The Numerous Themes in Othello
The Shakespearean tragedy Othello contains a number of themes; their relative importance and priority is debated by literary critics. In this essay let us examine the various themes and determine which are dominant and which subordinate.
A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the theme of sexual jealousy in Othello:
But jealousy, and especially sexual jealousy, brings with it a sense of shame and humiliation. For this reason it is generally hidden; if we perceive it we ourselves are ashamed and turn our eyes away; and when it is not hidden it commonly stirs contempt as well as pity. Nor is this all. Such jealousy as Othello’s converts human nature into chaos, and liberates the beast in man; and it does this in relation to one of the most intense and also the most ideal of human feelings. (169)
Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” sees that sexuality is also involved:
Othello is not a study in pride, egoism, or self-deception: its subject is sexual jealousy, loss of faith in a form which involves the whole personality at the profound point where body meets spirit. The solution which Othello cannot accept is Iago’s: ‘Put up with it.’ This is as impossible as that Hamlet should, like Claudius, behave as if the past were done with and only the present mattered. . . . (144)
Of course, jealousy of a non-sexual nature torments the antagonist, the ancient, to the point that he ruins those around him and himself. Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes:
On the contrary, in the “world” of his philosophy and his imagination, where his spirit lives, there is no cure for passion. He is, behind his mask, as restless as a cage of those cruel and lustful monkeys that he mentions so often. It has been pointed out that he has no intelligible plan for destroying Othello, and he never asks himself what good it will do him to ruin so many people. It is enough for him that he “hates” the Moor. . . .(133)
Act 1 Scene 1 opens with an expression of jealousy and hatred: Roderigo is upbraiding Iago because of the elopement of the object of his affections –Desdemona -- with the Moor: “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.” Iago responds with an expression of hatred, saying that he does indeed hate the general because he “Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he, / ‘I have already chose my officer.’” Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes indicates the palpable hatred:
It is then on a theme of hate that the play opens. It is a hate of inveterate anger. It is a hate that is bound up with envy. Othello has preferred to be his lieutenant a military theorist, one Michael Cassio, over the experienced soldier Iago, to whom has fallen instead the post of “his Moorship’s ancient”. Roderigo questions Iago:
Thou told’st me thou didst hold...