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Othello Criticism cheat sheet

Page history last edited by mele 11 years, 2 months ago

Post the best quotes from your article here (ensure you reference the author)

Critic: Carol Thomas Neely


They see Othello and Iago as closely identified with each other; they are "two parts of a single motive--related not as the halves of a sphere, but each implicit in the other."'


Structure, too, imitates that of the pastoral comedies in its movement from an urban center to an isolated retreat, with resultant intensity, freedom, breakdown, and interaction among disparate characters. Though Othello refers to Cyprus as a "town of war," once the threats of Turks and the storm have lifted, it is instead Venus's isle, a place for celebration--relaxation, drinking, eating (dinner arrangements are a frequent topic of conversation here as in Arden), flirting, sleeping, lovemaking. In the comedies, the potential corruption of these activities is suggested in witty banter, songs, comic simile and metaphor; in Othello, this corruption becomes literal.


Critic: Pierre Machery


"The book revolves around this myth [i.e., that the book is uncannily alive]; but in the process of its formation the book takes a stand regarding this myth, exposing it. This does not mean that the book is able to become its own criticism: it gives an implicit critique of its ideological content, if only because it resists being incorporated into the flow of ideology in order to give a determinate representation of it."


Critic: Paul Yachnin


"In Othello, Shakespeare maneuvers to make wonder out of the material he has to work with, which, among other things such as language and costume, includes the fabric of the handkerchief and the body of the boy actor who plays Desdemona. These two objects are constructed so as to enhance the cultural status of the play by raising it above the commercialism and materiality of actual play production. But if we can deploy a strategic resistance to the play's sublimity (a resistance that came more easily to the original audiences), then the ordinariness of these "wonders" and the particular ways in which they are presented will allow us critical insight into the mystifications of Shakespeare and Shakespeare criticism."


"A text like Othello will be to the engrossed reader as Desdemona is to her husband--an object whose capacity to arouse wonder in the beholder is seen to underwrite the beholder's selfhood."


"For most of the characters, the handkerchief is reproducible, exchangeable, and has a certain cash value. Furthermore, although it circulates widely, everyone recognizes it as private property. Because it is private property, Emilia, Cassio, and Bianca all speak about making copies of it. In this regard, is it even clear that Emilia plans to keep it after having found it? For Desdemona, the handkerchief balances between the everyday and the sacred, becoming a hugely valued love token that is nonetheless commensurable with monetary value. "Where should I lose the handkerchief?" she asks, "Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse / Full of crusadoes" (3.4.23,25-26)."


Critic: Stephen Gosson


Behavious in the theatre: "In our assemblies at plays in London, you shall see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by women. Such care for their garments that they should not be trod on, such eyes to their laps that no chips light in them, such pillows to their backs that they take no hurt ... such tickling, such toying, such smiling, such winking, and such manning them home when the sports are ended that it is a right comedy to mark their behavior."


Critic: Kenneth Burke


Othello and Desdemona: Burke explains Othello's stake in Desdemona as "ownership in the profoundest sense of ownership, the property of human affections, as fetishistically localized in the object of possession, while the possessor is himself possessed by his very engrossment."


Critic: Arthur M. Eastman:


Nothing that is in Iago is absent from Othello, though there is much in Othello of which Iago never dreamed. It would be misleading to say that Iago is an extension of Othello, for Iago is complete in himself. But it may be illuminating to point out that the response of one to the other is immediate, or if not immediate, sure.


Iago, we might say, is able to find his way to Othello's heart by looking within his own.


Both Othello and Iago are ironists. Within certain important limitations, they tend to think and feel in the same ways. The elements that Iago finds within Othello, by looking within or projecting himself, are these: first, a sense of authority from the ironist's superior power or knowledge in a conflict situation; second, an almost overpowering frustration when one is denied this superior knowledge--either by conscious ignorance of the salient elements in the situation or by finding that one is the victim of another's irony; third, a general tendency, which under the stimulus of frustration may mount to compulsion, to confront or manipulate situations so that one achieves ironic mastery--by reserving knowledge, by finding knowledge hidden from others, by posing as ignorant where one has knowledge or as weak where one is strong; and fourth, a tendency to project one's own nature, to assume that others also confront life ironically.


For Iago irony is compensatory. It bridges the gap between his self-esteem and the place accorded him by the world. Irony becomes for him both a means and an end, a means of getting what he wants, whether Roderigo's money or the downfall of his enemies, but an end as the very act of irony indulges his self-importance.


Critic: James R. Aubrey


Iago awakens Brabantio with the cry that "an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe" (1.1.89-90)--an image of Othello and Desdemona intended to horrify her father. Iago next represents their sexual union as "your daughter cover'd with a Barbary horse" (1.1.112). Desdemona's imagined mating with an African animal is the kind of act which Paré describes among the causes of monsters, a "copulation with beasts" that leads to "the confusion of seed of diverse kinds" (25.982). Reminding her father that Othello and Desdemona may be generating monsters.


Social anthropologists would say that this idea, that blacks and monsters are related, if not equated, on some level of the popular imagination, constituted part of early modern London's "habitus," what Pierre Bourdieu defines as "a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions," or more simply, "a socially constituted system of cognitive and motivating structures."7 If there was a social disposition in 1604-5 to regard blacks and monsters as similar manifestations of the Other, as Strange News implies that there was, such a disposition would have affected both the generation and the reception of Othello at that historical moment. Indeed, as parts of the same habitus, each text simultaneously reflected and reinforced that very mental linkage.


Critic: Richard Mallette

“Where the play intersects with religious discourses, especially at those pressure points identified by poststructural analysis, we find words at their most potent, piercing and bruising hearts.” 


“We are accustomed to thinking of Shakespearean plays as secularizing religious themes and diction, often ironically. More unexpected is how the play foregrounds those concerns in mapping the characters’ moral and emotional lives, and how the play’s economies – racial, sexual, epistemological – are buttressed by those discourses.” 


“Iago’s polemics is modelled on and distorts methods prescribed by sixteenth-century sermon theory. His warping of contemporary preaching makes him even more diabolical than hitherto recognised. He seizes on discourses that the Shakespearean audience was accustomed to as salvific, and he deforms them toward an evil end.”


“Iago refashions his listeners and inscribes them anew in a different narrative, modelled on the narratives of salvation and damnation, of faith and doubt that preoccupy early modern English culture. He entangles that narrative with other heightened discourses, such as marriage, adultery, and race. (Pechter 1999, 25)”


“But Iago is the chief representative of the play’s oral/aural economy, and his goal will be to draw others into that realm. He exploits the culturally privileged discourse of preaching, figured through the metonym of the ear, and implicates that discourse with the sexual economies of the play.”



“The early modern affiliation between Reformed pastor and sinner clearly foretells the modern relationship of analyst and patient, an association carefully reproduced in Iago’s treatment of Othello. But the therapy Iago practices will bring his listener neither comfort nor the assurance of salvation, but instead the assurance of torment, indeed torment itself.”


Critic: Linda Woodbridge

'misogynists libel womankind; slanderers blacken one woman's reputation.'


Critic: Valerie Wayne

The very presence of misogynist discourse in the Renaissance suggests the instability of that view of women. It was not that no one any longer associated women with evil, but that the ideology was at issue and not an unquestioned presupposition or a given of the culture



Critic: Madeleine Doran

In Shakespeare slander is one of the worst of evils; it is a vice that I do not recall ever being excused. When Iago declares at the end of the play that 'From this time forth I never will speak word' (V, ii, 301), the very means by which he avoids self-incrimination becomes an assurance that he will not repeat his offence.


Critic: Valerie Wayne

Shakespeare's Venice looks like some accounts of his plays, since it is not a place that can tolerate difference: the only characters left alive on stage are white men.

But all of the white men left on stage are not the same, and it is important that Iago's misogynist discourse is specific to his character and then spreads, through a kind of oral/aural abuse, to Othello.



Critic: Norman Sanders


The biblical chapter advises against whoredom and compares the wife of a man's youth to 'thine owne well' or a 'fountaine blessed'. A woman's womb sustains her husband with life-giving water, and to be discarded from it is to die of thirst. Yet the waters offered there are not for everyone: 'But let them be thine, even thine onely, and not the strangers with thee.'48 It is this verse that prompts Othello's alternative image of the womb as a site for engendering foul creatures when it is not exclusive property. The womb is either a place of privileged ownership or a common pond breeding bestiality.


Critic: Valerie Wayne


Because the handkerchief serves as proof of married chastity, it cannot be copied by Emilia and Bianca. It is an emblem of Desdemona's body that does not circulate because her body is not supposed to circulate: the regulated passage of the handkerchief is along family lines, not elsewhere. This restriction usually applied as well to the woman's text, for her work was private, performed for her family and produced primarily for their consumption. The value of married chastity, which is figured in the handkerchief, asserts a worth and purpose for women that contradict the assertions of misogyny by requiring the sexual control of women in marriage. Chastity was a charm. The Egyptian charmer knew that 'if she lost it / Or made a gift of it', Othello's father and any husband would lapse into misogyny--he 'should hold her loathed, and his spirits should hunt / After new fancies' (III, iv, 56-9). When Desdemona loses the handkerchief, she loses the means of presenting herself as amiable, the proof that she is doing her private, domestic, bed-work. She loses her own text, as the Renaissance constructed it for her.



Critic: Thorell Porter Tsomondo


For my purposes, then, a helpful starting point is Robert Scholes's contrastive definition of the two genres: "drama is presence in time and space; narrative is past, always past" (206; emphasis mine). Because narrating can take place only in the "once upon a time" of the story that it relates, in the dramatic here and now of the play, the staged present of the tale that Othello tells about himself is not the events he recounts or the "self" he re-creates but the act of narration. This act or role directs attention to past events and to a protagonist (the hero of his narrative) whose experiences are framed in an earlier time than stage time, the time of the narrating, and in unfamiliar, distant locations.  


Through the narrative/dramatic strategies that Shakespeare employs, Othello reveals, among divided impulses and motives, some instructive exclusions, emphases, and suppressions. Othello's initial introduction to the audience takes place in his absence and in the form of gossip between Iago and Roderigo. This gossip may be likened to the third person narrative point of view which voyeuristically creates the character it describes. Shakespeare's use of this means of introducing Othello is felicitous. The familiarity that is apparent in Iago and Roderigo's conversation, in the coarse language they use and in their interrelationship, is soon seconded by the concordant sentiments that their "concern" about Desdemona's elopement awakens in the socially and politically privileged senator and parent, Brabantio, who endorses Roderigo: "O would you had had her" (1.1.175). This breakdown of reserve between social classes and individuals signifies the existence of common cause with the Elizabethan audience; it articulates the society's deepest fears: sexual deviation and miscegenation.


Critic: Kenneth Tyan


 'Not easily jealous' it's the most appalling bit of self-deception. He's the most easily jealous man that anybody's ever written about. The minute he suspects, or thinks he has the smallest grounds for suspecting, Desdemona, he wishes to think her guilty, he wishes to"




Comments (1)

mele said

at 11:07 am on May 29, 2009

Great quotes guys. I can't wait to use them in my Essay in the end of the year.

Thanks for the help :)

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