Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Othello by William Shakespeare

Every week by Saturday morning...
* Read 100 to 150 pages.

* Write 300+ words a week in response to your reading.
* Respond analytically and personally to what you have read.
* Discuss the significance of at least one passage/quotation.
* Discuss the relationship between what you are reading and something(s) else you have read this year.
* Respond to a comment made by a peer (after the first week).


Marisa D. said...

In Othello there are two characters on opposing sides who are working together for their own agendas against Othello. They are Iago, who is angry at Othello because he did not get promoted from ensign, and Roderigo, a suitor of Desdemona because she chooses Othello, a Moor, over himself a Venetian. Hoping that Desdemona’s father Brabanito will arrest Othello for kidnapping his daughter, Iago and Roderigo sell out Othello and Brabanito sends his men after him and when they capture him they take him to the duke. The Duke just happens to really like Othello and hears him out and eventually agrees with Othello.
Shakespeare does something that many authors of his time did not do. He incorporates racism into Othello. In lines 66-67 of scene one Roderigo says “What a full fortune the thick-lips owes/If he can carry’t thus.” The “thick lips” comment is referring to a trait of the Moorish people (and people of African descent). Brabanito says in lines 96-103 of scene two “A maiden never bold,…against all rules of nature …” In this passage he is saying that his daughter in spite of how she was brought up would go against the way her father feels about the moors, and therefore her judgment is forced to seek the explanation in diabolical deceptions.
Iago reminds me of Gonerail and Reagan because of how he acts. In front of Othello he acts in manners that that profess loyalty but behind Othello’s back he is plotting against him. He says one thing and does another just like Gonerail and Reagan. The lines that really show this are lines from 50-55 “Who trimmed in forms and visages of duty… And such a one do I profess myself.”
During this Iago’s speech (1.1.41-65) he says “I am not what I am.” At one level, this is merely another way for Iago to declare that he is not what he seems to be. But if you delve deeper into this line it is an parody allusion to a line in the bible. In the book of Exodus 3:14 Moses asks God what his name is and God replies “I am that I am.” Therefore Iago asserts his own identity in terms of a negation and a hidden, diabolical evil that stands in contrast to God’s presence. Iago’s only goal is to kick Othello out by using Cassio as a scapegoat because he is sore about Cassio getting promoted over Iago.

amycarpenter57 said...

As Marissa has already given a solid synopsis of the first act I will not rehash the major points of it. Instead I will simply add to her observations of Iago and some other things I found myself.

I have heard Iago described as the "perfect villian", he has no redeming qualities and Shakespeare does not even try to attempt to give him a sympathetic motive. Anger at not being promoted is one thing but it's clear that Iago's hate for Othello goes deeper than that and takes on a severly rasist element. But both of these as motives are not consistanly held up as the real reason why Iago is so intent on ruining Othello. As Marissa said, Iago is "not what he is". I didn't think of the biblical allusion when I read that but I won't argue against it. More than just an anti-paraell to God though (although I think that in and of iself could be anaylsised later), I interperet the line as Shakespeare telling us "Don't beleive a word this guy says, not even when he soliloquises is he telling the truth and he (Iago) knows this about himself which is why he says it."

The theme of rasism is very important in this play. Iago and Roderigo both show themselves early on to be virulent rasists as is appropriate since they are the villians. Brabantio on the other hand, is not really a villian, or at least I do not see him as such at this point. It's easy to understand his anger agaist Othello up to a point. But when Othello tells of how he met Desdemona our understandings change. Apparently Brabantio liked Othello, enjoyed his stories of his life etc. etc...as long as Othello kept his hands off his white daughter. He's more enlightened than Iago and Roderigo but only slightly so. On the other side, the Duke of Venice and his counsel seem to be much better men. They agree that Othello and Desdemona are in love an that they have every right to marry (even if elopement isn't very proper it's still legal) and couldn't we please move onto more important things such as the Turks invading Cyprus? They don't make a special exception for Othello because he's a decorated general, they treat Othello and this marriage as completly equal to any other. I wonder how much a stretch this was during Elizabethan England.

A few other things I noticed:
Othello's frequent references to Iago as "honest". Iago notes that "The moor is of a free and open nature, that thinks men honest that but seem to be so," Lines 403-404 As someone who knows how the story ends this jumps off the page. Othello will soon not be of a "free and open nature" but instead will be a very suspicious man. The character changes over the course of the play and this is where it starts.

Also, the line (said by Brabantio) "Look to her, Moor, if thou has eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee." Lines 312-313. Another big theme in this play is emotions overrunning reason (this is also mentioned by Iago in line 345, more on that later as this post is getting too long). That line plants the seed which will lead to Othello's emotions overrunning his reason.


amycarpenter57 said...

Oh, forgot to connect to another book.

Hmm, well since the aspect of rasism is so prevelent in both, paraells are easly drawn to Invisible Man. They both have "black man against the world" themes along with the fact that said black man has sex with a white woman and a lot of emphasis is placed on that.

Okay, not the most subtle connection but it will have to do for now.

amycarpenter57 said...

Since I am the first one to respond this week, I’ll give a quick summary of Act 2. Othello, Desdemona, Iago, Emilia (Iago’s wife), Cassio and Roderigo (pretty much everyone we met in Act One) arrive in Cyprus. Everyone but Othello is on the island while Othello is engaging the Turks in a sea battle. After the Turks lose, everyone throws a big party where Iago gets Cassio drunk. Michael Cassio gets in a fight and Othello fires him. It’s all the start of Iago’s plan as his idea is for Cassio to go to Desdemona to ask her to influence her husband to hire him back. Othello will begin to get jealous…blah blah death.

To me, Iago is the most fascinating character in this play. Yet another motive is put forth by him-he thinks Othello slept with his wife. (Scene 3 Line 295- 296) “For that I do suspect the lusty Moor/Hath leaped into my seat.” …the credibility of this claim is almost negligible, despite the fact that Iago is soliloquizing. His earlier motive of wanting revenge for Cassio being promoted above him is more believable as we actually saw that happening, within the play itself the claim that Othello slept with Emilia is nonexistent.

Not that I believe he would really care if Emilia was having an affair. He treats her horribly. In the part in Scene 1 where he, Emilia and Desdemona are talking he insults her several times and doesn’t really seem to like her.

I actually can’t find the line now but I think it’s in this act that he basically says he’s the devil.

Iago’s plan, starting with getting Cassio drunk is a marvelous plan, it reminds me of something from a Looney Tunes sketch. Marvelous in design but really only workable in fiction. Still, he’s like a chessmaster, a magnificent bastard, and a villain with good publicity (those title not being of my own making). Because of these traits he reminds me of Jupiter from the Dark Portal series.

Marisa D. said...

I agree with Amy about Iago, though I think that as we continue on in the book that I may appreciate his wife Emilia. (She and Iago have a very strange relationship just saying.)
In Act 2 I found this passage to be the most revealing about the character of Iago. ( I included the whole passage because I felt that I needed to.)
O gentle lady, do not put me to ’t,
For I am nothing, if not critical.

Come on, assay. There’s one gone to the harbor?
Ay, madam.

I am not merry, but I do beguile
The thing I am by seeming otherwise.
Come, how wouldst thou praise me?

I am about it, but indeed my invention
Comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze,
It plucks out brains and all. But my Muse labors
And thus she is delivered:
If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit,
The one’s for use, the other useth it.

Well praised! How if she be black and witty?

If she be black, and thereto have a wit,
She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.

Worse and worse!

How if fair and foolish?

She never yet was foolish that was fair,
For even her folly helped her to an heir.

These are old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh i' th' alehouse. What miserable praise hast thou for her
That’s foul and foolish?

There’s none so foul and foolish thereunto,
But does foul pranks which fair and wise ones do.

The reason I found this passage so interesting is because it reveals how sexist Iago is towards women. In this passage he says “She never yet was foolish that was fair,/For even her folly helped her to an heir” which means that no pretty woman is foolish because if she was her stupidity would only make her more sought after. When Desdamona asks what if the woman is ugly and stupid Iago says that even if she is ugly she’d still be smart enough to find someone to sleep with her. Iago is very sexist and in a way almost makes fun of Desdamona because even though she is pretty and smart she still can’t see his plan.

Like Amy said, I don’t think that Iago likes Emilia very much either. The way he treats her is horrible but I don’t think that Emilia is “invisible”. I think that her character has still a lot to develop and hopefully she will tell Iago what she really thinks about him.

I think the way Shakespeare views women in this section of the book can be compared to how Stephen Deadalus relates to women in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.