Identify the Elizabethan features or characteristics in Othello.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some of the most distinct features of Elizabethan Drama can be seen in Othello.  Professor Neilson suggested that one such feature is the idea of the human predicament being illuminated in Elizabethan Tragedy: 

Such classical restrictions as the unities of place and time, and the complete separation of comedy and tragedy, were discarded, and there resulted a series of plays which, while often marked by lack of restraint, of regular form, of unity of tone, yet gave a picture of human life as affected by sin and suffering which in its richness, its variety, and its imaginative exuberance has never been equaled.

Othello represents this feature of Elizabethan tragedy.  The drama possesses a timeless and universal quality of betrayal, self- doubt, and making critically bad decisions.  Othello is an "everyman" in this regard.  He possesses deep seeded doubts about his place in the world, and as a result, accepts bad counsel and refuses to act on good insight. As a result, Shakespeare's gives "a picture of human life as affected by sin and suffering." 

Professor Neilson further suggests that the universal nation of the Elizabethan Drama is essential to the genre.  This universality is a integral part of the Shakespearean construction: "This is in part due to the splendor of its poetry, the absorbing nature of the plot, and the vividness of the drawing of characters who marvelously combine individuality with a universal and typical quality that makes them appeal to people of all kinds and races."  The characterizations of Iago, Othello, and Desdemona embody this sense of "vividness."  Shakespeare makes these characters ones we understand and "get" upon seeing them in action.  As a result, Othello can "appeal to people of all kinds and races." Shakespeare is bold in casting his titular character as a man of color and creating a world where race and ethnicity are present in both how others perceive and how individuals perceive themselves.  In this regard, Shakespeare's Othello fulfills another condition of Elizabethan drama.

In a more specific context, the theme of revenge is a significant aspect of Elizabethan Drama.  This theme lies at the center of Othello:

Why the motive of revenge should enjoy such popularity from the early days of Elizabethan down to Caroline times naturally provokes speculation. That it had deeply sympathetic affinities with the conditions of actual life we must suppose. Yet its very endurance, even after it had lost its vitality, as the commonest counter-motive in tragedy, suggests something besides imitative Realism. 

The feeling of revenge being fostered by a condition of being where "life had lost its vitality" is a significant aspect of Elizabethan Drama.  Iago and Othello both experience this dynamic, each with revenge fueling their tragic and fatal pursuits.  The theme of revenge is another example of how Othello possesses distinct features of Elizabethan Drama. 

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