Othello: A Guide to the Play

Othello: A Guide to the Play

Othello: A Guide to the Play

Othello: A Guide to the Play

Synopsis

One of Shakespeare's four major tragedies, Othello has captivated audiences for centuries. This reference book is designed to help students understand the play in greater depth. The early chapters discuss significant differences between the texts of Othello and explore the play's sources and contexts. The book then examines the tragedy's settings, action, patterns of language, and major characters. Later chapters study the play's significant themes and review its critical heritage from the seventeenth century to the present. A final chapter analyzes various productions of the play, especially those available on film and videotape. A bibliographical essay concludes the volume.

Excerpt

Othello may not take the palm as the greatest of William Shakespeare's tragedies, but many readers have found it the most "painfully exciting," coherent, and intense of all of them. When performed, the play is relentless in its drive toward disaster, drawing audiences into the horrifying spectacle of a husband quickly driven to murder his innocent wife. What is more, the black warrior Othello -- the only African hero in Shakespeare -- is married to a white woman. The tragedy touches on sensitive issues that have acquired fresh resonance in our own age: racial prejudice and fascination with the "Other," the nature of sexual jealousy, and the difficulty of knowing anything or anyone definitively.

Othello: A Guide to the Play is a reference work that aims to open up Othello to students as well as to interested readers and spectators. Chapters and chapter sections are designed to be consulted independently, so that users can discover more about various facets of this tragedy and the critical discussion they have generated. The guide begins with an overview of Othello's complicated textual history (Chapter 1) and then considers the historical contexts and source materials that inform the play (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 covers Othello's dramatic structure -- its assimilation of different genres, its formal design and patterns of language -- as a prelude to the central fourth chapter on the play's three main characters. These have long been the subject of heated debate. Is the tragic protagonist Othello an admirable, "noble" hero or a self-deceived egoist? Worse still, might he strike audiences as a fool in a melodrama engineered by the brilliant word-spinner Iago? Is it possible to penetrate Iago's mystery, or is he pure villain -- a skillful amalgam of various dramatic conventions or an embodiment of evil that requires no credible motives? In recent years, commentators have insisted that Desdemona, once relegated to the symbolic status of angel to balance Iago's devil, is a presence as "intensely felt" as that of Othello and Iago. Among feminist critics, in particular, this erstwhile saint is now analyzed as a product of both cultural discourses and dramaturgical expectations, to assess how subversive or submissive are her roles within the developing play.

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