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Hamlet

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Topics: Othello, Iago, Jealousy
Along with Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth, Othello is one of the four greatest tragedies written during Shakespeare’s tragic period. But Othello is unique among the others. Unlike Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth, which are set against a backdrop of affairs of the nation, Othello focuses on human nature. Love, jealousy, racism and deceit are universal themes not only evident in Shakespeare’s time, but also in our time and in the future. They are patterns of human nature which are continuous in the history of mankind, which is what makes the play Othello “timeless”. Shakespeare’s use of blank verse and dramatic techniques allow universal themes of jealousy, prejudice and illusion to be explored.
Shakespeare explores the conflicts jealousy cause through the characterization of Othello, the machinations of antagonist Iago, and the deaths of those who are innocent, Desdemona and Emilia. Jealousy is the key cause of the machinations of Iago which causes Othello’s tragic downfall. In Act 1, Iago displays jealousy of Cassio as he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant. His plotting with Roderigo reveals his antagonism towards Othello and desire to bring about his demise. Iago’s soliloquy reveals to the audience the true and evil nature of his plans where he uses binary opposition “birth” and “Hell”, “night” and “light”.
The jealousy originated from Iago is then spread like poison to various characters, with the use of imagery to portray jealousy as poison and disease. In the line by Iago “The Moor already changes with my poison: Dangerous conceits are in their nature poisons, which at first are scarce found to distaste But, with a little act upon the blood, Burn like the mines of Sulphur. ”poison is used as a metaphor of jealousy, describing the danger of jealousy. Jealousy can also be seen in Roderigo. The line “What a full fortune does the thick- lips owe” shows his jealousy of Othello having Desdemona. Iago then put doubt into Othello’s mind of Desdemona’s betrayal. The word “jealous” is repeated throughout the play and it is ironic in the line “O beware, my load, of jealousy: It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” where Iago remind Othello the danger of jealousy which is described as a “green-eyed monster”, but Iago is the one who causes Othello’s jealousy. The handkerchief is used as a symbol of Desdemona’s sexual purity, her faithfulness to Othello. Iago uses it to manipulate Othello, as a proof of Desdemona’s betrayal, leading to Othello’s blind jealousy against Cassio.
Jealousy causes the deterioration of Othello which can be seen through his change in language. In Act 1 and 2, Othello is portrayed to be calm and peaceful with his declaration of love for Desdemona and peace towards others. Iambic pentameter is used to emphasize Othello’s bond with Desdemona. Othello speaks in a gentle and moderate pace which reflects his calm nobility. However, later in the play, jealousy causes Othello’s moral decline. It can be seen in the numerous images associated with violence and animals such as “Damn her, lewd minx”. The pace turns violent with a rapid exchange of dialogue and short, abrupt sentences. In the end, jealousy causes the death of the innocent, Desdemona and Emilia. Othello’s linguistic deterioration is turned into a physical disintegration. However, it is ironic when Othello’s language recovers after the death of his wife. Once again, he speaks with calm rationality, judging and condemning and finally executing himself.
Prejudice is another universal theme in the play which can be divided into racial and gender prejudice. Othello, being a black and outsider of Venice is thought to be a threat to the country. His race and appearance are described throughout the play. Iago’s clever manipulation started when he told Brabantio his daughter was “robbed” by Othello with the use of animalistic imagery in the lines “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” and “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” where Desdemona is the “white ewe” and Othello is the “old black ram” and “Barbary Horse”. Racism can be seen and binary opposition is used in “black and white”. This causes the jealousy of Brabantio and accuses Othello of enchanting his daughter with spells and drugs. It also reflects the context of the Shakespeare’s time when the color black is usually associated with something ‘evil’, ‘monstrous’ and ‘devilish’. However it is ironic that in the play, Othello is depicted as a black man with a white soul, while Iago is a white Venetian with a ‘black’ soul. Othello, however, is burden with racial insecurities and self-doubts. This can be seen in his soliloquy in Act 3 where he express his thoughts that his color and age may have lost him Desdemona. With lines “I am not attractive”, “I am not worthy of Desdemona”. This prevents Othello from telling his thoughts directly to Desdemona so misunderstanding can be avoid. Othello’s dark skin color is also reinforced by the use of language technique. There are a lot of contrasts of black and white in the play. Othello dark skin is repeatedly contrasted with the other characters’ perception of “honest Iago” and the “fair” Desdemona, who represent pure and virginal.
Gender prejudice can be seen in the play as women are considered to be the sole property of father and husband. Women are expected to be obedient and lawful to the father and once got married they will be controlled by the husband. This can be seen when Iago and Roderigo told Brabantio he is being robbed, which refer Desdemona as Brabantio’s belonging. Desdemona is also well aware of her role as a woman shown in her line “I do perceive here a divided duty” and the divided duties are as a daughter and wife. The line “she has deceived her father, and may thee” warn Othello to be caution of his wife. It suggests women cannot be trusted, after the mistakes they made. Cassio line to Bianca “you rise to play and go to bed to work” suggests the low social status of women. Emilia also expressed her thoughts of what women are to men in the line “They are all but stomachs and we are all but food: they eat us hungrily, and when they are full, they belch us”.
Another key theme which is explored throughout the entire play is the conflict between illusion and reality. Of what seems to be true and what is actually true. Characters in the play are deceived by the lies of Iago which causes illusion. The reality is Iago hates Othello and seeks to take revenge. But the illusion is Iago pretends to respect Othello, being seen as “full of love” and “of exceeding honesty”. This causes dramatic irony as the audience always knows the reality behind the illusion Iago creates. Iago is a villain in the play who uses jealousy to deceive Othello into believing his lies. Spying is used to deceive Othello. Iago encourage Othello to hide while he speaks to Cassio and spy on Desdemona speaking to Cassio which convince Othello of his wife’s infidelity. Shakespeare’s opposition of words such as ‘true’, ‘honest’ against ‘lie’, ‘false’ provides a substantial illustration of the conflict of illusion and reality. Iago deceives Othello into believing Desdemona is impure, yet the audience is always fully aware she is ‘honest, chaste and true’. But characters only see the truth of Iago’s deception in the tragic ending of the play.

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