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Free Study Guide-Othello by William Shakespeare-Free Online Booknotes
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THEMES

Major Theme

The major theme of Othello is the destructive power of jealousy. Because Othello is a totally jealous man, he easily falls prey to Iago’s plotting and scheming. His mind is poisoned by the jealousy, and it leads, both directly and indirectly, to the deaths of Desdemona, Roderigo, Emilia, and Othello. Jealousy is truly the fatal flaw of the protagonist, and the entire play revolves around it.

Minor Themes

One of the minor Themes in Othello is that of deception, developed mostly through Iago, who is an arch-deceiver throughout the play. Because he is angry that Othello has passed over him for a promotion, he vows revenge. Playing upon Othello’s jealousy, he deceives him into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. He also deceives Roderigo, making him believe that Desdemona will tire of Othello and eventually be won by Roderigo. It is Iago’s repeated deceptions that move the plot of the play forward to the ultimate climax and tragedy.

Another minor theme of Othello is love, and the play can be considered a romantic tragedy. The play is romantic because it celebrates "the marriage of two minds" as embodied in Othello and Desdemona. They marry in spite of the protests of Desdemona’s father, and she faithfully follows her husband wherever he is sent. Their romantic marriage, however, is ruined by the villainous machinations of Iago. Othello is eventually led to murder his beloved, turning the romantic play into a tragedy.


A third minor theme of Othello revolves around appearance vs. reality. Iago has an honest face, which helps hide his deceitful soul. Othello appears to be strong and courageous, a leading general, but he is easily tricked into fearing that his wife is unfaithful. It appears that Desdemona has left her treasured handkerchief with Cassio; in reality, Emilia has taken it and Iago has planted in on Cassio. Because of Iago’s trickery, it appears to Othello that Desdemona is involved with Cassio; in truth, she is innocent, loving her husband dearly. Throughout the play, Iago is instrumental in making sure that reality is disguised by appearances, which he manipulates.

MOOD

The predominant mood of the whole play is somber and tragic. Iago works his evil almost from the opening scene, and each new deception that he plans brings greater misery. The tragic gloom that he causes is only occasionally relieved by comedy, provided by Roderigo and the Clown.

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