Othello extract Analysis (3.3.435-476)

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Sam Heard

Othello Analysis (3.3.435-476)

This extract seems fitting for analysis as it embodies the meaning of tragedy in the Aristotelian sense: the chief emotions induced in the audience from this 40-line exchange are pity and fear which by Aristotle’s definition announce a tragedy. The crucial event in this extract – Iago’s claims to have seen Cassio “wipe his beard” with the handkerchief – provoke a breakdown in Othello leading to his ceremonial vow to enact his revenge. This sequence stimulates pity in the audience as they witness the “monstrous creation” Iago gleefully describes at the close of Act 1 drive Othello into a rage, shouting “blood, blood, blood”. Moreover, losing this composure which the audience had hitherto experienced in Othello evokes fear in the audience with the realisation that Othello has became the animalistic beast Iago derided him as being throughout the whole play.

Thomas Rhymer’s contemptuous view on Othello is notorious as he questions “so much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about an handkerchief! Why was not this call’d the Tragedy of the Handkerchief?”. Rhymer clearly appreciates the importance of the handkerchief in Othello. Preceding this extract the importance of the handkerchief to Desdemona is clear: by Emilia’s account, Desdemona at times even treats the handkerchief as a substitute for Othello as she states how “she reserves it evermore about her to kiss and talk to”. The importance of the handkerchief is, unfortunately, noticed by Iago as he bid Emilia to steal it “a hundred times”. Whilst the origins of the handkerchief are clearly not of importance to Othello as he gives two entirely different accounts of how it came into his possession, this extract shoes the significance of the handkerchief to Othello as upon his false realisation that Desdemona has given it to Cassio, he declares “now do I see ‘tis [Iago’s accusation] true”. Though Rhymer’s summary of Othello accepts the importance of the handkerchief, it does not appreciate the complex web of symbols behind the handkerchief. The audience is told how the handkerchief is spotted with strawberries and this colour distribution may be likened to Othello’s promise that ‘Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted’ in Act Five. In this sense, the handkerchief, present at the start of their relationship as the “first gift” given to Desdemona, may symbolise the fact that the coupling of Desdemona and Othello was doomed to end in failure – indeed the inevitability of the fall from grace is a staple of Shakespearian tragedy with, for example, Macbeth’s fall prophesised before it happens by the witches. Further, the colour of the handkerchief may also be a reference to fellow Elizabethan dramatist Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, where, like Othello, Hieronimo takes the “handkerchief besmeared with blood” from his dead son’s body and vows to keep with him until the act of revenge is performed. Upon receiving the news about the handkerchief, Othello does two interesting things in this extract: he makes his ritualistic vow for revenge and his language adapts to accommodate his rage.

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Like Conrad’s tragic figure of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, arguably Othello’s main attribute is his speech. Indeed, where, like in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the audience is informed about

Othello before he has appeared on stage, Iago describes Othello’s capacity for high rhetoric as he states “but he, as loving his own pride and purposes, evades them, with a bombast circumstance horribly stuffed with epithets of war.” The audiences’ realisation of Othello’s charisma makes his claim that “rude am I in my speech and little blest with the soft phrase of peace” during the improvised trial highly ironic. However, for ...

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