"Othello" A Critical Review
Prof. Niamat Ali
Depatment of English
Govt. Islamia College, Kasur
Shakespeare, the crown of English literature, can rightfully boast of his marvelous achievements as a dramatist. His plays both comedies and tragedies, have a sterling worth of their own. The magnet of his plays pulls the iron dust of thoughts, and the reader feels himself bound by silky ropes of interest and pleasure. He maintains such an artistic balance in his writings as is found in an expert acrobat walking on a tight rope. His tragedies develop from beginning to an end as a rose progresses from budding to withering .Thoughts’ scent and feelings’ shade can be viewed in wordy flowers through the eye of imagination. Lost with Hamlet, ruined with king Lear, stunned with Macbeth and stupefied with Othello, the feels himself much maturer as the finds a treasure of knowledge, wisdom, expression and power. At the same time, some faults can be traced out as some spots can be seen on the shiny face of moon. In the following passages an effort has been made to present a critique of Othello.
On the very onset, we discuss the various causes of popularityfalleninOthello’lot.
Unique charaacters have been used in it who arrest our attention.In this regard ,first of all Desdemona’sbeauty,nicety,adventurousness,etc., charm the reader to the back bone. He wishes to keep her in his view all the time and when she is slain he feels a great grief in his heart for this delicacy of nature. Secondly, Othello’s unparalleled strength and bravery make the piece extra-ordinarily magnetic. H.Coombes remarks:
“Any feeling that is made to apear more important than it really is can be
We ever expect something most wonderful from this mountain of might. But this mountain proves a volcano that busts and burns to ashes not only himself but also others. Thirdly, Iago’s role casts a magic effect on the reader. He works wonders like Fate according to his own will. He seems more cunning than devil himself; wearing the thick mask of honesty, he cuts the ground from under the feet of the simpletons. His planning is just like the movement of the puppet master who makes others obey his beck and call without an iota of doubt. His so called honesty is like the darkness of Evil. Cassio’s role makes the play more playful and magnetic.Hibraverycumsimplicity,his attraction of personality and Desdemona’s sympathy for him create doubts that something will happen recently.
Two momentous events thicken the interest of the play. In the beginning ,clouds of war make the atmosphere very very alluring. All senses become alert to know something or the other about the imminent war. The arrival of the messengers with one’s toes after the other’s heel make the reader as well as the audience spell bound to await the coming bloody- field. Along with others, Desdemona herself wishes to visit the bloody fields to confirm Othello’s bravery and skillfulness.Then instead of war, storm is involved to draw the senses to another natural phenomenon that is most captivating for those who are on the secure shores. The storm destoys the Turkish fleet, shatters their might ,even crumbles the very skeleton.
Now we describe some other causes of interest in the play.Othello is lost for some moments and interest is strengthened; it is diverted from one spectacle to another. The whole play presents stormy situation. In the beginning, Desdemona’s elopement is an emotional storm for her aged father, Brabantio, the sudden information of the advancement of Turkish fleet is the political storm for the State ; misunderstanding between Othello and Desdemona is the domestic storm; then at last Desdemona’s muder is the criminal storm. Thus the playwright shuffles the situation from one storm to another. What else can attract man’s attention more than a sound storm. It is at the same time both success and failure on the part of the author, who has expertly handled these storms. But he has made the storm the centre of the reader’s thoughts not his artistic skill to make a piece of copper look like a golden one.
The author uses the Herculean bow of exaggeration to shoot fickle arrows of imagination on all sides. Situation, character and language all are saturated with exaggeration. A humble obedient girl departs from her home all alone at midnight and goes across a stream to marry her lover. Her aged father, who himself had enjoyed love marriage, remained totally unaware like a tree from all of this emotional attachment between Desdemona and Othello.
And it is not a duration of a short while but a long span of more than one year and the father could not even imagine such a self evident exposure. It seems merely the subjective approach flourishes on the banks of exaggeration. I.A.Richards says:
“The two pillars upon which a theory of criticism must rest are an account
of value and an account of communication.”
On the very nightof the marriage,the news of war alarm the atmosphere. It shows the secret agencies of the kingdom are too poor. They had no notion before it that the mighty enemy had been planning for war against them. Even storms can be predicted, why the war cannot be? Unexpectedly the storm comes and the fleet is shattered. Again the author has made full use of his subjective authority because no ship or person of the Venetions has been traced out by the storm. It does not seem a natural storm but the Furies begot by the curses of the Venetians. The winds of exaggeration can be felt blowing on the coasts of Cypress. Then overnight the married love-palace is razed to the ground on the basis of a baseless doubt. Desdemona has spent no separate time with Cassio. Cassio visits the castle once or twice and that also during the day.He has been their confidential friend and companion for an long time.
Othello is so childish that he cannot see the truth in Desdemona’s eyes, rather the blind minded commander finds Cassio’s kisses on her lips. A commander has no insight to understand her household affairs; how he can make his army fight for the state. He lacks intelligence to see behind the scene. This unexpected, sudden and somewhat irrational misunderstanding make the situation exaggerative. It seems the author ,not the conditions draw the rope to hang the characters.
The handkerchief episode is just a welding or engrafting of some inferior shoot in a superior one. Othello exposes the importance of the handkerchief when it is lost; he must have done so at the moment of presenting it. This love- gift must not be a usual commonplace piece of cloth that may fall with a simple jerk of knees. And at that very moment true hearted Emilia picks it up and takes it to her wicked husband even with the belief that he may use it in some devilish activity. And she does not tell about it to Desdemona even when Othello demands its very furiously in her presence . This scene could become convincing if Desdemona had not been there. But when she is present and a skirmish occurs between her beloved couple and she is also loyal, she must have exposed the secret of the lost handkerchief . Thus the situation becomes unconvincing rather, exaggerative. And exaggeration is oppression for the rational minds.
Roderigo has been is love with Desdemona for a long time. Her father Brabantio knows the fact. He cherishes her glance, spends money, time and energy for her. But Desdemona is absolutely unaware of Roderigo’s condition . Though Desdemona doesn’t love him yet his presence could be in her awareness. But the author has kept her in complete isolation that is to a large extent unconvincing is a locality where the same wind visits all corners.
Othello, the commander in chief, watches Cassio and Bianca from a distance. But he has no suspicion of the illegal relations between the two.Then he falls down unconscious and Cassio comes their abruptly and Iago tells him that Othello suffers from epilepsy.Both Cassio and Iago have spent almost the equal duration with Othello. It can be asserted that Cassio has been closer to him than Iago is who has got his comfidence only a while ago. The ridiculous situation is that Iago knows this secret that is a lie but Cassio doesn’t. And Cassio, a brave man, runs away from the situation when when his loyalty demanded. In the end Othello doesn’t prove to be an obedient commander in chief but a brazen faced self-conceited man occupied not by wisdom but by blind vigour to commit suicide after the murder of a marvelous lady. Thus the play is mot masterpiece of art but of exaggeration.
The language of the play also creates a negative impression. Discursive , unnecessary, long dialogues made the language cumbersom and to some extent oppressive. The reader wishes to know what happens next but the playwright stops him to listen to some flowery expressions to make the reader realize the mastery of the artist.
Desemona’s passionate condition where Othello did beguile her to tears and she gave him a world of sighs must have made Brabantio aware of her heart.
Brabantio, a senior courtier, also seems to be totally unware of the imminent war and he hasn’t told Desdemona anything about it. This non-awareness of war among the characters is far from convincing.
He openly disobeys the orders brought by Lodvico and doesn’t make Cassio the commander in chief as are the orders.Rather he rebels against the state and acts upon the plan of murdering Cassio. It proves he hasn’t the forbearance of a good soldier. About all such matters, Lodvico remarks:
I am sorry that I am deceived in him
The play fails to prove Othello’s bravery except that he murders an innocent and delicate lady, Desdemona:
Sweet soul take heed take heed of perjury
Thou art on thy death- bed.
He expresses his foolishness in these words:
My wife my wife, my wife I ha’ no wife
Towards the end of the play,disliking against Othello goes on increasing among the characters and the reader, as Emilia utters:
O, the more angel she was,
And you the blacker devil!
She further abuses this mighty being:
O gull , O dolt
As ignorant as dirt ; thou hast done a deed
(Act v Sc-ii)
He himself shatters his rationality when he declares about the sexual intercourse between Desdemona and Cassio:
A thousand times committed; Cassio confessed it
While it is only the exaggeration of his poor fantasy. He is further deprecated when just before his suicide he expresses his prejudice against other nations of the world:
like the base Indian
I took the circumcised Dog
And smote him thus.
Othello plays as a jealous lover while Roderigo plays as a foolish lover. The first murders Desdemona while the second is murdered for her.
Othello’s might and bravery act lower than his status while Roderigo’s weakness and foolishness act higher than his position. Both of them have one target_ Cassio, but both of them are blinded by Iago.
The impartial analysis of the play leads us to the conclusion that though it is one of the four major tragedies by Shapkespeare, yet it has some logical, technical and psychological defeacts. The overall impact and popualarity of the play are impressive enough to cover these drawbacks.
Ralph.P.Boas and Edwin Smith Enjoyment of Literature
Harcourt, Brace and
company NewYork Chicage
I.A.Richards Principles of Literary Criticism
Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD Broadway House; 68-74
H.Coombes Literatrure and Criticism Penguin Books (1966)