Othello and Shakespeare’s abiding concern with identity on the levels of gender, the public and private realms, theatricality, and humanity. In an academic, argumentative essay, develop a response to one of the essay topics below.
Othello and Shakespeare’s abiding concern with identity
This assignment will allow you to demonstrate your overall understanding of course content: Othello and Shakespeare’s abiding concern with identity on the levels of gender, the public and private realms, theatricality, and humanity. In an academic, argumentative essay, develop a response to one of the essay topics below.
Note that the topics are arranged in general order of increasing complexity and challenge. Later topics offer you more opportunity to demonstrate your analytical skills through innovative argumentation; however, they are also “riskier” in that they require more independent thought and creativity. It will likely be more difficult to develop an argument in response to them and there will be more “pitfalls” along the way.
Selection of an early topics in the list can lead to an exceptional response, but many of the ideas related to that topic have been covered directly in class. For any topic, “innovation,” which you must demonstrate to receive the highest marks, is possible, but you may find it more difficult to do so with the first few questions.
1. We have spent a great deal of time studying Othello’s heroine, Desdemona, and both Emelia and Bianca play significant roles in the play.
How does Shakespeare represent women and their nature in this play? What does he have to say about “womanhood?”
2. What makes Iago so effective as a villain?
You can explore this question in two ways.
a. Examine his character to develop an argument regarding the qualities, approaches, or attributes that make him a successful villain inside Othello.
b. Try to consider the purpose or function of a villain in a story. Consider what we want from our villains or why we need villains. Then, develop an argument that analyses Iago and his relationship to the villain archetype.
As an example, Superman is a hero. Superficially, he is a hero because he does “good things,” protecting the weak and saving innocent lives. However, if we consider the purpose or function of a hero to a given culture, Superman is a hero to The United States of America because he embodies the “American Dream” and “American” values: he is an immigrant who came to the country with nothing, was raised by “wholesome mid-western” parents, and he fights for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He embodies a certain cultural perception of heroism and virtue; his purpose is both to entertain and to present an idealization of the American culture’s self-understanding to which people can aspire.
3. Othello, Cassio, Iago, and other characters are intensely concerned regarding their standing in the “public realm” of human life.
How does Shakespeare define the public sphere, and the communities in which people live, in these two plays?
5. In Anthony and Cleopatra, a play that could easily find its way into this course, Anthony says, “If I lose mine honour / I lose myself” (3.4.22-3).
What does the play Othello have to say about the relationship between honour and identity?
Your argument should do more than simply say that “honor and identity are one and the same.”
6. Arguably, nothing is more important in Shakespeare’s plays than the stories that we tell about ourselves and others. Othello relates “the story of [his] life” to Desdemona and asks Lodovico to relate the “unlucky deeds” that have taken place in the play (Othello 1.3.129, 5.2.340).
Focus on moments (there are more than just the ones that I mentioned) when characters “tell stories” and the way in which other characters respond to them. What does Shakespeare argue about storytelling in Othello?