Othello is a tragedy, tracing the fall from grace of its protagonist, a black general in the Venetian army, from respected public figure to murderer of his white wife, Desdemona. Instrumental in his downfall is the Machiavellian villain Iago, who persuades him by devious means that he is a cuckold - which Desdemona has slept with his lieutenant, Cassio.
Audiences and critics are divided about how to interpret the play and its central characters. Some see Othello as a conventional tragic hero; great but fatally flawed, while others regard him as bombastic and easily jealous. Iago's character, too, is disputed. Is he malicious for realistic reasons or implausibly motiveless? How do you interpret the play?
|Great man brought low|
|Vicious, scheming pragmatist|
Seeing and judgement
Race and colour
Attitudes to women
The language of the play
Iago as Machiavel
Beast and animal imagery
Metaphors of eating and poison
The "double timescale"
Act I, scene 3: Othello, Brabantio and Desdemona appear before the Duke
Act III, scene 3: Iago poisons Othello's love for Desdemona
Controversy about key characters - Othello, Iago, Desdemona
Relevance of minor characters - e.g. Emilia, Bianca, The Duke, Roderigo, Brabantio, Lodovico, Montano
Key themes and issues - race, jealousy, love, judgement, black and white
Setting and social context of the action - Venice, Cyprus, prevailing social attitudes
Individual scenes and their significance to the play as a whole