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© 2010, ShakespeareHelp.com
Themes and Images
YouTube Videos
Essay Topics
The Basics
The Text
The Great Chain of Being
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Othello was first performed in 1604.
The play is set in 16th century Venice and
 Cyprus, a colony of Venice, is being
attacked by the Turks.
The Moors were Moslem people of
Northwest Africa.
 Being dark-skinned, to Elizabethans, they
were the same as blacks.
Othello is the only one of the four
tragedies that is domestic, involving
private action, as opposed to the universal
implications of Hamlet, King Lear or
Thomas Keene as Othello, 1884
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First Quarto: Othello was first published in
quarto format in 1622.
First Folio: Othello was also included in a
collection of Shakespeare’s plays compiled
by two of his associates, published in 1623.
 The Folio version is longer, including several
passages and wording changes that do not
appear in the Quarto version.
Some scholars believe that the Quarto is an
earlier version of the play, and the Folio
represents Shakespeare’s revised version.
Title page of the First Quarto, 1622
Quartos were also published in 1630, 1655,
1681, 1695, 1699 and 1705.
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The plot of Othello is taken from an Italian story, Un Capitano
Moro, written in 1565 by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinzio (aka
 The original story is about a Moorish general who is deceived by
his ensign into believing his wife is unfaithful.
 Shakespeare added important minor characters, including
Roderigo, Iago’s rich young dupe, and Brabantio, Desdemona’s
grief-stricken father.
 Shakespeare also compressed the action of the play into a few
days and set it against the backdrop of military conflict.
 He also developed the ensign, a minor villain in the original story,
into the complex villain, Iago.
Shakespeare’s source for the Venetian-Turkish conflict is probably
The History of the Turks by Richard Knolles, published in 1603.
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Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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Where does this play take place? 
Why does Iago hate Othello?
Why is Roderigo jealous of Othello?
Who is Brabantio, and what news do Iago and Roderigo
bring him?
What is Desdemona's response to Brabantio when he asks
for her obedience as a daughter?
Summarize Othello's explanation of how he won
Desdemona's love.
Othello Quizzes
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1. Where does this play take place?
Click anywhere to show answer.
The setting is 16th century Venice and Cyprus.
The island of Cyprus, which is under attack by the Turks, was a
colony of Venice at this time.
Othello Quizzes
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Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be long that Desdemona
should continue her love to the Moor. Put money in thy purse. 
Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.
Good signior, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons.
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them
This only is the witchcraft I have used.
The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are.
Othello Quotes
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1. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be long that Desdemona
should continue her love to the Moor. Put money in thy purse.
Click anywhere to show answer.
Iago is duping Roderigo into giving him more money.
He convinces Roderigo that he still has a chance to win
Desdemona after she tires of Othello, but it will require more
Roderigo foolishly believes Iago's lie and rushes off to sell his
Othello Quotes
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The Duke of Venice
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Othello as Outsider
Othello as General
Othello’s Jealousy
Othello / Iago – Act III, Scene 3
Othello’s Language
Othello’s Suicide
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Iago’s Soliloquies
Iago / Othello – Act III, Scene 3
Iago’s View of Women
Iago’s Motives for Evil
Iago and the Forces of Darkness
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Othello is a “Moor,” a black man from
Northern Africa.
 His status in Venice is complicated as both
an insider and outsider.
Although he is from a foreign culture, he is
the commander of the Venetian military.
In the first scene, Iago, Roderigo, and
Brabantio all emphasize Othello’s outsider
status as “the Moor.”
 Brabantio accuses Othello of winning
Desdemona with magic and drugs;
otherwise, she would not have fallen in
love with one so foreign.
John McCullough as Othello
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Iago believes that Desdemona’s love for Othello is “unnatural.”
 He uses this to convince Roderigo that she will soon tire of Othello
and seek another lover.
Iago also uses Othello’s “outsider” status to plant the initial seeds of
jealousy in Othello.
 He tells him at one point that Venetian women do not consider
infidelity a sin unless they get caught.
 He convinces Othello that eventually Desdemona will “match you
with her country forms” (compare you to the men of her own
country) and regret her marriage.
 Ironically, Othello fears that the qualities that made her fall in love
with him will make her eventually reject him.
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This long and intense scene is at
the literal and figurative center of
the play, showcasing Iago’s
powers of psychology and
Although it is the climax (turning
point) of the play, there is no
physical action, only
psychological action in the mind
of Othello.
Iago never directly accuses, only hints and suggests, forcing Othello
to draw conclusions on his own.
Iago maintains the appearance of an “honest” man who reluctantly
reports the truth.
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Iago takes advantage of Othello’s gullibility and insecurity as an
outsider in Venetian society.
 He tells Othello that Desdemona will eventually compare him to
Venetian men and regret marrying him.
 Her will, recoiling to her better judgment,
May fall to match you with her country forms
And happily repent.
 Iago first plants the seed of jealousy in Othello’s mind when he
notices Cassio leaving: I like not that. (III, 3)
 Desdemona plays into Iago’s hands by pleading with Othello to
reinstate Cassio.
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Iago reminds Othello that Desdemona is capable of deception:
 She deceived her father by marrying him.
 She deceived Othello when she pretended to “shake and fear” while
listening to his stories, but was really captivated by them.
As soon as Othello expresses a doubt, Iago immediately reinforces
it, reminding Othello that it is natural for people to eventually seek
out others of their own kind and social station.
Iago skillfully fills Othello’s head with gross sexual images of
 When Othello demands proof of Desdemona’s infidelity, Iago asks if
he would “see her topped,” knowing that Othello will be tortured by
this mental image.
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This scene begins Othello’s his tragic decline.
The poetic images reflect his passionate/bestial state of mind:
 After hearing of Cassio’s dream, Othello vows to “tear her all to
By the end of the scene, Othello is under the power of Iago and
will remain so until the end of the play.
 Othello accepts Iago’s reports of the dream and the handkerchief as
 When they kneel together, Othello is symbolically making a pact with
the Devil.
Iago ends the scene: “I am your own forever.”
 Ironically, the reverse is true. Iago now completely controls Othello.
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Othello vacillates between the two polarities in the play
(Desdemona/Iago, light/dark, good/evil).
This scene dramatizes a tortured mind being pulled in two
 In the first half of the play before this scene, Othello is guided by
his new marriage and his love of Desdemona.
 In the second half of the play, Iago controls Othello's thoughts and
actions leading up to the murder of Desdemona in the final act.
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Iago is a soldier and Othello's ancient (ensign
or standard bearer).
He hates Othello for passing him up for
promotion and appointing Cassio as his
 Iago despises Cassio as a "theoretician" with
no practical experience.
Iago is an evil genius who escapes detection
because of his ability to hide his true nature
and intentions.
 Iago successfully manipulates almost
everyone in the play to accomplish his evil
ends—Roderigo, Emilia, Cassio, Bianca,
Desdemona and Othello.
Edwin Booth as Iago
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Iago is associated with literal darkness
throughout the play, and he represents the
“darker” characteristics of human nature.
 When Iago first appears in the play, he is
hiding in the darkness (I, 1).
 When Brabantio calls for a light, Iago exits.
 His schemes cannot face the light of
Iago ends his first soliloquy by describing
his plot as originating in archetypal
 Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous
birth to the world's light. (I, 3)
James O'Neil as Iago
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Iago again slips off into the darkness in V, 1, when he sets up
Roderigo to kill Cassio.
 After killing Roderigo, he makes an ironic comment to Gratiano and
Lodovico, pretending he does not know Roderigo:
 Roderigo: O damn'd Iago! O inhuman dog!
Kill men i' the dark! (V, 1)
The dark images associated with Iago are contrasted with the light
imagery associated with Desdemona.
 When he kills Desdemona, Othello “puts out the light” and
symbolically capitulates to Iago and the forces of darkness.
 As he extinguishes the light of Desdemona’s goodness, the triumph of
Iago’s evil is complete.
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Appearance vs. Reality
Black and White
Light and Darkness
Passion vs. Reason
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Iago is associated with darkness, and Desdemona is associated
with light, stars, purity and innocence.
Shakespeare uses darkness ironically:
 Othello is literally the “darker” character (because of his skin color), but
he is a wise leader and a loving husband.
 “Fair Iago” represents the “dark side” of human nature.
 Iago manipulates Othello by tapping into the “darker” side of his nature,
until he completely controls Othello’s thoughts and actions.
Iago often hides in the darkness.
 I, 1: Iago awakens Brabantio and anonymously shouts insults from the
 V, 1: Iago orchestrates the attack on Cassio and hides in the darkness
to escape detection.
Themes and Images
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As a contrast to Iago, Othello is unafraid of the torchlight as
Brabantio and the others approach to confront him.
 Othello:
But, look! what lights come yond?
Those are the raised father and his friends:
You were best go in.
Not I; I must be found… (I, 2)
Emilia’s last conversation with Desdemona emphasizes this theme
when Emilia asks Desdemona if she would ever be unfaithful to her
 Desdemona:
 Emilia:
Themes and Images
No, by this heavenly light!
Nor I neither by this heavenly light;
I might do't as well i' the dark. (IV, 3)
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As Othello prepares to kill Desdemona, he extinguishes a candle
and uses a powerful image of light and dark:
 Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. (v, 2)
 Othello realizes that he can relight the candle if he extinguishes the
flame; however, if he murders Desdemona, he will not be able to “relume”
her light.
Themes and Images
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After killing Desdemona, Othello
imagines an eclipse that covers the
world in darkness.
 Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
Of sun and moon, and that the
affrighted globe
Should yawn at alteration. (V, 2)
Desdemona in Bed Asleep
John Graham, 1111
Themes and Images
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The marriage of Othello and Desdemona might have been seen as
“unnatural” in Venetian society.
 Brabantio’s claim that Othello used trickery or drugs to win his
daughter is taken seriously by the other Venetian noblemen in Act I.
Othello won Desdemona’s love honestly and respectfully, by telling
the story of his life and exploits.
 She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them. (I, 3)
Desdemona saw past Othello’s “visage” (outward appearance) and
fell in love with him for his honor and bravery.
 I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honors and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate. (I, 3)
Themes and Images
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Iago’s descriptions of love are always graphic, sexual, and often
bestial, usually intended for maximum shock value.
 Taunting Brabantio with the elopement of Othello and Desdemona:
○ Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe (I, 1)
○ …your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two
backs (I, 1).
 Telling Othello he cannot catch Cassio and Desdemona in the act:
○ It is impossible you should see this,
Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys,
As salt as wolves in pride… (III, 3)
Themes and Images
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The last time Othello sees Desdemona before Iago convinces him
of her infidelity, he utters a prophetic statement about their love:
 Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,
But I do love thee! and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again. (III, 3)
Othello’s gullibility is emphasized when, later in the same scene,
he rejects Desdemona’s love.
 Look here, Iago;
All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven. (III, 3)
Tragically, Othello allows his love for Desdemona to be replaced
by Iago’s hate.
 Yield up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne
To tyrannous hate! (III, 3)
Themes and Images
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When Othello accuses Desdemona publicly and strikes her, her
love for him remains pure.
 Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love. (IV, 2)
Even as she is about to be killed, her love for Othello does not
 Othello:
Think on thy sins.
Desdemona: They are loves I bear to you. (V, 2)
In his final speech, Othello asks to be remembered as “one that
loved not wisely but too well.” (V, 2)
 In what sense did Othello love “too well”?
Themes and Images
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Shakespeare repeats the theme of love in Othello’s subplots.
 Roderigo is a comic version of the heroic lover, threatening to drown
himself when he learns that Desdemona has married Othello.
 Bianca’s love for Cassio is amusing to him. He lets her believe that he
will marry her in order to use her.
○ She is persuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and flattery,
not out of my promise. (IV, 1)
 Contrast Emilia's practical view of love and men with Desdemona’s
idealized (and naïve?) love for Othello.
○ …and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. (IV, 3)
Themes and Images
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