Othello Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Othello book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How does Othello's power isolate him from others and what quotes prove this?

Expert Answers info

Heather Garey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write406 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Science, and History

In Shakespeare's Othellothe title character is a general in the Venetian army. His rank gives him power over other officers and soldiers. This is one way that his power isolates him. The phrase "it's lonely at the top" comes to mind. Othello doesn't have peers — he is the highest-ranking military officer. When the duke asks him to intervene in the war, he has to put his marriage celebrations on hold. This is a type of isolation because his military service comes before anything else in his life, even that which is most important to him, like Desdemona. The duke states in the quote below that he already has a good officer in the battle, but everyone says Othello is the better one for the job. This is an example of his power isolating him. Replacing an officer who is doing well could create enemies for Othello. 

"The Turk with a most mighty preparation makes for Cyprus. Othello, the fortitude of the place is best known to you, and though we have there a substitute of most allowed...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 1,230 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Susan Smith eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write713 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

laurniko | Student

Your question is about how Othello, a general in the Venetian army, is isolated from those around him by his power. Ultimately, Othello is isolated by both his duty to make decisions regarding the fates of others and his personal rigid sense of ethics.

The acquisition of his power has led to isolation for Othello because he was away from normal life and amassing power and rank on the battlefield. In Act I, scene 2, Othello says:

Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it/ Without a prompter 

All he knows is fighting and battle -- things which grant him his power. That (along with his race) isolates him from normal society and experience in Venice and later Cyprus and helps set the scene for what happens when Iago sets out to isolate him further from his loved ones.

The first indication that his current position is isolating him from others occurs in Act II and comes from his duty to demote his friend and captain Cassio after he drunkenly injures another man. 

I love thee, /But never more be officer of mine.

Othello, of course, is unaware of Iago's manipulation of Cassio throughout the play. But that doesn't negate the fact that his attachment to duty and honor, as well as the power granted to him by his position in the military, creates circumstances in which he is isolated from those around him.

Later, when Iago's treachery leads to Othello's belief that his wife Desdemona and friend Cassio have betrayed him, it's Othello's position of power and unease in Venetian society that again set the stage for a tragic series of events. 

Othello is inclined to believe Iago's false claims rather than discuss the matter directly with Desdemona and Cassio, which leads to several deaths and, eventually, Othello's suicide.

Shakespeare isolates Othello from the character's closest confidantes throughout the play, making him unwilling to hear what others would tell him. Had Othello:

  • listened to the men who championed Iago's promotion over Cassio at the beginning of the play
  • spoken to Cassio directly about the accusations against him
  • or discussed her supposed infidelity with Desdemona herself

The characters may have avoided the tragedies that took place altogether. Unfortunately, Othello's position of power and authority -- as well as his reliance on such due to his isolation from a society he isn't comfortable in -- lead him to lean on his own, flawed understanding.