“Shakespeare may have died over 400 years ago, but he is still very much alive today”

I continue my online learning journey with Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters by University of Adelaide. During the online course I learnt about the following plays:

If you’re interested to join the online course, here’s the link: “Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters“.

Othello

In a tiny nutshell, the play is a tragedy about hate and jealousy. Othello is a leader in the Venetian military and he is married to Desdemona. Othello is misled by his trusted officer, Iago, to think that Desdemona cheated on him. Blinded by jealousy, Othello kills his wife and then commits suicide. Yep, quite a tragic ending.

By the way, the complete name of the play is “Othello, the Moore of Venice”.

othello shakespeares globe readers high tea
Othello during performance at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Image from facebook.com/ShakespearesGlobe

The course focused a lot on the powerful emotions depicted in Othello (hate, revenge, jealousy). The main bad character, Iago, is a Machiavel‘ – an established type of character named after Niccolò Machiavelli – ruthless and manipulative. As the course teacher says: “an early modern Darth Vader from the Star Wars movies”.

othello shakespeare

Shakespeare’s tragedies

There are common aspects of Shakespeare’s tragedies, according to Emma Smith (who wrote The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare). Some examples are:

  • more soliloquies (similar to monologues)
  • puns about meaningless of life
  • isolation of the main character and breakdown of social bonds
  • male characters are more active, and they’re usually in a position of power
  • titles often refer to the name of the main character (eg. Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet), who is usually in a position of power (eg. King Lear, Julius Caesar)
  • sense of inevitability and determinism
  • death(s) at the end of story

Literary insights

When it comes to tragedies in general, they usually contain the following elements:

  • an error of judgement of the tragic protagonist (hamartia)
  • a turning point when the circumstances start to change from good to bad (peripeteia – reversal of fortune)
  • the recognition of the error of judgement (anagnoresis), usually before the play ends

Another important aspect is catharsis (process of purification or cleansing), sometimes believed to be the purpose of tragedies. It means that the powerful emotions from the tragic stories arouse powerful emotions in the audience; this way, people are enabled to express their dark/sad feelings and get rid of them, restoring a healthy emotional balance.

Othello and Desdemona (1880) by Antonio Muñoz Degrain

Speak the Speech activities

These activities proved again very useful in helping me read Shakespeare’s language:

  • “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” – the first soliloquy of Iago where he comes up with the plan to destroy Othello
  •  “That I did love the Moor to live with him” – Desdemona defending her decision to marry Othello
  • “Rude am I in my speech” – when Othello defends his marriage to Desdemona in front of the Venetian Senate (here “rude” means unsophisticated)
  • “O well-painted passion!” – when Othello is already convinced that Desdemona was unfaithful
iago othello shakespeares globe readers high tea
Iago during performance at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Image from facebook.com/ShakespearesGlobe

Wrap-up

The story of Othello is heart-breaking, but also a good reminder about the damage that can be done when looking through the lens of jealousy and not verifying the assumptions.

See you on the third module, where I will learn about The Winter’s Tale!

‘Till next time … happy reading!

Georgiana


PS: I am writing about this course at my own will. I was not paid to promote the course nor have I received any other compensation.

One thought on “Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters – Othello

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s