Drama Unit: Othello
Archetype of the Villain
In the tradition of the Vice character from morality plays, Iago prizes his own self-interest above all else, destroying the lives of others with apparent relish. While he does not appear to possess a conscience, he exhibits exceptional intelligence and profound insight into human nature. Although Othello is the central figure of the play, it is Iago who controls the action throughout. There is a significant focus on Iago's feelings of inadequacy when compared to Othello, who is both his military and moral superior.
The offensive language Brabantio and Iago use contrasts starkly with Othello's own rank and gravity. Desdemona, despite her privileged position, is apparently oblivious to any difference of race between herself and her husband. Othello, who commands tremendous respect, is nevertheless treated as an outsider. Some criticism of the play has centered on the idea that the overly emotional component of Othello's personality furthers the stereotype of the "noble savage" popularized in European art and philosophy. The struggle between reason and passion that Othello endures, however, is common to many of Shakespeare's protagonists.
Good and Evil: A Morality Play
There is a moral dualism at work in this play.
In Shakespeare, A-Z, Charles Boyce argues that the main characters in Othello resemble those in medieval morality plays. He claims that Desdemona "resembles the angel that opposes the devil in such a play, struggling for control of the central character, who is a symbol of humanity" (155). While Othello is tragically human, he alternately idealizes and vilifies his beloved. In his mind she is either chaste or a whore; there is no middle ground. Ironically, in truth she is the embodiment of purity and devotion, and it is his imagination that supplies her faults. Iago's character, too, is informed by this theme if we consider the extremity of his evil; in...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document