How Does Othello Rate?

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How Does Othello Rate?

Is this the best, the second-best, the worst of William Shakespeare’s tragedies? Where does it place in the lineup? Let’s consider where it deserves to be and why in this essay.

The play is so quotable; consider Desdemona’s opening lines before the Council of Venice: “My noble father, / I do perceive here a divided duty,” or Othello’s last words: “Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.” Could the continuing reputation of Othello be attributed to the quotable “ultimate form” in which the Bard of Avon expressed his ideas? Robert B. Heilman says in “The Role We Give Shakespeare”:

If we use the word “support,” however, we do name a way in which Shakespeare serves. It is the way of venerable
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The audience meets initially a wealthy playboy Roderigo, a cunning military ancient Iago, and an esteemed senator of Venice, Brabantio. Scene 2 introduces the audience to the Moor, his lieutenant Cassio, and two groups of people (Brabantio’s search party and Cassio’s party from the council). Scene 3 involves the audience with the duke and senators of the council, Desdemona, a sailor, a messenger, officers, and attendants. The host of characters make for a complex number of parts. On top of this group, the audience is exposed to unending sequences of action, ceaseless presentations of motivations and causes for the actions, and other aspects of the play. The number of “parts” is very great; consequently the variety is very great, and, as Heilman says, there results this special quality of just about anybody in the audience being able to identify with some of these “parts.”

Another reason for the lofty ranking of Othello is found in what Northrop Frye in “Nature and Nothing” refers to as “human wisdom”:

If we pay more attention to the difference between poetic and other kinds of thought, and deal with such a word only in its specific dramatic contexts, our other and better feeling that Shakespeare’s plays take us into the very center of human wisdom will be justified. (37).

Such human wisdom can be found in Iago’s initial words to sleepy Brabantio: “Zounds, sir, y’are robbed! For shame, put on your gown! /

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