Explore Shakespeare(TM)s presentation of the changes in Othello(TM)s character in the play Othello(TM)

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Curran Sareen                AS English Lit. A - Coursework        

Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of the changes in Othello’s character in the play ‘Othello’

‘Othello’ can be described as a catastrophic play written by Shakespeare in Elizabethan times and represents the real-world themes of love and jealousy as well as racism. The play demonstrates the downfall in character of a noble general, Othello who at the beginning of the play is full of courage, discipline and authority. The influence of other characters, triggers the deterioration of Othello’s great qualities as a result of his selfishness and jealousy. The continuous change of Othello’s character creates reason for the audience and Desdemona to question what has happened because of the changes brought about by Iago and his deviousness which Othello falls for. This causes the several tragedies, which occur one-by-one gathering pace towards the end of the plot.

At the beginning of the play (Act 1, Scene 1), before we are introduced to Othello, we are bestowed with some impression of him through the opinions of Iago and Roderigo. This is a clever technique used by Shakespeare to immediately show us what the other characters think of him as well as signal out Iago’s negative personality; “an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe” instantly labelling Othello, the moor, as an aggressive beast ‘mating’ with a white, innocent woman, demonstrating the extreme level of racism at the time. Even though Othello is portrayed as an animal towards Brabantio and the audience, Othello is bound to be quite wealthy and high ranked in Roderigo’s perspective but not necessarily likable, “what a full fortune does the thick-lips owe”, which shows that Roderigo is envious of Othello’s status. This is put across even further by the abusive term “thick lips” demonstrating the racial hatred that Roderigo possesses. Othello is once again depicted as a voracious character by Iago’s distraught imagery – “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs”, implying that Othello and Desdemona (Brabantio’s daughter) are having sex which is put across in a filthy perspective to make audience think defectively of Othello. The several sexual connotations referred to by Iago and Roderigo not only suggest Othello’s lascivious personality but also mislead us into believing that he is too proud and pompous. However, in Act 1, Scene 2 our perception of him almost completely changes when he appears in person on the stage.

When we are introduced to Othello, in Act 1, Scene 2, he is seen as confident but also humble and generous. This is a complete contrast to the qualities hinted by Iago towards Brabantio in the opening scene and the audience begins to see his self-assured quality of speech with lack of hesitation, “Let him do his spite”, which demonstrates his wise and calm personality.  Furthermore, “services which I have done the signory, shall out-tongue his complaints”, illustrating his confident qualities by stating that his past duties will outweigh Brabantio’s accusations, portraying his stable and determined character. Othello’s modest qualities are also shown by the methods he uses to tackle Brabantio’s accusations – “Most potent, grave and reverend signors, my very noble and approved good masters”. The use of the adjectives: ‘potent’; ‘grave’; ‘noble’; and ‘good’ show his respect and high admiration for the people at the court and ensure that the audience regard Othello with high status. Shakespeare uses these examples to present the Moor as modest and reasonable at the beginning of the play to ensure the audience remain optimistic about his character. This keeps the audience and Venetian people convinced that Othello has a great amount of respect for his father-in-law, which is indeed very important if he is to succeed in this dispute. All of this puts him in a great position so that he can maintain the respect he receives from associated characters, which constructs such a noble and powerful personality.

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However, Othello’s character begins to change and his faith in Desdemona deteriorates in Act 2, Scene 3, and for the first time in the play he has several doubts over Desdemona and Cassio’s behaviour. Othello’s personality begins to change from the point of Cassio’s brawl with Montano. These are the first signs that we see of Othello’s downfall in confidence – “Zounds, if I stir or do but lift this arm, the best of you shall sink in my rebuke”, showing that he’s extremely irritated and shocked at the extent of the fight. This line also prepares the audience ...

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