Symbols and Themes

VeniceVenice serves as the setting of the first Act of the play only. Yet it serves much more significance: It is the representation of order, civilization, art and beauty at the end of the medieval world during which the drama is set. Against the encroaching Turks, it is a symbol of Catholic culture. As a Moor in Venice, Othello is an outsider who has converted to the Christian faith and risen to the very top of Catholic culture as a general in the Venetian army. He represents as a soldier of that army the order, art, beauty, and civilization of the medieval world. When he leaves Venice for the island of Cyprus, it is a foreshadowing of Othello’s departure from the order he is meant to represent. The change of setting is neither coincidental nor without significance; it reflects a change in Othello’s orientation. On the island of Cyprus, he falls prey to Iago’s deception, loses a sense of himself, renounces his conversion, and slays the wife he loves. Departing from the order, stability, patience, charm, care and consideration represented by Venice, Othello falls into rashness, jealousy, insecurity, and demonism.

Venice also represents the dangers of being too civilized. The city is so civilized that its men have become “curled darlings” and the senators must hire mercenaries (like Othello) in order to defend itself. The problem is that with everything so beautifully ordered on the outside (that is, externally), it is difficult to tell what is on the inside (as in, for example, the case of Iago).

Love—Love is represented in a number of ways throughout the play. It is given both physical and spiritual manifestations, and is characterized as selfless, generous and sacrificing, and conversely as selfish, self-serving, purely sensual, primarily bestial and irrational. The expressions of love which are transcendent and good are seen in the character of Desdemona and Othello (prior to his fall), whereas the expressions of a baser kind of love are seen in Iago, Roderigo, and...

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Essays About Othello