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Major themes in Othello

An Analysis of the Main Themes in Othello

Relationships can be painful:

Whether it is Othello’s relationship with Desdemona, Iago’s with Emilia or Cassio’s with Bianca, personal relationships can be badly complex and 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 the drama from people’s personal relationships.  

Othello has the strong heart of a lion when it comes to military affairs but in terms of personal relationships, he is highly unstable, and lacking in terms of patience and confidence. Iago does not have much time or value for such things. In the case of Cassio and Bianca, their relationship is weak for it lacks dignity. Overall, personal relationships in Othello are a poor mess and the mess grows till relationships have stretched too far and broken.

Love and hatred

Love, passion, and hatred are at the core of Othello. The drama begins with Othello and Desdemona falling in love and ends when Othello’s hatred for his beautiful lover is at its peak and makes him murder her. On the one side, there is an intense love and on the other, equally intense hatred. Othello and Desdemona fall in love and their love is deep and pure until Iago has injected poison into their relationship. Iago is full of hatred for Othello and he cannot help it because it’s in his nature to backstab others. 

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 stops seeing the truth once Iago has obstructed his vision through the use of deception.  Iago’s hatred has several reasons and it is rooted deep. He hates the Moor for being his senior, for being from an inferior race and for having promoted Cassio in his place. Desdemona’s love is true but Othello cannot survive deception. He cannot bear being cuckolded and his hatred gets just as strong as his love was at the beginning.

Loyalty and betrayal

Another important theme in the drama is that of loyalty and betrayal. Whether it is Cassio or Desdemona, both are loyal to Othello. However, Othello stops believing his own heart once Iago has spoiled his ears. His mind cannot listen to his conscience and he believes everything 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 a lie but Othello is confused and his mind clouded because of the lies Iago told him. His mind thinks what Iago wants it to think.

Emilia is Iago’s wife and she is loyal to her husband. However, Iago’s suspecting mind thinks she has slept with Othello. This is another reason that he cannot bear Othello for he believes the moor is more physically attractive than him. Emilia is loyal to Desdemona and at last, she has to sacrifice her life because 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 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 fills him with an inferiority complex; something that makes him vulnerable to Iago’s vicious plan. Iago does not attack him directly but weakens him by sowing doubts in his mind about his wife’s character. Still, it is the inferiority complex in Othello that makes him a vulnerable target.

His color turns him into a target and Iago finds it easy to isolate him. Othello cannot trust people around him much because he feels separated and left out. He knows the Venetian environment does not favor people of color and that there are people around who have only hatred 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 courageous soldier who engages in something as cowardly as killing his innocent wife because of Iago. Despite being a courageous general, he is under the influence of Iago’s poisonous tongue. At last, a courageous man becomes a poor victim and keeps doing things that he himself considered cowardly. Iago kills his own wife to preserve his secret – another sign of cowardice in the villain who never strikes in the face but always in the back.

Written by Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.

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