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How does Shakespeare explore the theme of loyalty in Othello?

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Essay: How does Shakespeare explore the theme of loyalty in "Othello"? During the play, Shakespeare explores many forms of loyalty: loyalty between friends, colleagues and lovers, loyalty to family and to the state. Set in Venice during the Jacobean Period, some people think that "Othello" was written for James I as a warning against dishonest and disloyal advisors. To be loyal, you must be at once trustworthy and trusting. Many characters in "Othello" are either trustworthy or trusting but few possess both of these desirable qualities. Iago is the character who shows least signs of loyalty in the play. Shakespeare shows us that Iago is dishonest and disloyal in the most blatant of ways. One of the clearest signs is when Iago himself says "I am not what I am" Act 1 Scene 1, Line 66. This is a misquote from the bible and shows that Iago is proud of being duplicative and pays no heed to God. By the end of his second soliloquy, Iago has managed to convince himself that both Othello and Cassio have slept with his wife: "twixt my sheets, he's done my office..."Iago of Othello, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 369-370, "for I fear Cassio with my night-cap too" Iago, Act 2 Scene 1, Line 288. ...read more.


Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 151. She is shocked and heartbroken when she discovers how deceitful he has been. "Villainy, villainy, villainy! ...I'll kill myself for grief. O villainy, villainy!" Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 189-192 It is only after she discovers what her husband has done that she abandons her loyalty to him in favour of her loyalty to Desdemona, her mistress, and tells all she knows about what Iago has done. She is determined to make herself heard "All, all cry shame against me, yet I'll speak" Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 220. and we see how close she was to her mistress when she begs to be laid next to Desdemona's body as she dies "Ay, ay; O, lay me by my mistress' side." Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 235. In the Jacobean Period, when "Othello" was written, Venice was becoming increasingly known for immoral behaviour. A common stereotype of the time was that of the 'cuckold'. A cuckold was a married man whose wife had sex with other men. Depicted as having two horns on the front of his head, the belief was that everyone else knew that the man's wife was unfaithful apart from the 'cuckold' himself. ...read more.


Brabantio, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 288-9. Iago is in the room at this point and we see, later in the play, that he plays on this point to increase Othello's insecurities. "She did deceive her father marrying you..."Iago, Act 3 Scene 3, Line 208. Desdemona's loyalty is a hugely important issue throughout the play. At the beginning (in Act 1), her father is angry at her disloyalty towards him and later in the play, Iago manages to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful and has been sleeping with Cassio. The audience knows that this is not the case and feels "pity and fear" Aristotle as they wait in suspense for her fate. Desdemona is trusting right up until Othello starts to kill her. Even then, she believes he might spare her life. With her last words, she tries to free him from any guilt for killing her and says "commend me to my kind lord" Act 5 Scene 2, Line 126 as she dies one of a series of characters in the play who "loved not wisely, but too well." Othello, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 340. Naomi Timpson 10R - Miss Swann Page 1 of 4 ...read more.

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Response to the question

The essay engages with the task superbly, showing clear awareness of the importance of loyalty to the plot's destination and the dramatic effect of the play. I liked how the introduction made it clear which forms of loyalty are explored ...

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Response to the question

The essay engages with the task superbly, showing clear awareness of the importance of loyalty to the plot's destination and the dramatic effect of the play. I liked how the introduction made it clear which forms of loyalty are explored by Shakespeare - it could've been improved by showing awareness of this importance early on. Each character's loyalty is discussed, showing a good knowledge of the play.

Level of analysis

The analysis in this essay is sound, but there are places where improvements could be made. I would've liked to have seen some more close analysis of language and imagery, as this is particularly important throughout the play. There is a distinct lack of audience response in this essay, and I would note this is a common problem at GCSE. Although the question doesn't explicitly ask for a discussion of the audience's response, you cannot gain higher marks without exploring the dramatic effect of loyalty on the audience. This can easily be done by discussing how Desdemona's loyalty is questioned by Iago, causing Othello's tragedy to further and thus the hatred for Iago is increased. I'm not a big fan of one paragraph dedicated to contextual information - if you want to be sophisticated, this context should be woven into all of your points. It just seems quite forced in this essay!

Quality of writing

The essay has an okay structure, having a clear introduction. It does, however, need a strong conclusion to summarise the importance of loyalty and how Shakespeare manipulates it. It's a shame to see line references used when quotes are embedded as this disrupts the flow unnecessarily. The writing style is strong, and spelling, punctuation and grammar are used well!

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Reviewed by groat 22/02/2012

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