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To What Extent Could it be said that the death of Othello Represents on Stage the Death of an Age?

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Ruth Messenger March 2002 To What Extent Could it be said that the death of Othello Represents on Stage the Death of an Age? Shakespeare wrote the play 'Othello' round about the year 1602 and it is still revered as one of his great works today, 400 years later. It is the story of a great man, a tragic hero whose only flaw was exploited and manipulated by his 'best friend' to Othello's grievous demise. Othello perished by his own hand following the murder by him of his beautiful wife Desdemona. Iago had fooled him into believing she had been having an affair, and when Othello discovered it was pure fabrication it was too late and Desdemona was dead. Having murdered the woman he loved, Othello stabbed himself because he couldn't bear to live: "I kissed thee ere I killed thee: no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss." To find what extent it could be said that the death of Othello on stage represents the death of an age, we must look at the play in different contexts - did Othello's death represent a change in attitude or ideas? A change in the world at the time Shakespeare was writing? A change in contemporary drama? Or could it instead be argued that the death of one fictional character cannot represent anything other that a fitting and poignant ending to an excellent play? ...read more.


Thus the death of Othello represents on stage the death of medieval values like nobility, justice and chivalry to be replaced with Iago's power grabbing values, of cheating and deceiving. At this point in the analogy it could be argued that Iago also dies, we don't witness it as an audience, but from Lodovico's decree to Cassio at the end of the play, we expect his execution to be a grisly one: "To you Lord governor, Remains the censure of this hellish villain, The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!"(lines 365-367 act 5 scene 2). If Iago dies, how can he represent the birth of a new age? My answer to this would be that; unlike Othello who represents his whole age and the death of it, Iago represents just the beginning of his. The fact the he is present in the play is a foothold for his values because men like him with morals like his are alien to Othello and therefore to his age. Iago's acts taught Othello, Cassio, Lodovico and the senate a lesson and that knowledge cannot be lost; following Iago's actions, there would always be suspicion hindering trust and loyalty. Iago contaminates society and a good comparison to explain my meaning would be the story of Eve and the snake in the garden of Eden. ...read more.


Just as Iago indirectly, yet effectively killed Othello, the 'Revengers Tragedy' trend changed the style and mood of plays produced, meaning less Shakespearean tragedies were written So to what extent could it be said that the death of Othello on stage represents the death of an age? We must bear in mind that there were many plays written at this time, Othello was only one of them. Therefore, the argument that the play 'Othello' effectively ended one trend of tragedy and brought forth another one, is too extreme an argument to take. We can however consider that 'Othello' contributed to the 'snowball effect' that gradually displaced Shakespearean tragedy, replacing it with a new style of play. Can it be argued that the death of Othello on stage represents the death of 'medieval values' and the birth of the Machiavellian 'Renaissance' views? I would say, that yes, this argument is very strong. Both characters resemble perfectly the values they are supposed to embody, Iago undermining, controlling and eventually disposing of a man whose thought structure no longer allows him to live in a changing world. As Iago once said: "O monstrous world! Take note, take note, O world, To be direct and honest is not safe!" (*1) Definition of a Tragic Hero - 'Othello Oral Presentation - K. Bellamy (*2) quote taken from speech in Jean Anouilh's 'Antigone' discussing the nature of tragedy. page26 Methuen student edition pub.2000 (*3) A. C. Bradley lecture VI first pub. 1904 ...read more.

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