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Random views on Othello:

Shakespeare has written Othello during the first decade of the 17th Century when he wrote the other great tragedies like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. According to Malone, the play probably belongs to the years 1603-4 (Handley, 1995). Shakespeare has been influenced by the story ‘ The Moor of Venice’ by the Italian writer Geraldi Cinthio (1504-75) Shakespeare has simplified the story and has intensified the tension created in the plot. The character and plot details of Cinthio have been trimmed by Shakespeare to reduce the duration of the story from several weeks to just three days.

Some film adaptations of Othello

* 1982 Othello, the Black Commando written by and starring Max H. Boulois with Tony Curtis as Colonel Iago and Joanna Pettet as Desdemona

* 1995 Othello with Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Fishburne, and Irene Jacob. Directed by Oliver Parker.

* 1997 Kaliyattam in Malayalam, a modern update, set in Kerala, starring Suresh Gopi as Othello, which won him the national award for best actor, Lal as Iago, Manju

Warrier as Desdemona, directed by Jayaraaj.

* 2001 O a modern update, set in an American high school. Stars Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Josh Hartnett

* 2002 Eloise a modern update, set in Sydney, Australia.

* 2006 Omkara, a Hindi film adaptation of Othello directed by Vishal Bhardwaj

* 2008 Jarum Halus a modern updated Malaysian version, in English and Malay

by Mark Tan

Maria Malibran as Rossini’s Desdemona by François Bouchot, 1834

Further the character the Moor in Cinthio has been an unreflective, violent savage though a noble by birth. Shakespeare’s Othello on the other hand is an introspect with strong feelings, tensions and contradictions. While Cinthio has recorded mere actions of the characters, Shakespeare has given more weight to motives and feelings. (Handley 1995).

The plot is straightforward. Othello is a brave Moorish general who is the central figure in the plot. He has to defend. Cypress against the Turks, Cassio is his lieutenant. Othello has recently married Desdemona in secret against her father’s wishes. Barbantio is her father, Iago is the villain who hates Othello as he was not appointed him as lieutenant by Othello. Iago wants to take revenge from Othello. Iago develops a strategic plan for his end. There is a foolish Venetian called Rodrigo who is madly in love with Desdemona.

But Desdemona does not like him. Now Imago makes use of his own wife (Emilia) to bring a handkerchief from Desdemona. Bianca is a prostitute who loves Cassio and Iago makes use of her too in the handkerchief transference. This handkerchief has been given to Desdemona by Othello as a token of his love to her. Imago makes use of this handkerchief to misguide Othello. He says that Desdemona has given it to the handsome Cassio. Othello mad with love and suspicion kills Desdemona. But Emilia reveals the truth. Ultimately Othello too kills himself. Iago is captured.

The play is structured in five acts with each act linked by a few scenes. The setting is in Cypress which has become a Venetian territory. Othello is the hero who has saved Cyprus from the attack of the Turks. But Othello is a black moor quite different from the other members of this white community. But he is powerful.

It is in Cyprus that Iago breeds and hatches his plan of conspiracy against Othello’s ascendancy in power. Shakespeare has presented a less complicated, simple structure in Othello where the principal characters are closely integrated and linked together. Their network of relationships and involvements in the plot incidents, issues and conflicts are close and intimate.

The links between Othello and Desdemona are largely related to love and sexuality. Othello’s relationship with Iago is largely official, but Othello is unaware of the jealous underground workings of Iago against him. Further, Iago believes that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia apart from Desdemona. Rodrigo is jealous of Othello for stealing Desdemona from him. Iago is a mastermind to weave a strategic plot making good use of Cassio. Rodrigo, Brabantio, Emilia and Bianca in the process of operating it.

In style Shakespeare has used prose and verse in the paly to suit the dramatic situations and the characters. As a general rule, prose is used by comic and low characters. Verse is used by high characters. Othello generally uses verse but he shifts on to prose when he is half crazed after hearing the conversation between Iago and Cassio. Iago speaks his soliloquies in verse. Several idioms are used by Shakespeare in prose as well as in verse to make this play rich in linguistic splendour. Shakespeare largely uses the iambic pentameter the five beat verse in Othello.

As in other plays of Shakespeare the metaphoric quality of his language is distinctly observed in Othello too. There is irony too. For instance when Othello often refers to Iago as an honest man the audience would go into laughter. But when Othello is facing his doom, Emilia tells him that Desdemona is indeed honest he misbelieves it. Othello is confused with the word and its meaning of the word honest. Oxymoron, a figure of speech popular in the 16th century poetry is profusely observed in Othello. For instance word combinations like fatal sweetness, cruel tears, heavenly sorrow, murderous love could be sighted in Othello.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s simplest and neatest plots and it can be reduced to a formula: Iago seeking revenge, brings about the deaths of Othello and Desdemona, but encompasses his own downfall in the process (Handley, 1995).


Hanley Graham (1995) Boride’s Notes on Shakespeare’s Othello. Macmillan Press, London.



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