What is the importance of the military in Shakespeare's Othello?  

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though Othello is considered more domestic than many Shakespearean tragedies because politics take a backseat to interpersonal relationships, the military plays a key role in the play. Othello the Moor has been able to integrate somewhat into the society of Venice because of his martial abilities. His status as an important general makes him so essential to the state that the Duke of Venice accepts the marriage between Othello and the white Desdemona, even as her father does not.

Because their love overcomes traditional propriety, Desdemona joins Othello in a military escapade to Cyprus. However, a storm destroys the Turkish fleet. Certain directors have noted that soldiers might feel restless after preparing for a war that never happens, possibly contributing to the tension that develops on Cyprus during a time of peace.

War also contributes to characterization in Othello. Iago and Othello have fought side by side. They have supposedly seen each other at their worst and most heroic. This history makes Othello more inclined to trust the deceitful Iago. In addition, they are both used to participating in state-sanctioned violence. Othello has fought for many years, and it is the tragedy and adventure in his life that drew Desdemona’s love.

Unfortunately for her, Iago’s slander of Desdemona shifts Othello from a lovestruck mindset to a militaristic one. He bids goodbye to “glorious war” that “make[s] ambition virtue,” a career he found great pride in, but he seems to draw from his violent experiences to become “most bloody.” In a sense, the effects of the military both create and end the tragic love between Desdemona and Othello.