Every text that Shakespeare wrote has its own culture, characters, atmosphere, and specificity. Starting a new play gives us a feeling that we are entering a new state or territory which has its own culture and laws governing the behaviour of the people.
Most of his texts come not only with a new country, but also it’s another time in which its action takes place. Different places and different time segments bring a sense of excitement in the audience. For every play that he wrote, he kept in mind a particular country. It may not be England. It may be any other European country or it may be an imagined state. It creates a fascinating aspect of his texts.
First he prepares himself and then he prepares the audience to come across a new kind of country and a new set of people. The reader in a way gets educated in the manners of the people of those countries.
Every play that he writes has a different kind of vocabulary. Words have different meanings in different plays. All this shows that he had a great range of interests, vocabulary, and knowledge about different cultures. It’s not just the projection of an action in a particular time or place, but also Shakespeare is putting across a general message to the audience. We can draw this message by ourselves.
The concern of Shakespeare in Othello is the theme of love. There are conflicts of love and social classes. Love does not occur in a vacuum. If there is a theme of love there will be problems of cultures, ideas, and moral principles. More significantly there is a problem of settling down with a person who belongs to a different culture. It’s not confined to one individual. It is a question that is connected to the people of Venice also.
Othello the moor falls in love with a native girl and secretly marries her. He does not tell anyone about his marriage, because he is an outsider. If he does so, there will be opposition from the people around him. Love is not something unconnected, rather it is an integral part of the society. There are conflicts in Venetian society and these conflicts visit upon the characters who indulge in the relationship of love. This is the theme of the play.
Shakespeare is at the same time talking about the situation in which this particular question is placed. The play opens up with a large number of social, political, and economic possibilities. If these possibilities are stronger than the characters who have to bear them, the end will be tragic.
The poison of racism and individual traits are so strong in the case of Othello that he then kills his wife with his own hands. Desdemona is pure until the end. It’s proved in the end. The carrier of prejudice is Iago. It’s he who manipulates the mind of a very dignified and refined general called Othello. The story becomes tragic when we see such a personality meeting such a disastrous end.
A villain in a story is one who is driven by the motives of death, destruction, and blocking the ways of main characters. Iago the villain opposes every move of Othello for no reason. He planes his death. He has a motiveless malignity. He is a born villain. In the end when he caught and asked for the reason behind such a disastrous plotting. He says that he will not speak a word and remains quite forever. It’s something natural in him that he always goes against morality and goodness.
He is an intelligent mind handling the whole affair. He is using different characters as if they were playthings in his hands. He is pulling there strings and deliberately makes them speak the malicious dialogues of his own clever mind. He seems to be out of control of the writer also.
Many critics have said that the actual writer of the play is not Shakespeare, rather its Iago that moves the course of action according to his own will. He is not only the writer of the play, but also he is the director of the play. Because he tells people how to behave and how to look at the things around them.
The reader while reading the play enjoys villainy the most. He creates violence with a very cool mind. He himself is very peaceful and relaxed. He is never angry. He is all the time planning in such a way that one can deliberately call him a finished scoundrel. He is a great organiser and a craftsman. The only understandable acquisition against him is that he is jealous.
He may be jealous of Othello because he is a general and he marries a beautiful woman. He is jealous when Desdemona accepts Othello as her husband. He is also jealous of Cassio for being senior in rank. He wants promotion. That’s why he is plotting against him. When jealousy takes an extreme form it becomes pathological. One may say that he stands for the people of the country who do not like an outsider to come in and marry a native woman.
The play was performed in 1604-05. The regime of James I had begun in 1903. He was also an outsider. He was not from England. He was from a different family also. A reader should look at this text from this angle also. Shakespeare might have been directly or indirectly pointing at this very feeling that might have existed in the hearts of English people. Since his motive was to attract more and more spectators by showing them on the stage the feelings of their hearts and ideas of their minds in a very attractive way.
The outsider in this play is black, he has thick lips and he has been given great authority. Many of us do not accept this kind of situation where a stranger comes and holds a higher place in our country and marries a woman from the same soil. Jealousy also is a part of natural human behaviour.
Shakespeare in one sense belongs not just to England. He is a humanist writer and belongs to all of us. He is a writer who objectively presents a situation. He looks at things from a human angle. It means both virtues and vices are a part of his tales. He does not get entangled in the religious or moral prejudices. He also does not believe in any exact definition of right and wrong.
But there is a preference for human goodness inside him. He cherishes the values of good feelings, friendship, closeness, and working together. These values cross the boundaries, because all human beings belong to the same species. That’s the reason many adoptions of his great works have been made all over the world. Jealousy and prejudices that one finds in this play are very natural.
Iago is not just a character, but also a point of view that belongs to a large number of people of Venice in a dormant form. Besides this, there are many specific aspects in this play. There are many personal details.
Othello is a general and a brave fighter. He planes his strategies well and uses his weapons well. He is a professional soldier and a professional soldier has weaknesses. He knows very little about lovemaking and love emotions. He is not able to express his love properly. He has the stories of valour and bravery from his past.
He visits Desdemona’s father and tells him the stories of his past fights. She is also there and listens to his stories as though she is interested. She finds him a very straightforward and innocent man and falls in love with him. Because he does not have in him the defects of culture and racism. She is a young woman in her early twenties.
Othello is in his mid-thirties and there is an age gap of ten to fifteen years between the two. He has left his country and parents a long time ago. He has been fighting for Venice. He marries a woman from Venice. Of course, he has to marry someone. But he is not in his native land. He is working for another country. So he marries from there. But he is paid for serving the country. Therefore he should not be allowed to enter society and build relationships with its people. This question is also there.
Even after his marriage, he is treated as an outsider. He is a dignitary. He has meetings with the higher officials of the state. When it comes to the military action the other officials talk to him. There is a very shrewd mind preparing a trap for him from the same land and he is too straightforward to avoid such a perfect trap.
Desdemona is another major character in the play. She persists to marry Othello in spite of his father’s opposition. She ceases to be a daughter and marries Othello secretly. Here she is an individual who goes against her family and society. She is a daring social rebel. She is a beautiful human being who charms people by her qualities.
Shakespeare does not believe in any kind of elitism and he does not think that beauty lies in any kind of physical attributes. Then why has he created her? That’s the question here. The point that he wants to make is that if she is beautiful then people will go mad after her. Then Shakespeare will get a chance to say that this woman chose to marry none of those people who are madly in love with her, but a person of her own choice. She has a wonderful combination of beauty, courage, and dare.
The killing of such a loveable person heightens the effect of tragedy. There is no fault in the lovers. The fault is in Iago. Emilia is another major character in the play who thinks that women are suppressed by the men. She says, “Men are stomachs and women are food”. The reader can get the message of a very intense kind of human moral system. We should try to live beautifully in a bond of relationship.