For your assessment, you will be required to answer the following five questions relating to Shakespeare’s play Othello. Please answer each question in paragraph format, supporting answers with textual evidence as necessary. One Paragraph per question is acceptable. You need not write more. Essentially, you will have a five-paragraph when you’ve answered each question.
1. Othello as Other In the character of Othello, Shakespeare conceives a character who find himself an “other”; that is, a person set apart from his society. Othello is a man of dark skin living in a white society, a man who has had worldly adventures now living among nobility, and a convert to Christianity. His “differences” certainly bring Othello recognition, yet they also play on his insecurities. Describe the character of Othello; noting in which areas he professes himself confident and which areas he expresses insecurities.
2. Iago as Villain This story is one of hero and villain, good and evil, love and jealousy, and a number of other polarities. Iago, of course, is our evil villain. But what exactly makes Iago a successful villain? Describe the qualities that make Iago a successful villain.
3. Dramatic Irony Irony is premised on the law of opposites. We call something ironic when we encounter the opposite of what we expected. Playwrights use dramatic irony to add suspense to a performance. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters on stage do not. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows that Juliet is not dead, merely sleeping, but Romeo does not know this. When he readies his sword to take his own life, we want to scream out “No Romeo!” for we see what he cannot. This dramatic irony is the same technique that Alfred Hitchcock used in his famous shower scene in Psycho; the audience could see the psycho behind the shower curtain but poor Janet Leigh could not.
Comment on the dramatic irony in the handkerchief scene in Othello. In this scene, Othello warns Desdemona that his handkerchief is of great value to him. He says, “Make it a darling like your precious eye / To lose’t or give it away were such perdition / As nothing else could match.” The handkerchief then is a symbol of fidelity for Othello. Reread this scene, noting Othello’s story of the handkerchief. Then comment on the dramatic irony of this scene. (Hint: if the handkerchief is a symbol of fidelity or trust for Othello, what’s ironic about this?).
4. Othello is a tragic hero. In the Greek tradition of dramatic tragedy, the tragic hero was a man who arose to great heights (Oedipus, Achilles) only to have his downfall through some tragic flaw. The concept of the tragic hero is alive and well in society at large. If you peruse sports, politics, or entertainment, no doubt you will find countless examples of heroes all undone by their tragic flaws (Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Elliot Spitzer, Bernie Madoff, Bill Cosby, etc.) These are all men who achieved great heights, only to overlook something, and come quickly tumbling from their pedestal of height. This tragic flaw we call hamartia or “missing the mark.”
Othello is manipulated by the force of fate, in this case Iago, who is clearly out to ruin him. Yet, in the tradition of the Greek tragic hero, Othello participates in his own doom by his tragic flaw. What is Othello’s tragic flaw? What does he overlook?
5. In Act III, Scene III, Iago actually tells Othello (surreptitiously) of his very plan to ruin him. Iago warns, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy, It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Shakespeare clearly understood the human inclination toward jealousy as a “green-eyed monster” which feeds on itself. Jealousy, once rooted in Othello, takes over his occupation. Yet, ironically, Iago seems to understand the nature of jealousy all too well. Explain the role that jealousy plays in this drama? Comment on the theme of jealousy that is evident in Shakespeare’s play.