On love and hatred
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
* 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
* 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.
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
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
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
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.