Themes In Othello Essay Assignment

Jealousy is a major theme in Othello and it is what drives Othello to commit his heinous deed of killing Desdemona. Othello claims to be a man who "loved not wisely, but too well;of one not easily jealous..."(V.ii.347).

Whilst it is true that his misplaced trust in "honest" Iago and the "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity drive this play to its tragic end, initially Othello does not show any signs of jealousy and is fully aware of Desdemona's friendship with Cassio which, until Iago starts his manipulative scheming, is not a concern for Othello because he knows that Desdemona "had eyes and chose me" (III.iii.189). Iago is all too aware of Othello's " constant, loving, noble nature” which he will use against him to incite his jealousy.  

Honor and reputation are equally important to Othello and once his jealousy is aroused and he has the proof he needs  - "I saw the handkerchief" (V.ii.66)- he must  save Desdemona's own reputation "She turn'd to folly, and she was a whore" (V.ii.133) as well as his own because " nought I did in hate, but all in honor."(V.ii.298)

Othello's jealousy is therefore a result of circumstances and manipulation. Iago is such a strong personality and has everyone fooled - for most of the play-  and his own jealousy appears to be the motivation for his destruction of Othello - and everyone else along the way "I do suspect the lusty Moor." Othello gives him no cause to suspect him but Iago will get his revenge " wife for wife"
(II.i.303).

To build this in to an essay, you will need a strong introduction. There have been many essays written on Othello's jealousy so you need to grab your reader's attention.

Start with a startling statement such as - From a man with a loving and noble nature, Othello is transformed in to a crazed, babbling and irrational monster.  

Build your quotes in right from the start. You could continue  with something like - The man "that was Othello" (V.ii.285) appears more like Iago than anyone could believe as his jealousy, much like Iago's jealousy, consumes his life and the life of all around him. How could a man, so noble in battle, so respected in society and so loved by his wife, be reduced by such an emotion as to render himself nothing more than "a malignant and turban'd Turk?"(V.ii.356)

This way you have introduced your main topic (jealousy) which is very important in an introductory paragraph. You can lead into the most planned part of your essay - the thesis statement. Ask yourself what the purpose of your essay is. In this instance, you are trying to convince the reader of your essay about Othello's jealousy and, presumably, how it is his undoing. You could add a general fact if it will reinforce your statement such as - Othello, and many more before him and still more after him , become so overcome and self-absorbed by their jealousy that communication fails and common sense has no place in a world of overwhelming coincidences and the schemes of others (in this case Iago).

You will be able to follow with paragraphs which show Othello's jealousy and also a lack of communication as Othello believes only one person - Iago- despite protestations by others.  The part that Iago plays in reinforcing Othello's jealousy is also important.

Your conclusion will wrap everything up and basically prove your claims.   

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for Othello by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Othello in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Othello at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Introduction of the Character Othello

Structurally speaking, one of the more important elements of the beginning section of Shakespeare’s Othello, is the fact that the reader is not able to meet him until Scene 2. Before Othello is introduced, there are a number of perceptions we already have of him. For instance, since it is the villainous Iago speaking, we come to think of Othello as some kind of exotic animal or as a man that has no place in Venetian society. However, at his introduction, the reader finds out quite easily and rather quickly that Othello is not a savage and certainly not someone who does not belong in his society; he is well-spoken, elegant, and noble. In short, this narrative act of waiting to introduce Othello until after Iago has had his say and begins to use his power of language in Othelloand makes the reader the first one to fall victim to the manipulations of Iago. For this essay discuss how this opening scene is Iago manipulating reader perceptions and how this relationship with the audience continues.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: How Important is Race in Othello?

One of the most salient features of this play is the numerous references to Othello’s race, not only by Iago, but by other characters as well. In fact, at the beginning of the play, we don’t even know Othello’s name yet but we are well aware that he is dark-skinned and different. However, Othello is anything but the “barbarian" he is described as and is actually rather more elegant than many other characters in the play, particularly in terms of his verbal ability, martial position, and general personality. As a result, despite any emphasis put on race by other characters, it can be easily argued that race is not, especially as the play progresses, a primary factor by any means and in fact, this story could have just as easily been told if Othello were a white man. While certainly race is one of the most salient themes in Othello discussed in many essays and classrooms, take the high road for this essay and go for a challenge. Write an argumentative essay on Othello in which you evaluate the ways race is not important. A hint: Use quotes that pertain to race but back them up with examples of Othello behaving against the negative stereotypes these terms invoke.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: #3 The Significance of Animal Imagery in Othello

Images relating to animals are a constant throughout the text and as one might imagine, many of these are used in reference to Othello. Called a “Barbary horse" that would make “the beast with two backs" as well as an “old ram" the parallel between Othello’s race and the perceived savagery is clear. Animal images in Othello could be used to counter the above thesis statement (#2) that race is not important. In addition to Othello being equated with animals verbally, there are other examples in the text as well, including swans, goats, etc. For this essay, go through the text and look for references to animals and attempt to determine what they symbolize. Another important question to ask yourself is how animals and animal behavior function within the larger narrative.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Classic Archetypes in Othello

Part of what makes Othello such a resonant play, even with modern audiences, is the fact that the characters and situations are so universal. Part of this universality is based on the fact that every one of the major characters is a classic archetype. For example, Iago is the classic villain—an evildoer with extraordinary manipulative powers and the ability to create chaos. Desdemona is the classic damsel in distress (despite her feminist pipe-ups, she is the unwitting victim here) and Othello….well…he fits a number of classical categorical definitions. Some have suggested that Othello is a tragic hero, like Achilles or like in a more modern sense, like Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart. He is a good man, he just is willing to be manipulated and from there, all turns to hell. For this essay, look to other works of literature for classic definitions or examples of these character types or archetypes and conclude with a statement on how this creates a timelessness about the work and makes it universally understood.

* A few helpful articles on the topics listed here and others include Perceptions of Race in Othello by ShakespeareThe Power of Words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and OthelloSin and Villains in Doctor Faustus and OthelloPrejudice in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Merchant of Venice


This list of important quotations from Othello by Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Othello listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers, or line and scene numbers.

“You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, / you’ll have your nephews neigh to you, / you’ll have coursers for cousins and jennets for germans" (I.i.113-16).

“For if such actions [Othello marrying a white woman] may have passage free, / bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be" (I.iii.98).

“[Desdemona’s] father loved me, oft invited me, / Still questioned me the story of my life / From year to year" (I.iii.127–129).

“Keep your bright swords, for the dew will rust them / Good signor, you have more command with your years than with your weapons" (I.ii.58).

(Othello) “Rude am I in speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of speech" (I.iii.83-84).

(Iago of Othello) “Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains— / Yet for necessity if present life / I must show out a flag and sign of love" (I.i.156-58)

“Strumpet, I come. / Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted. / They bed lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted" (V.i.35-37).

* For several freely accessible essays and articles on Othello and other works by Shakespeare, visit the literature archives at ArticleMyriad *

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