Introduction to Othello

Othello is a tragic play by William Shakespeare. Believed to have been written in 1603, it is based on a story about a Moorish general who is betrayed by his standard-bearer. It is one of the few Shakespeare plays to have a relatively detailed performance record from the Elizabethan era, and it has remained a staple on the stage ever since. As is the case with most of Shakespeare’s works, Othello has been adopted numerous times for nearly all media formats.

Much of the play's lasting power comes from its enduringly relevant themes surrounding love, jealousy, betrayal, and revenge. The villainous Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and compelling villains, and his manipulation of Othello highlights the evils associated with envy. Indeed, Iago actually has more lines in the play then Othello himself, and the close relationship the two men seemingly share makes Iago's treachery even more sinister.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, and its titular hero emerges as a sympathetic and admirable character, despite his faults. However, the play is also unique in that it focuses on an explicitly nonwhite protagonist. Othello is described as a Moor, a description historically applied broadly to dark-skinned individuals living in European or Mediterranean countries. Throughout the play, various characters use racist descriptions to insult Othello, and the issue of race has been a frequent aspect of critical analysis in the centuries since the play’s publication. The ostracization that Othello faces as a result of his race makes him eager to prove himself, which is often thought to have influenced his relationship with Desdemona and increased his susceptibility to Iago’s manipulations.

A Brief Biography of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English poet and playwright. Despite his widely accepted status as the greatest and most influential figure in the history of English-language literature, relatively little of his life is known. He grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon in a family of comfortable means. At eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children. As a young man, Shakespeare moved to London and became involved in the theater community as an actor, playwright, and company owner. Over the next two decades, his plays became increasingly popular, and his theater company thrived. In 1613, Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he died several years later of unknown causes. Given the immense erudition of Shakespeare’s work and the paucity of information about his life, some critics and readers have suspected that Shakespeare was in fact an aristocrat writing under a pseudonym. However, these suspicions remain unsubstantiated.

Shakespeare’s literary output includes a cycle of 154 sonnets, two narrative poems, and 39 plays that range across comedy, tragedy, and history. His formal virtuosity—especially his mastery of prosody, metaphor, and wordplay—are evident throughout all of his work, and his plays are celebrated for their rich dramatic structures and psychological depth.

Frequently Asked Questions about Othello

Othello

One of the great tragedies of the play is that Desdemona is entirely innocent. She never slept with anyone but Othello, her husband, and never had any desire to sleep with anyone else. Iago uses...

Latest answer posted February 5, 2021, 11:50 am (UTC)

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Othello

While Othello's status as a non-white outsider is a major element of Shakespeare's play, his specific racial identity has been debated by scholars for centuries. Othello is a Moor, the term once...

Latest answer posted February 5, 2021, 12:17 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In William Shakespeare's Othello, the titular character dies shortly after the play's anagnorisis. Othello is convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful, and he smothers her to death in her bed....

Latest answer posted February 5, 2021, 12:22 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In act 5, scene 2, Othello murders Desdemona after accusing her of committing adultery with Cassio. Before her death, Desdemona tries to get Othello to see reason. However, Othello refuses to fully...

Latest answer posted February 5, 2021, 12:29 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In act 4, scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Othello, Iago draws Cassio into a conversation about Bianca that the eavesdropping Othello believes is about Desdemona. Bianca enters the scene and...

Latest answer posted February 5, 2021, 6:23 pm (UTC)

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Othello

Othello is a highly successful, self-confident, and respected military commander. He is so good at what he does that he transcends the racism around him. His self-confidence, however, does not...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 11:32 am (UTC)

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Othello

On the surface, Iago has an explanation for his hatred of Othello. He is angered that Othello has passed him over for promotion, choosing Cassio instead. Iago feels strongly that Othello...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 11:46 am (UTC)

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Othello

Early in the play, Othello and Desdemona elope. Iago quickly hears of it, and he awakes Brabantio, Desdemona's father, implying that Desdemona has been abducted and subjected to rape. This inflames...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 12:09 pm (UTC)

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Othello

Othello brings up several different ideas which Shakespeare invites the audience to think about. One of these is racism and prejudice: Othello, "the Moor," is from the beginning of the play defined...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 12:16 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In the broadest sense, all plays (and literature) fall into two categories: comedy or tragedy. A play doesn't have to be laugh-out-loud funny or funny at all to be a comedy. It merely has to have a...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 12:33 pm (UTC)

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Othello

One of the chief mysteries surrounding the play Othello is the question of what is actually driving Iago to do what he does. Certainly, he has a particular hatred for Othello, but the real reason...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 1:02 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In a soliloquy in act 5, scene 1, Iago explains that he wants Cassio dead because He hath a daily beauty in his lifeThat makes me ugly. Iago here is not talking about physical beauty, but about...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 1:04 pm (UTC)

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Othello

Emilia ultimately is loyal to Desdemona, but she also feels a certain allegiance to her husband. It is to please Iago, after all, that she gives him Desdemona's handkerchief. She doesn't know what...

Latest answer posted February 7, 2021, 1:05 pm (UTC)

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Othello

When Emilia asks Desdemona, who is on the point of death, who is to blame for the deed, Desdemona responds: Nobody. I myself. Farewell. Desdemona covers for Othello, saying first that nobody and...

Latest answer posted February 7, 2021, 1:44 pm (UTC)

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Othello

Roderigo and Iago, in the opening scene of the play, are hoping to cause trouble by telling Desdemona’s father that his beloved daughter is, even now, having sexual congress with the Moor, Othello....

Latest answer posted February 7, 2021, 2:28 pm (UTC)

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Othello

At the end of the play, Othello realizes the depth of Iago's treachery. Emilia tells the story of stealing the handkerchief and giving it to Iago. Othello tries to stab Iago, but he is held back....

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 1:08 pm (UTC)

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Othello

The jealousy plot in Othello revolves around Iago's attempts to convince Othello that Cassio, his loyal lieutenant, is having an affair with Othello's wife, Desdemona. However, there is no evidence...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 2:00 pm (UTC)

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Othello

In act 3, scene 3, Iago suggests to Othello that it is suspicious that Desdemona, a white woman, did not try to marry a white man, somebody of "her own clime (and) complexion," but instead chose to...

Latest answer posted February 6, 2021, 2:05 pm (UTC)

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Othello

At first, Othello does not regret killing Desdemona. He may struggle somewhat in actually committing the murder, declaring her to be his “light,” but after she has died, he argues to Desdemona’s...

Latest answer posted February 7, 2021, 11:06 am (UTC)

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Othello

Before he kills Desdemona, Othello first has to convince himself to go ahead with the murder. This, of course, is not an easy task, because Othello still loves Desdemona. To try and convince...

Latest answer posted February 7, 2021, 11:19 am (UTC)

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Summary