Shakespeare and Othello

Othello, the Moor of Venice

William Shakespeare

One night Iago and Roderigo, two army officers of Venice tell Brabantio, the governor that his daughter Desdemona has been stolen away by Othello, the commander of the Venetian army. Brabantio, with some soldiers, meets Othello on the street and they decide to take their argument to the Duke. The Duke is actually waiting to see Othello, to ask him to go to Cyprus to fight the Turks. Othello tells the Duke that Desdemona fell in love with him hearing about his adventurous life as a soldier. Desdemona also says it is true and the Duke allows them to get married. Brabantio is angry and tells Othello that Desdemona who has cheated her father might cheat him too.

By the time Othello and Desdemona reach Cyprus the Turks have gone away and there is no threat of war. Othello tells his men to celebrate the easy victory and asks Cassio to be in charge of law and order for the night.

Iago makes Cassio get drunk. Then he asks Roderigo to pick up a fight with Cassio. They fight and when Othello hears about it he suspends Cassio from service. Iago encourages Cassio to seek Desdemona’s help to get back his job. He tells him to do so when Othello is not around. Othello notices Cassio sneaking away from the palace as if he has done something wrong. Iago suggests to Othello that Desdemona may be in love with Cassio.

Iago makes Othello hide behind a screen while he asks Cassio whether he has met Desdemona. Casssio says ‘yes’. He then takes Cassio away and asks him how his girl friend Bianca is. Cassio tells Iago that she wants to marry him. Othello, hearing only part of the conversation, thinks Cassio is talking about Desdemona.

Othello goes home angry and tells his wife that he has a headache. She ties a handkerchief aroud his head. This handkerchief was given to Othello by his mother. Othello takes it off and throws it on the ground when she asks him whether Cassio has been put back in service. Iago’s wife Emilia takes it and gives it to Iago who has been asking her to steal it for days.

Iago leaves this handkerchief in Cassio’s room. Cassio finds it and gives it to his girl friend, Bianca. Soon Iago makes Othello ask Desdemona for the same handkerchief. She can’t find it. Bianca, hearing about the fight regarding the handkerchief, takes it to Cassio and throws it on his face. Seeing this, Othello thinks that his wife is not only cheating him but does not even show him any respect. He is sure that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers.

Othello decides to kill Desdemona. He also asks Iago to kill Cassio. Iago gets Roderigo to kill Cassio but Roderigo can only wound Cassio. Iago kills Roderigo to silence him.

Othello reaches home and finds Desdemona sleeping. He asks her to say her prayers and after her prayers he smothers her. Emilia enters and Desdemona revives for a moment and calls Emilia for help. As she dies she says that Othello is innocent of her death. Iago and others enter, and Emilia says Desdemona was innocent, recognizing that Iago is behind the tragedy. Othello sees the truth and tries to kill Iago. Iago kills Emilia and runs away. Othello condemns himself and commits suicide. Iago is caught and taken to Venice.

Renaissance

The European history can be divided into the Classical, Middle and Modern Ages. Middle Ages was a period of blind faith, superstition and ignorance. During this time the culture and knowledge of the Greeks and the Romans were limited to Constantinople, a city in Italy. When this city was attacked in the 14th Century by some Turks returning from the crusades, the scholars left the city and went to the different countries in Europe, taking with them the culture and knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. Suddenly the whole of Europe became interested in the new knowledge and culture. Human race became more important than religion, gods, superstitions and priests. England too, especially William Shakespeare, gained a lot from this movement.

Shakespeare’s views on life

William Shakespeare was a playwright. So, whatever he said about human life should be considered as opinions of his characters and not his own. These views on life go against each other from character to character and from play to play. However, there are certain views which are repeated many times. One of them is that life is a stage where we play several characters. He lists seven of them in the play As You Like It. In the same play he also says that the best way to live is to live like a fool. Motley is the wear. Another is that life is ‘a story told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. This is said by Macbeth.

Shakespeare’s Theatre

In Shakespeare’s time theatres were very crude. There was no front curtain, back drop or scene settings. No special lighting and the shows mostly happened in the afternoon. There were special seats for rich people in the walls around and the poor people sat on the ground. The stage was like a ramp and its front part was the outdoor. Beyond the two pillars, it was indoor and above this was a balcony. There were trap doors on the floor for witches and elves to appear. Men acted all the roles and the make up was only suggestive. So, the actual play happened more in the imagination of the audience than on stage.

Why Shakespeare?

It is hard to find a better playwright than Shakespeare in any language. He uses a very poetic language which makes him a great poet also. He had a clear and deep understanding of life which is seen in his plays as well as sonnets. He created believable characters whose nature and behaviour change as the play proceeds. The characters show a wide variety of motivations and frustrations and have a very complex psychology about them. Shakespeare used a very rich vocabulary and made up his own words when he had to. All his plays have been made into films many times. His lines are frequently quoted and many books have phrases from his books as titles.

The Merchant of Venice

Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, the plot of The Merchant of Venice was also borrowed from other popular stories of the time. ‘All that glitters is not gold’ or ‘appearance is deceptive’ can be considered the theme of the play. Shakespeare has played with the theme so well that it is hard to find good or bad characters in the play. For example Portia who talks so much about mercy does not show any mercy to Shylock. None of the Christians in the play works for their bread unlike what the Bible tells them. Like our real life the characters are a mixture of good and bad. The title of the play itself is confusing since the play is not so much about Antonio, the merchant.

Elements of a good Short Story

Theme, plot, characters, dialogues and settings are the main elements of a good short story. Other relevant elements in a story are the narration, emotions, the climax, style and tone of the story.

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