Lines to Die for: Othello

Well, in this cause, everything out of Shakespeare’s mouth can be considered poetry and wisdom of the highest order, but what is there to say about him from other people’s point of view?

In A Level Literature, you are supposed to quote from critics of the ages to bolster your points, and even respond to critics’ views of Othello and his works in general.

In this post, I’ll post some of the ‘famous’ quotes for you to remember and use in your essays and class-works, and my views on how true or “to what extent” these quotes are true in occurrence with Othello. Remember, this is just my opinion, and should not be used to make extensive notes if you do not 100% agree with me. Take this quotes and ponder on them for your  A*s!

1600’s

There is in this play some burlesque, some humor, and ramble of comical wit, some show and some mimicry to divert the spectators; but the tragical heart is none other than a bloody farce, without salt or savor.

Thomas Rymer, 1693

It doesn’t surprise me that in the 1600s people would hate Othello, but I never imagined anyone had the gull to call it a “bloody farce”. Shakespeare is known for making 3D like characters, whether in Macbeth or The Merchant of Venice. However, in some of his tragedies and comedies, like Romeo and Juliet, the main characters seem more like living stereotypes of their image; case in point Romeo and Juliet’s young love.

However, there is some truth in those stereotypes. Othello being a passionate lover and a brave solider hold true to the black stereotype of the “Black Dynamite”…but because it’s so recognizable is the reason why it’s used.

I believe that Othello living in his stereotype, and out of it makes the play all the more artful and believable. Sorry Rymer, I don’t agree.

 

1700’s

The cool malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance.

 

Othello –inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge.

 

The soft simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, unconscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be suspected.

Samuel Johnson 1765

Was this man obsessed with Othello, or just a good essayist? I agree fully with Johnson on Iago and Othello, but I feel that he is too blunt on Desdemona. Why would she ever need to suspect that her husband thinks she’s cheating on him if she really isn’t cheating?

I also think that Desdemon is anything but simple. She betrayed her father’s trust in a heartbeat, but is obedient to a fault to Othello. She is masculine in her assertiveness, as Marilyn French says, but also the most traditionally feminine of the cast. Samuel Johnson may have overlooked her in the sense that she has much less screen-time than Iago or Othello, but I do believe his criticisms are of merit.

1800’s

 

Iago is an example of the typical stage Machiavel who personifies rationality, self-interest, hypocrisy, expediency and efficient ‘policie’, he is an amoral artist who seeks to fashion the world in his interest.

William Hazlitt 1817

 For those of you who do not know, Machiavelli is a code of ethics that basically is like the Ayn Rand of the Middle Ages: wildly popular, and widely hated.

1900’s

I just want to note that with every century, a classic is viewed with a different light. With the rise of feminism and Black rights, Desdemona and Othello become more palpable to the masses.

Othello is a man of mystery, exoticism and intense feeling, trustful , open, passionate but self-controlled: so noble…he inspires a passion of mingled love and pity.

A.C Bradley 1904

Memorize anything AC Bradley says. He makes life so much easier in having most of his commentary be wholly falsely or wholly true.

Othello has a propensity to jealousy and possesses a weak character: the stuff of which he is made begins at once to deteriorate and show itself unfit. His love is composed largely of ignorance of self as well as ignorance of Desdemona.

F.R. Leavis 1952

Although this is still a sad statement to be made about the heroic Moor, I agree to an extent with Leavis. How could Othello all trust in Desdeomona without any “ocular proof”?

In spite of her masculine assertiveness in choosing her own husband, Desdemona accepts her culture’s dictum that she must be obedient to males and is self-denying to the extreme when she dies.

Marilyn French 1985

The 80’s! The dawn of the Third Wave of Feminism! French explores Desdemona’ character in ways of how she is the victim of a patriarchal society.

Othello should not be read as a patriarchal, authoritative and racist spectacle, nor as a show of female or black superiority. The play should be used to examine and dismantle the racism and sexism of the leadership of the state.

Ania Loomba 1987

Othello should be read as a story. It is not a religious text, or a code of ethics; it is a story, a parable if you will. However, Othello is most certainly NOT a political statement. Othello, although written in the Elizabethan era, was based on a parable of marrying a man of a different race, creed, and religion as you.

Thanks for reading! Start getting ready for A Levels!!!

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