Discussion Questions

1. If it is true that one must understand evil in order to resist it, what is the problem that the Venetians face in Othello in terms of understanding evil?

Venice is not the grange, as Brabantio shouts to Iago in Act 1, Scene 1, of the play. What Brabantio is proposing is that a city like Venice is a place of safety and order, where one can rest assured that his house will not be robbed in the middle of the night because he is surrounded by civility and custom, and where one does not go about in the middle of the night raising disorder and chaos (as Roderigo and Iago do).

Yet, disorder and chaos have come to Venice, and Brabantio finds that though he does not live in the grange (the open countryside, where one would be open to the invasion of bandits and robbers), evil has found its way into the heart of the city in spite of its civility.

The problem with Venice is that it has become too civilized for its own good. It does everything properly and mannerly; it makes sure that everything appears orderly. It erects beautiful, breathtaking facades illustrating how respectable the city and its inhabitants are as believing and practicing Renaissance Christians. Meanwhile, underneath the guise is another reality: fear (the Turks are a constant threat), disorder (evil enters into the human heart in spite of manners, customs and cultivation), shallowness (all of the substance is exterior; there is little of character, as the Duke himself shows, on the interior), softness (the men of Venice are described as “curled darlings” and are evidently too weak to defend themselves, which is why Othello must be hired), and willfulness (all of the main characters illustrate a degree of selfish desire).

Thus, with an exterior that always looks good and acceptable, it is difficult for anyone to tell what is actually on the inside. Iago is a perfect example; he is “helpful” to everyone, but all the while nurses them with his venom, poisoning the plot with his evil intentions. Desdemona is...

Sign up to continue reading Discussion Questions >

Essays About Othello