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The Major Themes In William Shakespeare's Othello

1370 words - 5 pages

The Major Themes in William Shakespeare's Othello

Irony and double meaning are the basis and patterns of Othello, in
which nothing is what it seems to be; white is black and generally the
characters and themes have contradictory aspects. Irony is one of the
characteristics of tragedy as the outcome, although inevitable, is
unfair. In Act 1 scene 1, Shakespeare sets up the main themes of:
jealousy, revenge, xenophobia and racism, love, outward appearance and
inward reality and deception.

Act 1 Scene 1 is laced with irony, which mainly centres around the
character of Iago. Although Iago openly expresses his desire to seek
vengeance, Shakespeare presents his character in such a way that the
audience are never sure of the validity of what he says. When he
speaks to Roderigo, he seems to be open about his insincerity when he
says 'I am not what I am'. This leaves the audience feeling aware from
the beginning of the play that appearances of Iago are not what they
seem and introduces the audience to his devious nature as he attacks
Othello's character to others but appears to be a faithful friend at
the same time. Iago's deceitful way of defaming people is a major
theme which continues throughout the play. It is ironic that Iago and
Roderigo are willing to annihilate Othello's character, when both of
them use deception to their own ends. Iago is clearly manipulative,
and Roderigo is dishonest and corrupt as he is willing to pay Iago to
promote his suitability as a suitor to Brabantio which is ironic as,
although appearing to be helping Roderigo, he is actually deceiving
him as well. Iago's deception of the other characters continues as he
pretends to be sincere in his actions, especially towards Othello as
he tells Roderigo, 'Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,/Yet for
necessity of present life/I must show out a flag and sign of love'.
This is an essential factor in Iago's plans as he is viewed by the
other characters, including Othello, as trustworthy and honest which
enables him influence others to bring about the downfall of Othello.

Although Iago's character is presented as being Janus-like, he makes
no secret of the fact that he wants vengeance as he openly expresses
his villainous thoughts and so it is clear to the audience that
revenge is a major theme in the play as he explains to Roderigo 'I
follow him to serve my turn upon him', openly admitting that he is a
self serving deceiver. At the beginning of the play, Iago is clearly
dissatisfied and jealous that he has been over looked for promotion to
lieutenant. Instead Cassio has been chosen for this position, by
Othello. This jealousy and the associated desire for revenge are what
drives Iago's actions as he wants to disrupt Othello's life and take
his retribution. It is clear that Iago is bitter and disappointed and
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