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Othello was particularly popular with eighteenth-century critics, few of whom were convinced either by Rymer's strict views on neoclassical dramatic form or by his claim that the play's plot and characters were implausible. On the contrary, readers such as Samuel Johnson (1709-84), one of the most influential essayists and commentators of the period, defended the play specifically on the basis of its compelling portrait of human behavior. In this excerpt from the commentary in his 1765 edition of Shakespeare's plays, for instance, Johnson highlights the aesthetic value of Othello, and then argues that the play offers crucial insight into human nature:

Critical essays on Shakespeare's Othello

Iago In Othello - Critical Analysis Shakespeare's Iago is one of Shakespeare's most ..

Othello: A Survey of Criticism - Internet Shakespeare Editions

In addition to prompting a reassessment of Iago, the nineteenth-century view of Shakespeare's characters as expressions of fundamental truths about human nature stimulated a growing interest in Desdemona. This attentiveness to the play's tragic heroine intersected with a notable increase in the number of women's voices contributing to public conversations in the realm of literary criticism, as female actors began lecturing and publishing on the roles they performed on stage, and as women slowly began to be admitted to the ranks of professional scholars of Shakespeare. Among the latter category, Anna Jameson (1794-1860) is notable as the author of the first substantial and systematic discussion of Shakespeare's female characters, a volume published first in 1832 as Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical, and Historical, and later retitled simply Shakespeare's Heroines. Jameson challenges boldly many of her contemporaries by locating Othello's tragedy not in the plight of its male hero, but rather in the character of its heroine, arguing that "the source of the pathos throughout—of that pathos which at once softens and deepens the tragic effect—lies in the character of Desdemona" (224). Discussing Desdemona at length, Jameson describes her in amusingly patronizing terms as "one in whom the absence of intellectual power is never felt as a deficiency, nor the absence of energy of will as impairing the dignity, nor the most imperturbable serenity as a want of feeling: one in whom thoughts appear mere instincts, the sentiment of rectitude supplies the principle, and virtue itself seems rather a necessary state of being, than an imposed law" (224). Desdemona is, on Jameson's account, a young woman who is neither clever nor dynamic, and whose dominant features—her goodness and gentleness—are both beyond her control and inadequate to ensure her survival: "Desdemona displays at times a transient energy, arising from the power of affection, but gentleness gives the prevailing tone to the character—gentleness in excess—gentleness verging on passivity—gentleness which not only cannot resent—but cannot resist" (218).

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As Romantic poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge's (1772-1834) comments on the play illustrate, the conviction that Othello depicts fundamental truths about human nature did not always lead to the sort of condemnation of its central character found in Schlegel. Favoring a view of Othello "not as a negro, but a high and chivalrous Moorish chief"—and thereby providing scholarly support for actor Edmund Kean's so-called "tawny" stage Othello—Coleridge reads the tragic hero's actions as the product not of innate and uncontrollable passions, or even of jealousy, but rather as the consequence of moral indignation and wounded honor, and he argues that by generating an empathetic response in the audience the play is finally sympathetic to Othello (2:350). Coleridge was also fascinated by the figure of Iago, and his assessment of the play's enigmatic villain as a "passionless character, all will in intellect" (1:49) influenced readings of the play for decades. Indeed, Coleridge's claim that Iago's final soliloquy is best understood as "the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity" (1:49) remains one of the most quoted assessments of Iago to this day.

Epithets can often consist of abusive or contemptuous words such as those directed by the professionally offended Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.
Get this from a library! Critical essays on Shakespeare's Othello. [Anthony Gerard Barthelemy;]

Free Essays Jealousy Shakespeare's Othello Essays and …

Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the theme of sexual jealousy in Othello: In the second place, there is no subject more exciting than sexual jealousy rising to the pitch of passion; and there can hardly be any spectacle at once so engrossing and so painful as that of a great nature suffering the torment of this passion, and driven by it to a crime which is a...

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Gradually the discourses of race studies, psychoanalysis, feminism, new historicism, and sex/gender criticism began to coalesce as scholars became increasingly alert to the interplay of sexual politics and race in Othello and in history. In 1987's "'And wash the Ethiop white': Femininity and the Monstrous in Othello," for instance, Karen Newman argued that Desdemona's love for Othello represents a direct threat to Venice because it embodies the twin dangers of freely expressed female desire and miscegenation. This take on the play was then developed by Ania Loomba who argued that "the 'central conflict' of the play . . . is neither between white and black alone, nor merely between men and women—it is both a black man and a white woman. But these two are not simply aligned against white patriarchy, since their own relationship cannot be abstracted from sexual or racial tension" ("Sexuality" 172). The work of male critics, too, integrated analysis of the play's psycho-sexual elements with historically aware discussions of its treatment of race and of gender. For example, picking up on Snow's earlier analysis of Iago's repressed sexuality and employing a similar hermeneutic of suspicion, Michael Neill's "'Unproper Beds'" (1989) finds in the play's curtained bed a potent symbol for an "unutterable" anxiety about interracial love and sex (394). Bruce Smith's pioneering work on homosexuality in early modernity also built on Snow's insights as it investigated the fraught relationship between masculine friendship and marriage in Shakespeare (Homosexual Desire 1991). Smith's reading of Othello suggests that aspects of the relationship between Iago and Othello that might be characterized in modern terms as gay, are presented in the play as assertions of masculinity, while love of women is consistently associated with the threat of effeminacy.

Shakespeare's Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth 13x critical essays plus handouts

Sara Eaton, polished up for the Rall Symposium

Throughout the 2000s Othello criticism continued to benefit from the development of increasingly sophisticated accounts of the body, the self, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and citizenship, while postcolonial theory offered useful frameworks within which questions about Othello's nature and his relationship to the people and institutions around him could be examined. Ania Loomba's Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (2002), for instance, maps the complex connections among race, religion, and colonialism in the play, suggesting that Othello is best understood as the product of a historical moment which understood ethnic identity as fluid: "Despite being a Christian soldier, Othello cannot shed either his blackness or his 'Turkish' attributes, and it is his sexual and emotional self, expressed through his relationship with Desdemona, which interrupts and finally disrupts his newly acquired Christian and Venetian identity" (96).