Monday, February 6, 2012

Book 135: Othello by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare Reading Month).

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving."

Othello is the last of the "great" Shakespearean tragedies that I've read (those tragedies include Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet). I knew I wanted to end my reading of the tragedies with this one because I knew I would love it. It is a play that is often talked about, and I have been lucky not to have it spoiled for me.

Like The Merchant of Venice, I read it without doing research beforehand. I think the fact that I understood it and knew what was going on speaks to how reading so many plays has helped my knowledge of Shakespeare's sentence structure. It also kept up a bit of mystery as I read, as I didn't know what would happen.

I am glad that I saved it, and that I finally read it since it is a play that is part of the curriculum for the district I have been working in. It was about time that I read it!

Anyway, the play is about Othello, a Moor from Africa who has become one of the greatest generals in Venice. By the end of the play, he has a huge downfall. At the beginning of the play, everything seems to be going wonderfully for Othello. Beyond his military accomplishments, he recently married Desdemona. There is a bit of hoopla about the marriage because of the difference in their races, but Othello and Desdemona seem happy at the beginning.

Of course, it all spirals down from there. Othello has to choose a new lieutenant and selects his friend Cassio over Iago. This pisses of Iago, who determines to bring Othello down from his lofty perch. Iago is really the mastermind behind all of the tragedy in the play, as he is determined to seek revenge on both Othello and Cassio.

All of these little details wind together-the race issue especially. Since Othello is black, he subjected to a lot of racism, especially given Desdemona's own color. There are many comments throughout the play that focus on the color of Othello's skin and his relationship with Desdemona. Some of these are incredibly sexual and conniving (and most are said by Iago).

Where it all falls apart is when Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are sleeping together. Othello turns into a madman, agonizing over what he thinks is happening. What really struck me about this change was that Othello took Iago's word over anything Desdemona had to say. It seemed as if he didn't care to learn the truth from Cassio or Desdemona before condemning them for their transgressions.

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damnèd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!"

In the end, it all ends in murder and suicide (Shakespeare was a fan of suicides it appears).

This play? Fantastic. I was blown away by the power and evilness of Iago. He might be the best Shakespearean villain. Every move was calculated and he truly used the circumstances of Othello's life and appearance to his advantage. He knew every weakness, the racism, and the insecurity against Othello to bring him down from his lofty heights.

Now I see why this play is the perfect choice for high schoolers. As I was reading, I continually thought of ways to discuss the major issues here: prejudice, the importance of reputations, and learning the full story before acting on information. And while I still think there are better Shakespearean tragedies, this really is a great choice for high school students. There is so much here to discuss.

A bit of me is sad that this is the last of the big tragedies-those most well-known and read-but I am excited to get to the smaller ones in the future and see what other kinds of torture Shakespeare wants to inflict on his characters.

“I hold my peace, sir? no;
No, I will speak as liberal as the north;
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak.”
What did you think of this one? Love it? Hate it?


  1. I read Othello for the first time for your reading month, and I really liked it! Unfortunately I did kind of know what happened at the end, but it was still awesome seeing all the things that led up to it. But yeah, I liked it except I didn't like Othello OR Iago, but because I wasn't really supposed to, if you know what I mean?

    I would say Richard III was Shakespeare's best villain though. Maybe we can get them in some kind of situation where they can fight it out for the title of most evil!

  2. I never read this one and am afraid that I won't be able to make me do it in near future, thanks to a HORRIBLE modern theatre adaptation! Honestly, I love plays in fact and I have never ever found one really bad, but this modernized version was really excruciating. Othello was a football player and his wife a model... All the time they were only making football references (I solemnly HATE sports) and they didn't say a single line from Shakespeare's actual play. So yeah, the worst two hours of my life :(

  3. This is probably not a worthy comparison, but the fact that Othello listened to gossip reminds me of all those shows like Jeremy Kyle& Jerry Springer where people basically fall out because this listen to rumours. So it sounds very true to life.

    I'm hoping to read this one for the first time for Venice in February.

  4. I just read this one last wekk. LOVED it. :D

  5. I wish my high school had us read this one rather than R&J. I think it's a great choice for freshman in that it has lots of lessons they could use prior to their latter high school career.

  6. I'm hoping to read this one yet this week. I already have a good idea of the story, and I'm thinking I saw a movie version "inspired by" Othello a few years ago. I have a feeling it's not as good as the real thing, though!

  7. This is one of my favorites. I agree that it's great for high schoolers. I wish my school had read it instead of Romeo & Juliet, as Trisha mentions. I know people probably pick R&J because everyone knows the plot and it's a an easier play because of that familiarity, but I think Othello would draw more people in to Shakespeare. Or maybe I'm being optimistic. :) I hope you have a chance to teach it some day!

  8. The great things is the ability to reread all these great plays! I studied this in depth my senior year of hs and I loved it too. I can't wait to revisit it...although I'm purposely waiting since I know I loved it so much!