How does the play Othello relate to a modern audience in today's society?
In all his plays, Shakespeare uses themes which are as relevant in the twenty first century as they were in Shakespeare's day. Othello's themes are related to the complexity of love, betrayal and jealousy and Othello commits the ultimate crime of passion. Such themes have persisted throughout time and across the globe. Perceived or actual racial prejudice is also responsible for many problems and in Othello, Othello is himself aware of the pressure to prove himself to his Venetian counterparts who wonder how the beautiful Desdemona could be attracted to Othello "against all rules of nature"(I.iii.101).
Othello feels compelled to prove his worth even though he knows that he is a worthy and noble soldier. It is his insecurity that drives his misplaced trust of Iago and jealous leanings towards his beloved Desdemona and it is his expectations of honor among his fellow soldiers which make the story line even more feasible. Even though Othello prefers Cassio over Iago as his lieutenant, Othello would never think to question authority and so it does not occur to him that "honest" Iago may harbor some animosity towards him for being passed over. Othello does not expect Iago or Desdemona to betray him but he cannot see past his own jealousy when it comes to the "ocular proof" (III.iii.364) with which he is presented.
In the modern day, people are constantly faced with choices and loyalties are tested. Confusion and the problem between what appears to be real and what is real is the cause of many misunderstandings. Othello learns from his misdirected allegiance but it is too late. He recognizes his own failings and is "perplexed in the extreme" (V.ii.349) by having allowed Iago to "ensnare(d) my soul and body" (305). A modern audience certainly relates to that as in this era of technology and reduced face-to-face communication, misunderstandings and suspicions abound.
A modern audience would also relate to the problem of impulsive and aggressive behavior rather than dialogue and conflict resolution. It seems in the twenty first century, we are always having to say sorry after making assumptions and sometimes with deadly results and crimes of passion are still responsible for familial conflict and distress. Some things never change.
Another element in Shakespeare's Othello to which modern audiences can relate is the concept of jealousy. Indeed, the words jealous or jealousy occur 21 times in the play. Additionally, Othello contains the famous image of jealousy as "the green-eyed monster."
Surely anyone who has had a boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, or spouse knows what it is like to feel jealous when someone else pays perhaps a bit too much attention to that person's special someone or sends that person's special someone a flirty note on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
In Othello, it is jealousy that leads to the title character's downfall. Othello is married to Desdemona, which Othello's enemy Iago will use to put Othello "into a jealousy so strong / That judgment cannot cure." In the course of the play, Iago leads Othello to believe that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona. Eventually, Othello will call his wife a "whore" and ultimately kill her. After Othello learns of his mistake, he kills himself. Before doing so, however, he hopes that he would be remembered as "One not easily jealous." Alas, though, Othello will be remembered as a person synonymous with jealousy.
The exploration of reality and appearance has complete modern applicability. In a setting where individuals are driven as much now as ever about image and surface based cosmetology, the disparity between what is and what might appear to be is of critical relevance. The basis of this idea in the play and how it can relate to modern setting is highly applicable. Especially pertinent amongst adolescents or any other group of people who are more likely susceptible to innuendo and hearsay, the play's delving into characterizations that might not be true but act upon individual fears and jealousies is quite appropriate, confirming its ability to be appreciated by younger audiences.
Othello related to a modern audience because of its universal themes of misplaced trust, love, jealousy and the insecurities of one who considers himself an outsider. Othello is plauged by insecurities that come with him being a Moor in a largely white society, and Iago plays on these insecurities to take advantage of him and bring him to ruin. Some may argue that the racial aspect of Othello is what makes the play relatable to a modern auidence, but Othello's skin color is just a part of his insecurity.