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  • 1. Othello William Shakespeare aka Othello, The Moor of Venice
  • 2. Historical Context
    • Written on, or just after, the beginning of the 1600s (possibly 1603)
      • Based on the Italian short story “Un Capitano Moro” (A Moorish Captain)
    • First known performance, November 1, 1604 in Whitehall, London
    • Written one year before King Lear and MacBeth
      • Follows a theme of the downfall of great/powerful men
    Romeo & Juliet - 1594 AMND - 1595 Merchant of Venice 1596 Twelfth Night - 1599 Hamlet - 1600
  • 3. Primary Characters
    • Othello
      • Moor
        • North African
        • Some debate about actual skin color
    • Desdemona
      • Venetian
        • Wife to Othello
    • Iago
      • Venetian
      • “ Friend” to Othello and others
    • Cassio
      • Othello’s Lieutenant
  • 4. The Tragic Hero
    • Othello
      • Noble
      • Intelligent
      • Capable (more capable than most)
      • Attractive
    • Flawed (Hamartia = tragic flaw)
        • Trusting/loving too much.
  • 5. Shakespearean Tragedy Tragedies defined as a story in which a bloodline, or inheritance line, is ended (through death). Comedies, conversely, end in creation of heirs. Comedy Chaos ---> Order Tragedy Order --> Chaos Either way, we end up with a steamy pile of bodies at the end, sometimes it moves more than others though.
  • 6. Othello’s race
    • Referred to as a Moor
      • Berber or Arab people of Northern Africa
    • Prominent use of “black” however may suggest a darker skin color than the lighter color suggested by North African heritage
      • He is also called “thicklips” at one point, reflecting English stereotypes of sub-Saharan Africans.
  • 7. Important Themes
    • Dehumanization
    • Internalization
    • Dramatic Irony
    • The significance of names.
  • 8. Dehumanization
    • Dehumanization, a central theme of the play, is the process by which a person, or group, is made to feel or act less than human through systematic mistreatment.
    • Denial of rights often involves dehumanization (think Nazi depictions of Jews as animals, slaveholder depictions of Africans as beasts)
  • 9. Internalized Oppression
    • Over time, dehumanization and continued oppression leads to internalization , the process by which the victims begin taking on the traits forced on them by the oppressors.
    *Research suggests that internalization of oppression leads to withdrawal, depression and substance abuse in victims We see this is alcoholism in Native Americans, crack addiction in inner-city black communities and methamphetamine abuse in gays and lesbians.
  • 10. Dramatic Irony
    • Dramatic irony, a favorite of Shakespeare and most other dramatists, is the difference between what a character experiences and what we as an audience experience.
    As outside observers, we a privy to the lies and deceit of the villain, while the protagonist is in the dark When Romeo kills himself in grief, thinking Juliet is dead, while we all know that she is just comatose/asleep, we are experiencing dramatic irony.
  • 11. The “Fourth Wall”
    • Named after the three walls of a classical stage, behind the actors, and to either side.
    • Wall 4 separates the actors and the audience, it is the wall of “reality.”
    1 2 3
  • 12. What’s in a name?
    • The names used to reference characters in the play will change over time, and often reflect the polar opposite of the character’s actual personality/intention.
    • Othello, who – for the most part – has noble intentions, is called horrible, racist, offensive names.
    • Iago, the villain, is most often called “good” and “honest.”
  • 13. Why Othello?
    • Concurrent to the creation of Othello was the publishing of Shakespeare’s sonnets (approximately 6 years later)
      • 127 - 152 reference a “Dark Lady”
        • Commonly thought to be a black (or Arab) woman who Shakespeare shared a sexual relationship with.
    Given that Shakespeare himself was involved with the woman, this may have been his reaction, and commentary, on the racism of England and Venice.
  • 14.
    • 127
    • "In the old age black was not counted fair
    • Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
    • But now is black beauty's successive heir,
    • And beauty slandered with a bastard shame”
    • 130
    • "If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    • If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head."
    • 132
    • "Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east”
    • Eastern reference may be a hint to her origin, possibly in the Indian region.
  • 15. Public Commentary
    • This is not the only possible social commentary in Shakespeare’s works.
      • The Merchant of Venice, often misconstrued as anti-Semitic, is actually a commentary on discrimination against Jews.
      • In addition to the “Dark Lady” Shakespeare wrote a number of sonnets possibly targeted at a male lover/romantic interest/patron of his.
        • Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and (possibly) Romeo & Juliet all contain allusions to, or commentary on, the ending of same-sex unions in favor of heteronormative coupling.
  • 16. Legacy
    • Originally called Reversi, the board game Othello is named as such in reference (depending on historian) to the battle of black Othello and white Iago, or the love of Othello and white Desdemona
    • In the Disney cartoon Aladdin, the manipulative Jafar’s pet parrot is named after Iago