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POINT OF VIEW

When you read a novel or short story, you're generally guided by a narrator who tells the story. As the story unfolds, the narrator might offer opinions or judgments on the characters and their behavior, letting the reader know how to respond. This is not always the case: some narrators are so unobtrusive that they're almost invisible. But there is always a narrator (or group of them) in prose fiction, and even if they are not readily identifiable, they give the story shape and tone.

In drama, narrators are only used in special instances (such as Thornton Wilder's Our Town, in which one of the characters acts as a narrator). Usually, everything we learn about the people and events in a play comes from the characters words and deeds. Rather than furnish one point of view, a play offers us several as the characters live their lives onstage.


In Othello, Shakespeare stands back and lets us make up our minds about the characters' words and behavior. We watch and listen and decide for ourselves if Iago is evil or justifiably angry at Othello, if Othello himself is worthy of our admiration. No narrative voice tells us how to judge the characters in Othello.

Shakespeare's special genius was his ability to embrace so many points of view in his plays, from those of tailors and peasants to those of soldiers and queens. There can be no final word on his great characters because they are as complex and mysterious as real people. In a great play like Othello, there will always be controversies surrounding the characters' motivations and behavior. A play that gives you all the answers is one you're likely to forget soon after you've seen or read it once. We return to Shakespeare's plays again and again because his point of view on the human condition was so large, so inclusive.

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