Identity is a very key, important thematic issue in William Shakespeare's tragic drama, Othello. Identity, or what may be better explained as a character's public perception, is highly valued in the Elizabethan Age in which Othello is set. There is a varying range between the characters in the extent that how they are perceived in public is not how they behave in private or how they really are, thus creating more than one identity per character. A character's identity is the overall essence of that character, however, in plays such as Shakespeare's there must always be an element of tragic flaw to the play thus creating conflict. In Othello, conflict ultimately arises through the plotting and scheming of one central, manipulative character representative of evil, Iago. The characters whose individual identities are seen as important issues in the drama can be identified as Othello, Iago, and Desdemona, respectively. Therefore, the element of identity in Othello, Iago, and Desdemona are important to a great extreme when discussing the thematic relevance of identity to Shakespeare's Othello as a whole.
Othello's perception of identity varies greatly from that of Iago in that he saw people differently and also had a complete opposite identity to Iago. Othello's character is a combination of greatness and weakness. This can almost appear to be an oxymoron but through careful speculation of the text it can be proven. Othello himself says that he is "An honorable murderer" (Act V.2, 299). Othello was great, to a certain extent. He was great in the fact that he was a great warrior, earning the title of General in the Venetian defense forces. However, this feat was greater than the initial sounds of it due to the fact that Othello was originally a slave from Africa, but he had now long ago adapted to the Venetian society. While on topic, Othello's public perception was that of an outsider due to his social insecurities. There was the quality of the "Moor" within him, and as accepted and honored as he was; he was also essentially separated from the people he shared life with. Not only was he different by origin, but also his skin color was a different color, serving as a permanent and constant reminder to all those living amongst him. This can be seen through the dialectic of other characters in discussion of "him," Othello. In the beginning of the play, he is referred to as "he" or terms identifying him with the color of his skin such as Moor, black, etc. All other characters are referred to by their personal names. However, besides this idea of an element of racism towards Othello, others perceive him in no other way than great and honorable as can be seen here, "Here comes Barbantio and the valiant Moor" (Act I.3, 47) Not only does he posses great character and courage, but also dignity. He keeps his control even when he is being accused of witchcraft during the first encounter with the senators when Desdemona's father, Barbantio, confronts Othello about the supposed engagement between his daughter and Othello (Act I.3, 76-82): Most potent, grave, and reverend signors,
My very noble and approved good masters;
That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true; true I have married her.
The very head and front of my offending
Hath the extent, no more. Rude I am in my speech, And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace.
Thanks to his public perception, it wasn't hard for other people to accept the relationship between him and Desdemona. However, as Iago begins to place the seed of doubt into Othello about an adulterous relationship forming between Cassio, his close friend and recently promoted lieutenant, and Desdemona, the audience is able to view the surfacing of another side of Othello's personality. Since Iago had the public perception, or identity, of being an honest man, Othello...
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