What themes are conveyed in Othello?

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Shakespeare conveyed a number of themes in Othello, many of them connected to each other.

This play is about jealousy, and what happens when we let jealousy overtake us. You might have heard of jealousy as a "green-eyed monster" in colloquialisms or pop culture. Shakespeare coined this phrase, and it can be seen in Iago's words to Othello. Iago tells Othello to "beware," yet meanwhile Iago is manipulating Othello into thinking his wife is cheating on him: Iago plants the seed in Othello's mind, provides "proof" by having Emilia steal Desdemona's handkerchief, all of which ultimately leads to Othello's downfall when he is consumed by this jealousy. We can see that the theme of jealousy is tied to the theme of deception, since Iago deceives Othello and manipulates his jealous side.

Othello accepts Iago's manipulation of the handkerchief as "ocular proof," showing us the theme of appearances vs. reality. While the handkerchief makes it appear that Desdemona is cheating, she really is not. Iago claims to help Othello (and other characters as well—Desdemona, Cassio, and Roderigo), but in reality he is using all of them for his own gain. The prejudice against Othello (another theme) is tied to appearances vs. reality as well.

Othello is judged for his skin color. Despite his accomplishments, we can find multiple references to Othello's appearance and examine how characters are prejudiced against him. Iago convinces Brabantio that Othello has stolen his daughter, Desdemona. Iago refers to Othello as a "black ram," and if that reference to his skin was not obvious enough, it is highlighted when he refers to Desdemona as a "white ewe." Iago goes on to call Othello "the devil." Brabantio believes Iago, instead of trusting that his daughter and Othello are genuinely in love. Even when Othello and Desdemona prove this before the Duke of Venice, Brabantio leaves Othello with a warning.

Here we see how often Shakespeare's themes overlap and are connected to each other.

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