October 01, 2015 - Posted to Writing Tips
A William Shakespeare Othello Essay – Several Possibilities
While Othello is one of Shakespeare’s less popular tragedies, and seldom read in high school, it is often studied in British literature courses in college, often because it is considered a “tighter” plot and because it approaches the subject of racism, which, of course, is never seen in his other plays.
If you have read Othello, you may not see it the way your professor or expert critics do. It is a difficult plot to follow sometimes and tough to keep the characters straight, but, in short, the reader can understand the following:
Othello is an unusual hero for Italy. He is a Muslim in a society of white Christians whose acceptance is based solely upon his military victories. He sees this, along with his marriage to Desdemona, as his “ticket” into white society. Others are plotting against him, not because of his race, but because Roderigo loves Desdemona and wants the marriage to fail. His cohort, Lago, can be seen as the real culprit, as he plots to discredit Desdemona as an unfaithful wife and to eliminate another enemy, Cassio, as Desdemona’s supposed lover. Once all of the major players move from Venice to Cyprus for a potential war that never manifests, they have nothing to do other than to focus on the continuing plot to discredit Desdemona and to deceive Othello. As for himself, Othello is “lost” without a battle to fight, the single activity that allows his acceptance, and his focus then is placed on the mounting false evidence that his wife has been unfaithful. As the truth comes out in the end, Othello himself has been discredited, he has neither his military prowess nor his wife to lend validity to his value, and he must then kill himself.
Themes of Othello
An Othello essay can easily be built around many of the themes in the play – deceit, jealousy, loneliness and isolation, and, as well, racism. Here are some potential essay topics:
- What is Othello’s fatal flaw? This has been the subject of much debate among Shakespearian scholars. Some see it as jealousy; others see it as an internal sense of inferiority that can only be assuaged by military conquests and marriage to a white woman on an exterior level.
- What is the loneliness and isolation that Othello is subjected to once arriving on Cyprus and discovering that there is no battle to be fought?
- How does Desdemona represent someone not in sync with the times? Is she the only true non-racist in the play?
Other Essay Topics
Many Othello essays can be written focusing on the characters in the play and their specific roles in the overall tragedy. Here are some Othello essay questions that would make good essay topics:
- What role does Emilia play in the furtherance of the “conspiracy?” Does she lack moral fiber? How does she redeem herself in the end?
- What motivates Lago to engage in such treacherous deceit? Is he a racist? Is he an opportunist?
- Does Desdemona have a flaw? If so, what is it? How can she be seen as an early women’s “libber?”
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.