Introduction to Othello

OTHELLO by William Shakespeare
Introduction to Othello
Othello is set in the 16th Century in Venice, Italy
and in Cyprus
Othello is the name of the play’s protagonist
(‘protagonist’ is the word for the central character
in a play – the one the audience sympathises
with and supports)
Othello is a tragedy.
What are the generic features of a tragedy?
A tragic hero who has a fatal flaw
Death or downfall of innocent people
Death or downfall of the protagonist
Usually the story revolves around kings,
queens, dukes or anyone higher up in
A Tragic Hero
· Very simply, in tragedy we see the downfall of a great man, someone respected
and held in high esteem by the community. He would have performed brave deeds
and shown his ability as a leader. We would know of (or have seen) his acts of
compassion and understanding, his righteous feelings for his fellow human.
· However, because of a fatal or tragic flaw in his character - something that leads a
man to disregard the Divine or to disobey a moral law - he will make wrong choices,
going with his 'darker side' rather than confronting the forces of evil and selfishness.
· Aware of the alternatives, he goes ahead with unwise decisions - decisions that
result in his personal decline into a state of misery and personal torment, leading to
eventual death. In the process the community in which he lives and functions might
well also suffer.
· The audience should feel pity and fear at the decline of a great man into sin and
Tragic-heroes examples:
Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader
A tragic hero
Fall of a great man/leader
Disobeys the laws of nature
(such as fate)
‘Hero is aware of the choices but
chooses unwisely
The decline evokes empathy from the
Othello is one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies
 Othello is set in Cyprus against the backdrop of the wars
between Venice and Turkey, which raged in the latter part of
the 16th century.
· Shakespeare's choice of a black man was strikingly original.
(Othello is called a Moor, which can suggest Arabic descent,
but the language of the play insists that he is a black
· Blackness in Elizabethan England was a colour associated with
moral evil, decay, and death, and “Moors” in the theatre
were usually stereotyped villains.
 Othello embodies none of the characteristics typical of the
"Moor"; instead of being lecherous, cunning, and vicious, he
is a noble,towering figure whose fall is therefore all the more
difficult to watch.
Othello - The protagonist and tragic hero of the play. A Moor commanding
the armies of Venice, he is a celebrated general and heroic figure whose
"free and open nature" will enable Iago to twist his love for his wife
Desdemona into a powerful jealousy.
Iago – The antagonist of the play and Shakespeare's greatest villain. His
public face of bravery and honesty conceals a Satanic delight in
manipulation and destruction. Passed over for a promotion by his
commander, he vows to destroy the Moor.
Desdemona - The daughter of a Venetian Senator; Othello's bride. The
most sympathetic character in the play, she is deeply in love with her
husband, and her purity contrasts strongly with Iago's wickedness.
Cassio - Othello's lieutenant, promoted in place of Iago. He is an
inexperienced officer but an honest man, with a great concern for his
good name.
Emilia - Iago's wife and Desdemona's attendant. A cynical, worldly woman,
she is deeply attached to her mistress.
Roderigo - A jealous suitor of Desdemona. A vain, melodramatic fool, he
follows Desdemona and Othello to Cyprus and acts as a willing tool for
Brabantio - Desdemona's father, a Senator in Venice. A friend of Othello,
he feels betrayed when the Moor marries his daughter in secret
Have you been listening?
What is a protagonist?
What has to happen in a play for it to be called a
What is an antagonist?
Who is the antagonist in this play?
Where is Othello set?
When is Othello set?
What could be considered to be Othello’s fatal