What are examples of irony, tone, and suspense from Shakespeare's play Othello?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the audience knows Iago’s plans from the beginning, Othello is a suspenseful work full of dramatic irony. One of many examples of irony is when Brabantio tells Othello to worry about Desdemona’s honesty: “She has deceived her father, and may thee.” Othello replies, “My life upon her faith!” He is absolutely devoted to her. Later, Brabantio’s warning will come to mind again when Iago says, “She did deceive her father, marrying you; / And when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, / She loved them most.” Othello’s trust transforms into suspicion, and he loses the life he set upon her faith after he kills her out of jealousy. However, Brabantio’s statement is not prophetic but ironic: Desdemona is faithful to Othello till the end.

Tone is a feeling one gets from a work. Most of Othello has a sense of foreboding, and some critics describe it as a psychological thriller. We follow Iago as he destroys the lives of his friends. They are completely unaware of his machinations, so it is difficult to enjoy the romances and jokes with Iago’s plot hanging over the other characters’ heads. Clearly the play can be described as suspenseful. Upon watching or reading it the first time, we do not know if Iago will be caught, Othello will succumb to jealousy, or Desdemona will save herself. When Iago makes his final moves, he states, “This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite.” He is in as much suspense as the audience as to who will live and who will die.

tresvivace eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In much of Othello, Shakespeare creates a suspenseful tone.  In the first two acts, for example, we learn what Iago plans to do to and how he plans to create his web of lies and deceit.  This is also dramatic irony as we, the audience, know the truth of Iago's evil plan but Othello does not.  The suspense lies in how Othello will react.

The tone, of course, varies throughout the play as Shakespeare's characters take on a range of tones.  The suspense builds at the end of the play when we know Othello plans to kill Desdemona and yet we hope he does not.  We know Desdemona is innocent, and we hear her injured tone. Othello himself expressed an enraged tone at the thought of Desdemona's infidelity yet a remorseful tone when he sees what he has done.