Major themes in Othello

An Analysis of the Main Themes in Othello

Relationships can be painful:

Whether it is Othello’s and Desdemona’s, Iago’s and Emilia’s or Cassio’s with Bianca, personal relationships could be badly painful and that’s what Shakespeare seems bent on proving. There are some important components of a strong relationship that make it long lasting. Love, trust and respect are an absolute essential for any relationship to last. However, these components are either scarce or missing in Othello.  Othello has a strong heart of a lion but in terms of personal relationships, he turns out to be a weakling with very little patience and confidence. Iago can hardly think with integrity, so he does not have much respect for these things. In case of Cassio and Bianca, there relationship is not strong for  a lack of dignity in it. Overall, personal relationships in Othello are a bad mess and there is no clearing or getting out, just more and more mess.

Love and hatred

Love and hatred are at the core of Othello. The drama ignites with Othello and Desdemona falling in love and ends when Othello’s hatred for his beautiful lover reaches its peak. On the one side, there is intense love and on the other, equally intense hatred. Othello and Desdemona fall in love and their love remains deep and true until Iago has injected poison into their relationship. The hatred in Iago’s heart is deep and he cannot help it because he has the nature of a venomous snake. The entire drama is filled with episodes of love and hatred. Desdemona keeps loving her husband until he has killed her with his own hands. Othello loves her  but his love weakens him for he cannot see once Iago has obstructed his vision, using his deceptive techniques.  Iago’s hatred has several reasons. He hated the Moor for being his senior, for being from an inferior race and for having promoted Cassio. Desdemona’s love is true but Othello’s cannot survive deception. He cannot bear being cuckolded and his hatred becomes just as strong as his love was at the beginning.

Loyalty and betrayal

Another important theme in the drama is that of loyalty. Whether it is Cassio or Desdemona, both are loyal to Othello. However, his own heart and mind become disloyal once Iago has cunningly made him a scapegoat. His mind cannot listen to his heart and he believes what Iago says. Iago cannot be loyal to anyone because of his false ego and for his evil nature. Desdemona’s and Cassio’s betrayal is not a truth but Othello’s mind is clouded. It thinks what Iago makes it think. Emilia is Iago’s wife and she is a loyal wife. However, Iago’s suspecting mind thinks she has slept with Othello. This is another reason that  he cannot bear Othello. Emilia is loyal to Desdemona and at last has to sacrifice her life for the sake of her loyalty to her mistress. The whole play is full of characters and events hanging  between loyalty and betrayal. Othello keeps believing Desdemona has betrayed his trust and by the time he can realize the truth he has himself destroyed his personal life.

Racial prejudice

Another theme that reasserts itself from time to time in the play is that of racial prejudice. Othello is aware of the prejudice against him and that  despite being  a valiant soldier he is not someone who belongs to the Venetian lot. It also inspires an inferiority complex in him and something that makes him vulnerable to Iago’s malicious attacks. Iago dos not attack him directly but his wife’s character. Still, it is the inferiority complex in him that makes him a vulnerable target. His color turns him into a target and if Iago finds it easy to isolate him, it is for Othello does not trust people around him much. He knows the Venetian environment does not favor people of color and that there are people around who do not have much love for him in their hearts. Racism functions at a deeper level in Othello and keeps the protagonist isolated from the crowd of characters.

Courage and cowardice

Iago is a backstabber, a coward who does not hesitate using malicious and evil tricks against anyone. Othello on the other hand is a valiant soldier who engages in something as cowardly as killing his innocent wife because his mind has been spoiled. Despite being a courageous general, he is under the influence of the poison Iago keeps pouring in his ears. At last, a courageous man becomes a poor victim and keeps doing things that  he would himself consider cowardly. Iago kills his own wife to preserve his secret – another sign of cowardice in the play’s villain who never strikes in the face but always in the back.

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