chide; I have a thing for you.

Although free will plays the most important role in creating the tragedy that is Othello, fate, chance, and coincidence are not insignificant factors in this play.