The Themes of Othello

Written by Nadzirah Hakim bt Md Yussof

           The play Othello is one of the works written by William Shakespeare. It is written approximately in 1603 and was published in 1622, whereas the first performance of this play is in November 1604 (Wikipedia, Chronology of Shakespeare’s play). The main themes of Othello revolve around the issue of love, jealousy, fidelity and also pride. But as the play unwraps, much more issues come to visible and these will be discuss in details throughout this essay.
            The first theme that can be found in this play is jealousy. This theme can be said act as the backbone of the entire play. All the events that happen in the play until that leads to Othello’s downfall are actually triggered by this form of mischief- jealousy. In this play, jealousy portrays by three characters which are Iago, Roderigo and Othello. Iago’s jealousy originates from his dissatisfaction towards Othello who happens to promote the lieutenant post to Michael Cassio, the less experience soldier, instead of him (line 8-22). This then drives Iago to plan revenge on Othello in order to gain back his reputation. Iago’s jealousy is actually the most critical issue in this play. Things would goes differently if Iago has respond in positive way about the promotion and Othello and Desdemona would have live happily with their marriage.   
In Roderigo’s case however, his jealousy is derives from his disappointment of watching Desdemona (his first love) falls into Othello’s hands. In comparison to Iago, Roderigo’s jealousy basically is harmless because looking back at Roderigo’s ability, he is incapable to plan or even to perform evil tricks on his own. His jealousy is mostly fuels up by Iago who uses him as a pawn in order to play his evil tricks. For instance, in Act II, Iago purposely provokes Roderigo by telling him about Cassio’s feeling towards Desdemona so Roderigo will take action and create a trouble that he knows will put Cassio’s reputation at risk.
Still, Roderigo is not the only person who is affected by Iago’s jealousy. Jealousy is like a disease that will spread from one person to another which if not prevent can cause destruction to all. This is exactly what happens in this play. Iago’s hatred and jealousy towards Othello drives him to deceive many people around him including Othello. As part of his evil plans, Iago cunningly uses both Roderigo and Othello’s weakness which is Desdemona to entrap them in his wicked schemes. The story he makes up to Othello about Desdemona and Cassio results to another form of jealousy in the play which at the end leads to the death of Desdemona and finally Othello himself. These events show that Iago’s character plays as the main contributor to the theme jealousy.
Besides jealousy, the second theme of this play is reputation which also relates to pride. This play has abundance of characters that progress alongside the theme reputation. This includes Othello, Brabantio, Cassio and last but not least Iago. All of these characters depicts their reputation is as important as their pride through the way they reacts towards the situations that comes up to them. For examples, in the first act we have been introduce to Brabantio who much worries that his daughter’s elopement will mark him as a careless father despite his rank as a senator (191-197), while Othello on the other hand becomes depress after suspecting he has been cheating by his wife. The more obvious event that conveys the importance of reputation as one’s pride can be found in act II. In this scene, Cassio is at dismay after losing his rank as a lieutenant (253-256). For Cassio, his reputation is what makes him feels better about himself because it let people see him in positive ways.
But, above all the three characters, Iago relatedness with reputation is much stronger than the others. His jealousy, hatred, betrayal and the dark mischievous he creates are all arouses from the idea of reputation. In fact, as part of his revenge’s scheme, Iago trickily plays with words and actions to cover up his real intentions in order to gain and maintain his reputation in people’s eyes. Iago’s action conveys to us that reputation means a lot to him and he is willing to do anything to gain it. From these situations, it suggests that the theme reputation is importance in both domestic and political level.
 The third important theme in this play is fidelity. In analysing this theme, it is crucial to understand the underlying keys of ‘what it is’ and ‘what is perceived to be’ (Maurer, K. 2000) because this is what actually the play Othello is all about.  In Othello, fidelity can be analyse between husband-wife, father-daughter, friends and general-servants relationship. For example, in Desdemona’s case, although she is wrong by turning away from his father and elope with Othello, but she is the most faithful character of all. Desdemona’s love towards Othello is real but if only Othello has faith in her, she would not have become the innocent victim of Iago’s evil tricks.
Fidelity would not be complete without thrust and vice versa. Lacks of one of these elements will not promise a strong relationship. This for instance relates to Cassio-Othello-Iago of general-servants relationship. In scene II, Othello thrusts Iago more than Cassio, while as a matter of fact, Iago (the Janus faces) only pretends to be loyal to him. Although Cassio is the truly faithful servant to Othello yet Othello shows that he lacks of faith in Cassio when he easily thrust Iago’s words and unprofessionally removes Cassio from his Lieutenant rank without further investigation. It is indeed an irony that someone with military skill like Othello fails to differentiate between the real enemy and friend. His careless at the end brings about to his own destruction.
Other theme that can be found in this play is woman status. In this play, the woman status is represent by two characters which is Desdemona and Emilia where both is similar in the way they are married. In Othello, women has lower status and always powerless than man. What is worse, the unmarried woman is often regards as a property to her father. This actually proves in Act I where Iago and Brabantio indicates Desdemona as if she is one of the properties “Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags!”  (80- Act I scene I) and “she is abused, stol’n from me and corrupted (60- Act 1 scene III). Besides, men’s thought of woman is always weak and powerless can also be trace in this play. During the hearing at the court, it is Othello who voices up to call upon Desdemona and let her speak on her behalf. Desdemona proves that men are wrong and she actually is braver and confidence in voicing up her thought even though the truth will hurt her father. 
Like any others of Shakespeare’s works, the themes in Othello is equally revolves around the issues of human life. Besides love, jealousy, and pride are the common themes that can be found in his work. In conclusion, in Othello, jealousy is the main theme that is proves to be very harmful and can leads to destruction in one’s life. It is almost as disastrous as men greediness in gaining reputation. Men willing to do anything to secure their reputation but it still do not promise them that they will get it in the end. What is best is to always be grateful in what one has. The third theme is fidelity which is important in a relationship either between husband and wife, father and daughter, friends or servant and his master. Last but not least, woman has very low status in society compare to men. Their powerless state makes them the easy target to be use by men and easily been discriminate as unchaste which explain why Othello and Iago could be so suspicious with their wife.

Maurer, K. 2000. Cliffs Complete: Shakespeare’s Othello. United States Of America: IDG Books WorldWide, Inc.
Shakespeare, W. 1993. Othello. New York: Washington Square Press.


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