September 22, 2015

The Othello Essay – Timeless Topics

The Othello Essay – Timeless Topics
Wow. Shakespeare took on a lot in this play – jealousy, envy, racism, and deceit. It is often considered one of Shakespeare’s “lesser plays,” if there can really be such a thing, and it is usually not studied unless a student takes a specific course on the playwright, but the beauty of writing an Othello essay is that the topics are just so timely today.

A Tough Plot to Follow

While the plot itself is pretty clear cut, what makes Othello a bit difficult is keeping all of the “players” in this tale of treachery and deceit straight. You may need to read it a couple of times and take some notes to keep track. But here are some key points in the plot that you need to remember:

Othello is not the usual Italian hero. He is a Muslim living in a society of white Catholics, and his only claim to fame is his prowess as a military strategist and victor. He wants acceptance by this society, and the only way to get that is to keep being victorious in battle and, of course, to marry Desdemona, a white. This, he believes, will bring him the stature that he needs and make him a part of Italian society.

There are forces working against him, however, in the name of Roderigo, who loves Desdemona and will do anything to make the marriage fail. He and his co-conspirator Lago concoct a plot to convince Othello that his wife is unfaithful, knowing that the proud military man will not stand for it. And there is a second benefit to all of this. By painting Cassio, one of Roderigo’s enemies, as the lover, they can get rid of him too. Othello jealousy will certainly mean that Cassio will be killed.

Against this backdrop, Othello is left without a battle to fight and so has lost his value to Italy. All of the characters have travelled to Cyprus to fight invaders who never come. So there sits Othello, no battle and only time to “stew” on the rumors and mounting evidence that his wife is being unfaithful. In the end, as the truth unfolds, Othello has lost his reputation and his wife both, and the only option is suicide.

Essay Questions That Will Provide Topics

Essays on Themes: Shakespeare’s themes are always timeless, and Othello is no exception. Where, in all of history, has there not been jealousy, deceit, racism, and isolation? Here are some possible essay topics:

  1. Does Othello have a single fatal flaw or more than one? Certainly, jealousy is one, but is there also envy? Is he longing to be a part of a society that only accepts him because of his military stature? Maybe his flaw is that he wants too much to “belong.”
  2. Without purpose, Othello feels isolated and alone. His “cheating” wife only adds to this. How does his sense of isolation contribute to the tragic events?
  3. Who are the “racists” in the play? Does Desdemona represent the person who has truly risen above racism?

Othello Essays of Characterization

A great analysis essay could be written about any number of this play’s characters, for they mirror people who have existed for all time. Here are some potential topics for you:

  1. Analyze Emilia’s character. Is she an opportunist with no moral principles? How does she change in the end?
  2. Is Lago an opportunist or a racist? Or both? What motivates him to take part in the treacherous deceit to bring Othello down?
  3. If Desdemona has a flaw, what is it? Is she a woman ahead of her time? In what way?

Once you have read Othello, you may indeed find that you like it better than some of Shakespeare’s more touted plays. One of the reasons for this is that he addresses some really important issues that must be faced in our own time – the struggles for minorities in a society for acceptance and opportunity and the value we place on humans based upon their achievements, sometimes at the cost of who they are. The bottom line is this, however: if you need to write that Othello essay, you have plenty of possible toics!

Othello, William Shakespeare’s lesser known tragedy, deals with some pretty hefty themes, certainly for the times in which he wrote. Many consider it a very early treatment of race relations and the struggle for minorities to find acceptance in a white-dominated society. However, you see it, there are plenty of topics for some great essays here.  

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