A Brief Summary of Othello by William Shakespeare
Story of Othello by Shakespeare
Othello: The Play
Othello is a tragic Shakespearian play which was written around the year 1603 and was based on a sixteenth century Italian story titled Un Captiano Moro which means ‘A Moorish Captain’. Othello is portrayed as a Moorish general serving in the Venetian army of the time.
The play addresses issues of that time period, most of which are still seen in existence today. It highlights the impact of racial discrimination, jealousy, love and betrayal; elements which are not alien to most Shakespearian plays. These elements are amongst other reasons why the play has been adapted into modern times in the form of film, literature and broadcasting.
Shakespeare: The English Poet and Playwright
William Shakespeare was baptized on the 26th of April, 1564 (his actual birthdate is unknown) in Warwickshire, England. He is considered by many as the greatest writer in the history of the English language which is why he remains in odes of admiration today.
He is also regarded as England’s national poet and the ‘Bard of Avon’. He married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18 and rose to be an actor, playwright and the owner of a theatrical enterprise which was later known as King’s Men.
He died in 1616 at the age of fifty two. Today, four hundred years later, his legacy is no stranger to conspiracy and controversy regarding the originality of his work, his appearance, his sexuality and his beliefs.
Setting and Main Theme of Othello’s Story: Portrayal of Love, Revenge and Jealousy and Their Disastrous Consequences
The play was set in Venice during the invasion of the Island of Cyprus by the Turks. Othello is shown as a general in the Venetian army and the play revolves around the roles of individual characters and their relationships during a time of incoming warfare.
The play also brings into focus, like most Shakespearian plays, the effects of love and betrayal. It portrays intricate, complicated, subtle and forbidden forms of relationships that are still prevalent in modern society.
Main Characters in the Play of Othello
With an intricate web of relationships comes a diverse array of characters. Some of the notable names in this infamous play include:
|The Venetian general|
|Iago||The villain in disguise|
|Cassio||Othello’s lieutenant in the army|
Why did Shakespeare Write Othello?
Addressing the Prevalent Racism
Shakespeare lived in a time when racism was prevalent and racial discrimination and segregation were acceptable norms in developed societies and civilizations. He tried to shorten the gaping divide between the white race and peoples of color.
It meant to counter the commonly accepted philosophy of racial superiority of the white race hence it was bound to create waves and controversy in a time when slavery was perfectly acceptable in human societies.
Although traveling was not as frequent in that age and racial compositions were more homogenous, Venice was a major trading hub in the entire world and it attracted sailors and merchants from countries and continents afar. Therefore racial intermingling was relatively common.
Elements of Humanization
Through Othello, Shakespeare intended to humanize the perception of other racial groups and showed how they fitted into the virtues and ills of society just like ordinary locals did. As with most of his plays, Othello showed human passion and human weakness through tales of seduction, love, power and betrayal.
Shakespeare’s works always possessed a tinge of subtlety which was a double-edged sword. It beautified his writing prowess yet it also led to conflicting interpretations of his work. Several critics argue that Othello contains slurs of racist jargon which were prevalent in that society. Although it shows the helplessness of black men, it consistently shows the West as the beacon of rationality and the East as its irrational counterpart. Turks were not considered to be of equal mental ability and devoid of humane mannerisms in the eyes of the European characters, and arguably, in Shakespeare’s. His critics include A.C. Bradley and Anthony Gilbert.
Othello in the Modern Era
Despite the controversy, Othello survived the engulfing tides of time and is a part of modern theatricals and has been inscribed in literary history for all times to come. It has had several influences on modern works as well.
The play has been adapted in multiple films which include:
- Jarum Halus (2008) a Malaysian version.
- Omkara (2006) a Bollywood feature.
- Eloise (2002) set in Australia.
- Kaliyattam (1997) a Kerala based production.
- Othello (1995, 1982, 1965, 1955, 1914 and 1909) made in different countries all over the world.
- The Tragedy of Othello (1952)
Othello has been performed in theatricals and operas all across the modern world which includes Naples and Milan based operas. It has also surfaced in the form of ballet in New York City.
The play has also been made into a few television series in 1981, 1990 and 2001 for various production houses such as the British Broadcasting Corporation. It has also been adapted into a graphic novel by Oscar Zarate.
The play is still taught and performed in modern schools and colleges and the legacy of William Shakespeare and his controversial Othello thrives on into the future alongside other memorable Shakespearian works such as:
- The Merchant of Venice
- Twelfth Night
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Romeo and Juliet
- Antony and Cleopatra
- King Lear
It shapes the Shakespearian legacy that is revered and remembered in modern times.
Famous Quotations from Othello
We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly follow’d
-Othello ACT I Scene 1
You are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you
-Othello ACT I Scene 1.
The robb’d that smiles, steals something from the thief
-Othello ACT I Scene 3
O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!
-Othello ACT II Scene 3
Poor and content is rich and rich enough
-Othello Act III Scene 3
He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen, Let him not know ’t, and he’s not robb’d at all
-Othello Act III Scene 3