What are the themes of "Othello" written by Shakespeare?

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mbjohnse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes in this play, but here a few that are frequently discussed and studied.

The fragility of human relationships and the nature of jealousy:

Shakespeare does an excellent job of showing the main characters' weaknesses in this play. Even though Othello loves Desdemona he is easily tricked into hating her. Iago doesn't need to do much to destroy their relationship. Othello is ready to believe that his wife has been unfaithful. Quickly his rage turns to anger. The tragedy explores the relationship between jealousy and love, and reveals how fragile romantic love can be.

Race and prejudice:

Othello is a Moor. This means he is a darker-skinned man. Despite his accomplishments on the battlefield, many characters, including his father in law, have a difficult time accepting him because of his ethic background. The play explores the nature of race relations through this character.

Iago and evil:

Iago is based on the idea of a tempter. The name Iago actually means the planter. In many ways this is the way the devil is thought to work. He finds human weaknesses and uses temptation to destroy us through these weaknesses. Unlike many other villains, Iago doesn't even have proper motivation. While he claims to want a promotion and lightly suspects his wife has been unfaithful, one gets the idea that Iago is doing most of this for sport. He enjoys it. This explores the nature of true evil, and how sometimes wicked people can take joy in tormenting others.