Othello: its Themes Essays

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Othello: its Themes


In the Shakespearean tragedy Othello how many themes are there? And which ones predominate. This paper seeks to elucidate the reader on this subject.



In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the seeming predominance of the theme of loss in the drama:



In any event, what comes to us most forcefully from the stage in Othello is not mystery but the agony of loss, loss all the more tragic, in some instances, for not being inevitable. Brabantio loses (in every sense) his much-loved only child and eventually dies of grief. Cassio in a drunken moment loses his soldier’s discipline, then his lieutenancy and his cherished comradeship
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(153)



Are hatred and loss the only themes in the work? Hardly. Campbell categorizes Othello as a “study in jealousy”:



Othello has suffered less in its modern interpretation than any other of Shakespeare’s tragedies, it would seem. So insistently did Shakespeare keep this tragedy unified about the theme of jealousy and the central victims of the passion, so obviously did he mould his plot about the black Moor and the cunning Iago and the victims of their jealousy that no interpreter has been able to ignore the obvious intention of the author. Yet if we study the contemporary interpretations of the passion here portrayed, we find that Shakespeare was following in detail a broader and more significant analysis of the passion than has in modern days been understood. The play is, however, clearly a study in jealousy and in jealousy as it affects those of different races. (148)



Can we narrow down the concept of jealousy in this play to a specific type? Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” sees this play as a study in sexual jealousy:



Othello is not a study in pride, egoism, or self-deception: its subject is sexual jealousy, loss of faith in a form which involves the whole personality at the profound point where body meets spirit. The solution which Othello cannot accept is Iago’s: ‘Put up with it.’ This is as impossible as that Hamlet should, like Claudius, behave as if the past were done with and…

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