Othello: Critical Essays (Paperback)
Othello — Critical Essays
So…you’ve closely read the Bradley, Ridley, White or French critical essay. Your photocopy is all covered in ink and thoughts. Now it’s time for your 500 word critical reflection where you talk about the main idea(s) of the piece and how it aligns (or doesn’t) with your own scholarly views. I look forward to reading this.
*If it is after Jan 23/13, you need to travel back in time and get to work.*
A. C. Bradley’s Essay Shakespearean Tragedy.
Iago’s character stands out more than any other in Othello. He is the puppet master only second to Shakespeare himself, and twists and shapes the entire plot of the story. A.C Bradley’s essay on Iago’s character stands to be one of the most comprehensive and well written essays to date, and brings up many valid and insightful points. This critical reflection will analyze Bradley’s essay, identify the focus and topics he presents, and explore the essay’s views as opposed to my own.
The critical essay written by A. C. Bradley focuses around the analysis of the character Iago in Othello. He goes over the ideas of his motives, his personality, his strengths and weakness, and his inevitable downfall. Bradley points out that Iago is a superior character in Othello due to his intellect and control over his will. In a sense, Iago is more the main character of Othello than Othello is. Iago also has what Bradley calls “absolute egoism,” which is Iago’s on personal self-serving creed. Bradley goes on to talk about Iago’s lack of sympathy, motive hunting, and whether or not he is truly evil.
First and foremost Bradley’s essay annoys me greatly. He constantly refers to other writers, and their essays or writings without any context to who they are or what the publication is. This can be witnessed multiple times, for example in page 228 of the essay, Bradley writes, “Hazlitt and Mr. Swinburne do not put this into question, but the answer I proceed to give is in principle to theirs.” He brings up these two names with no context of who they are, what they have written, and proceeds to never mention them or their writing again! While Bradley’s lack of information regarding sources is frustrating it is his views on Iago’s character that I disagree with.
Bradley portrays Iago as an “innocent”. He talks about this on 236, saying Iago found himself involved in murders that were in no way part of his original plan. Bradley romanticizes Iago throughout the essay, and I find this rather disgruntling. Personally, I think Iago intended for people to die, and made no attempt to correct his plan in order to avoid deaths that occurred. Furthermore, many of Iago’s decisions involve someone being hurt or killed, such as Cassio and Roderigo’s fight in Act 2 Scene 3. However it is not all of Bradley’s analysis of Iago that I view differently.
When Bradley is discussing Iago’s motives I agree with his perspective. Bradley concludes on page 221, that Iago’s true motivation may be his need to be superior. When something threatens his superiority, he acts to reassert his dominance. On page 225, Bradley writes “These motives appear and disappear in the most extraordinary manner.” This is a well-made point by Bradley and makes a lot of sense concerning Iago’s actions.
Bradley’s essay provides insight in to Iago’s character, his intelligence, his motives, and his downfalls, as well as the effect he has on others around him. However, I personally disagree with the way in which Bradley romanticizes Iago, as well as his statements of his innocence. The beauty of Othello is how each person understands and interprets each character, and the opinions we form behind them.
Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996.
Innocent Victims: Poetic Injustice in Shakespearean Tragedy
Innocent Victims written by R.S. White is a critical essay about the Shakespearean play Othello. More specifically, the essay is centered on the character of Desdemona, the wife of Othello.
This essay talks about the characters and events that affect Desdemona and the way the character develops and unfolds leading up to her death. The essay also focuses on the roles of women in the play.
Women in Othello are portrayed as gentle and delicate creatures for the most part. Characters such as Iago and Brabantio make it less clear of this, as they make it appear as if Desdemona is not the innocent girl she appears to be. The essay makes multiple remarks of how women are indifferent from men. The time period also is a huge factor on the roles of gender in Othello.
When White references some critics on page 78, he references Thomas Rymer and responds to a line from one of his analysis’s on Othello. A line taken from one of Rymer’s analysis’s says “but the ‘moral’ he finds, that young women should not disobey their fathers”. White responds by saying that is insensitive, as Rymer tries to use it as leverage to justify Desdemona’s death. I agree with White, even though the time period plays a role in the way women and young women act, freedom is important for someone like Desdemona, so she can experience the world. It’s just unfortunate and bad luck that she got involved with the wrong people, especially Iago.
White also references Rymer again, this time Rymer states that Desdemona deserved to die because of a lie she tells. Before I could read what White said, I was instantly shrugging my eyebrows at this. I’m not sure how one can think of a statement like this as there isn’t anyone more innocent in the play than Desdemona. She was unfortunately the victim of Iago’s games with Othello, Rodergio and everyone else that he dare said a word to. White then says that by justifying Desdemona’s death and by blaming her for it, we would be taking the side of Iago, who is obviously a crazed lunatic. This I also agree with because the whole play is meant for us to feel pity for Desdemona and all the characters that died, but all that would be contradictory if we blamed Desdemona.
“Iago genuinely sees Desdemona not as a sympathetic woman whose world has revolved around the routine occupation of the home, but as a volatile creature of flesh blood with powerful sexual desires which lead her to initiate sexual contact. In his eyes she is ‘full of game’” – pg. 84
White references Iago’s view of Desdemona in the play here. I agree with what White says after about female stereotypes in Othello and how men impose these stereotypes on them. The women, especially Desdemona seem to stir up commotion without trying, as men like Iago twist facts to suit theories. However, not once in the play did Desdemona ever imply to Iago that she was just looking for lust and to fulfill her sexual desires. This is just another example of how women are portrayed in Othello.
In all, I think that this essay brings up some important and valid points about Desdemona and how she and other women are portrayed, but I thought the essay was a bit inconsistent with the main focus, Desdemona.
Benn Bland The Spiciest Man Alive
I did my critique on Bradley I support and disagree with some of the points he made. In this critique of Othello, the author raises three main questions about Iago: Does Iago possess superior intelligence? Is Iago capable of emotion? What actually motivated Iago? The first question deals with Iago’s level of intelligence. The author clarifies that Iago had “quickness, inventiveness, and adaptiveness” (p. 236) but stops short of calling him a supreme intellectual power. I agree with this description. Strategy requires a person to consider every possibility that can happen and to develop a course of action for each. Iago did not do this. He did set an initial goal to destroy Cassio and Othello. He knew that he wanted to do so because Othello failed to recognize Iago’s talent and Cassio had the nerve to accept the position. Iago also plotted the endpoint- how he would take revenge. However, the rest of the plan seemed to evolve over time. He was able to take advantage of unexpected turn of events such as Desdemona dropping her handkerchief, but he failed to plan out some major things such as Rogerigo’s skill at fighting and if he could successfully kill Cassio . As such, I would say that Iago was an opportunist: A smart opportunist, but not one of supreme intelligence.
Innocent Victims: Poetic Injustice in Shakespearean Tragedy
By R.S White
In the book Innocent Victims by R.S White, he talks about Desdemona and how she is portrayed in the play Othello. Desdemona is portrayed as a very young and innocent girl who marries an army General named Othello.
For the most part this essay talks about how women are treated as characters in the story, but it mostly focuses on Desdemona and how the men throughout the play treat her. It has been brought up multiple times in the play that men are more superior then women. At the end of the play they say that Desdemona “deserves” to die because she tells a wicked lie. When throughout the whole play almost every character lied, especially Iago. Even after all the scheming that Iago did he still managed to live at the end of the story. In my opinion there is defiantly some bias towards men in this play, but you cannot blame Shakespeare for this because this sort of behaviour was normal for this time.
White also briefly talks about Iago’s character and how he might not be as different then many people in modern times. He says that in the story Iago is represented, as the “new man” whom he explains is a person that may exist in every generation to condone fewer virtues of social respectability, power, and unfeeling oppression over others. I completely agree with this, there are many people in todays world that would throw you under the bus just to get what they want. Although in the play Iago took it to the extreme by killing people but it is generally the same idea.
White brings up the use of the phrase “be a man” in the play Othello. Several times in the play when Iago is giving Desdemona advice he significantly repeats the line “be a man”. This brings our attention to a world where the woman must satisfy the man in all activities or be denounced. Things such as this may be considered sexist now but it was completely normal back in Shakespeare’s time, meaning it wouldn’t have been a big deal.
Overall I would have to say that I agree with the points that R.S White made. I feel as though he was looking too much into a lot of these things. You have to remember that when Shakespeare was writing and directing these plays none of the things that White had brought up where considered a big deal or offensive. I feel as though the thing Shakespeare wrote about where considered to be fairly common things at that time. Something like adultery was especially not tolerated by woman in that time period. If I look at the play from the perspective of someone reading it in 2013 then I would have to agree with White and say killing Desdemona and not allowing her character to grow because she told one lie is very sexist.
An Essay on an Essay about Othello
In her essay, Marilyn French ‘subtly’ states that throughout Shakespeare’s play Othello, Iago, the epitome of masculinity, demolishes the other characters’ feminine qualities, especially those of Desdemona. French describes the Venetian masculine principle as a man with complete self-control who believes in reason and power. Iago thoroughly embodies this principle, since his self-control never falters, he searches constantly for reasons to justify his actions, and he needs to feel dominant in all situations. Iago’s possessiveness of women, as well as his use of bestial terms for sex and his jabs about Cassio’s and Othello’s effeminacies, lead French to conclude that he is outlandishly misogynistic. The feminine values so despised in Venetian society are loyalty, obedience, and emotion. Loyalty is exemplified in Desdemona’s “divided loyalties” to her father and to Othello. Obedience is also exemplified in Desdemona’s responses to Othello’s orders. Emotion can be found in Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca, the three women of the play. Othello, Cassio, and Brabantio all lose control at some point during the play, and Othello and Cassio speak of affection and loyalty, and value society over individuality. These are the feminine characteristics that Iago mocks and destroys. The main way in which Iago has killed Desdemona’s femininity is by changing Othello’s perception of sex to his own. When Iago plants the seeds of jealousy in Othello’s mind, Othello begins to hate Desdemona, and since Desdemona is the model of a perfect woman, Othello loses respect for all women. According to French, Othello is centred around the misogyny of Venetian society, as personified by Iago.
I disagree with French on three counts. First, French states that Desdemona “accepts her culture’s dictum that she must be obedient to males.” French references Desdemona’s “divided loyalties” to her father and Othello, as well as her faithfulness to Othello as he becomes increasingly abusive. While French sees these instances as examples of submissiveness in the play, I view them in the opposite way. Desdemona is, after Iago, the most clever character in the play. Her words about divided loyalty display this perfectly:
“My noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty. To you I am bound for life and education; My life and education both do learn me How to respect you: you are the lord of duty; I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband, And so much duty as my mother show’d To you, preferring you before her father, So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor my lord.”
In this quote, Desdemona astutely attempts to use the concepts of duty and loyalty to convince her father that she should be with Othello. Although Desdemona speaks of duty and being bound for life and education, she does not blindly accept this. In this quote, she shows that she is perfectly aware of the misogynistic laws of Venetian society, and she plays off of them to win over Brabantio. Desdemona recognizes the male need to feel dominant and in-control, and uses that to bend her father to her will. I would argue that Desdemona is far from submissive to the misogyny surrounding her. As for her faithfulness to Othello, despite his growing abusiveness, Desdemona is both in love with Othello and unaware of the reason for his vehemence. Desdemona remains loving and obedient towards her husband because she believes that this is the best remedy to his anger. Up until the end, Desdemona is convinced that loyal, faithful behaviour will restore Othello to his old self. When, on her deathbed, she tells Emilia that she killed herself, it is a final assertion of both her love for Othello and of her control over her life.
Second, while I agree with French’s categorization of Iago as the male principle, Desdemona as the female, and all the other characters as in between, I view this play, and perhaps Venetian society, as being feminist. At the end of Othello, I feel sympathy for Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio, Bianca, and Roderigo because they have all been bitterly poisoned by Iago. Since the villainous Iago embodies the male qualities supposedly prized by Venetian society, the play ultimately argues in favour of feminine qualities, as those are what differentiate Iago’s victims from himself. This suggests that Othello is truly a feminist manifesto! Two of the three women, Desdemona and Emilia, are strong female figures. Desdemona cleverly plays off of the Venetian rules to get her way. Emilia is not an innocent, blindly loyal wife either, as can be seen from her discussion with Desdemona about infidelity. Shakespeare uses Bianca’s character to accurately represent Venetian society at that time, but Bianca’s desperation and treatm
Darklady Silverwoman (continued)
-ent by Cassio accentuate Desdemona’s and Emilia’s strength.
Furthermore, I would argue that Venetian society, while ostensibly misogynistic, does not value complete masculinity. In the end, Iago is not revered by Lodovico and Gratiano for his superb self-control and embodiment of the masculine principle, but is sentenced to be punished. Instead, looking at the entire play, the most esteemed characters, such as the Duke, Lodovico, and Othello at first, all display some feminine characteristics.
Finally, French reasons that Iago and Cassio’s conversation about Bianca, misunderstood by Othello as being about Desdemona, signifies that, “In this male world, all women are the same.” I strongly disagree with this point. One of Shakespeare’s most common literary devices is that of mistaken identities. Shakespeare uses mistaken identities in Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing, for instance. For this reason, it is not a valid argument to say that one case of mistaken identity in Othello means that men see women as all the same.
My disagreements with French’s analysis of Othello are centred around her belief that Desdemona is a weak and submissive female, and that the play is misogynistic as a whole. Although Venetian society belittles females, it also punishes complete masculinity. I do agree with French that males in Venice are expected to have self-control and reason, and that women are expected to be loyal and obedient. These, however, are descriptions in black and white of the male and female principles. French must acknowledge that there exist many shades of grey in between.
Innocent Victims: Poetic Injustice in Shakespearean Tragedy By R.S White
In that book, White shows us an innocent Victims on Othello- Desdemona. Desdemona is Othello’s lover, they fell in love with and they trust each other before Iago tell Othello those lies. And Othello became jealous and killed Desdemona by himself. So, this tragedy is beginning from jealous. Also in White’s book, he said as the play goes on, Desdemona is increasingly trapped in the position of dovelike victim, completely ignorant of the lies which have been spread around her, and temperamentally committed to protecting the feelings of others before her own. So, we know that Desdemona did not know anything, she died because all the lies Iago made. And it shows us how tragic she is.
White tells us that Iago causes Desdemona’s death. I actually agree with it. But I want to say that it is also because of the society at that time. Men is more powerful than women. And another important point is that Othello is jealous after Iago tells him the thing between Desdemona and Cassio. And white also said Desdemona but about the mental suffering experienced by Othello. They feel that a man who loved so well does not deserve such torment. And Shakespeare said in 1884 that he wishes this Tragedy had never been written. But White thinks that Desdemona should die because she tells us a wicked lie. After Desdemona’s death. Emilia tells all the truth and Othello knows that Iago is a liar.
In Othello, Iago makes use of that Othello comes from Africa and the things he thinks and the ways he deals with problems are depended on where he grows up. So, that is the point for Iago to make Othello becomes jealous and it causes Desdemona’s not symplectic fate. It did not tell us in Othello, but that is the point what we should know. Because a person’s thought is inseparable with the place that he grew up. Othello trusts Desdemona, the reason for him to become jealous is Desdemona is so important to him, he has no idea what his life will be if he loses her. So, for him, when he hears about that Desdemona and Cassio have been slept. The first idea shows up in his mind is not to ask Desdemona if it is true. He tries to get the answer by himself. But the result is not that good. So, he wants to kill Desdemona. And what Desdemona did when she found that Othello has something wrong, she did nothing. She just tries to make Othello believes her, but she even does not know why Othello would trade her like this.
So, I really agree that White said Desdemona is an innocent victim, because she cannot do anything and she has no power to save herself. Her powerless makes Iago’s plan be successful. And then, she is killed by her husband. That is what a tragedy should look like and that is what the society causes that kind of sad ending.
In the future, people will live very much the same way as we do now. The population will not have changed by much, becuase all the arable land will have been used up. Vast lakes will be drained to make more living space (lebensraum) and people will be forced to live on platforms in the water. Large-scale collection of solar energy will make it possible to inhabit parts of Antartica, but most of these habitations will be slums for the poor. A rogue state will have will send a group of children as colonizers to Venus to live in gigantic balloons.
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