Othello- critical views (AO3)

Bradley on Othello:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16966/16966-h/16966-h.htm

Bradley v Leavis

Useful round up of critical views – with links:

http://www.morelearning.net/KS5/Othello/Critical%20views%20of%20Othello.pdf

Quite nice assimilation of views – by a student I think…

http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/assets/qualifications-and-standards/qualifications/ncea/NCEA-subject-resources/English/91479-A/91479-EXP-A-student4-001.pdf

These links could be used for both your Explorative Study and Creative Critical Response.

 

Othello critics cheat sheet:

http://year13english.pbworks.com/w/page/7356501

/Othello%20Criticism%20cheat%20sheet

Bradley on Othello:

http://filebox.vt.edu/users/drad/courses/4166Docs/BradleyOthelloI.htm

Created by students:

http://othello-critical-study.wikispaces.com/

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23 Responses to Othello- critical views (AO3)

  1. Florence Fry says:

    3 Critical views I found interesting were:

    1) That Othello can be seen as a greater villain than Iago. In my opinion, even before having read these reviews, Othello was clearly not the honest, noble hero Shakespeare seemed to depict him as. He smothers his wife based on only mutterings coming from Iago and tries to justify himself killing her which, in my opinion, is what a villain is. Yes, Iago is a stereotypical villain, manipulating others for his own pure enjoyment and destroying peoples lives with little reasoning; but Othello actually kills his wife based on little evidence.
    2) That Othello may have already been concerned about Desdemona being unfaithful even before Iago planted these ideas in his head. Because Othello was a ‘blackmoor’ he would have already felt vulnerable within this society where he was isolated both religiously and ethnically, and people would constantly be referring to his as ‘the moor’ and questioning how he managed to do so well in his career. He himself may have also been questioning how he managed to get a beautiful, white woman to fall in love with him, and in turn questioning her possible motives in marrying him. If Othello was certain that they were truly in love, he would have not been so easily swayed by Iago’s manipulative comments.
    3) Othello seems to be delusional. Before he dies, Othello uses the soliloquy ‘Soft you: a word or two before you go… Of one that loved not wisely but too well… And smote him, thus’ (5.2.338-356). Many would see this as a last attempt of a noble redemption, but some critics, and I agree, see it as a deluded justification of why he murdered her. He seems to also think that by killing himself, he has redeemed himself of the wrong he did, however, he has in effect pointlessly ended two lives that could have carried on living blissfully unaware of the destructive nature of Iago.

  2. Freya Swabey says:

    The first critical view I looked at was from A Pocket Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays by Kenneth McLeish and Stephen Urwin. In this response, they explain how they believe Iago to be one of the most “supreme” evils in all of Shakespeare’s plays due to him not being insane, but intelligent and egotistical, and him being compatible, sowing huge amounts of will and intellect. This view interested me as it appeared to idolise Iago rather than show a distinct hatred for him like many other critics do. McLeish and Urwin come across as almost admiring Iago.

    The second critical response that intrigued me was written by Thomas Rymer in 1693. He appears to blame the whole situation on Desdemona’s parents for not giving her better sense and judgement. In his opinion, if they had brought her up with better morals, she would not have married a black man and thus she wouldn’t have been murdered. This view interested me as it blamed all of the goings-on on a set of people who were barely in the play at all.

    The final response that I read was written by A C Bradley in 1904. This man worships Othello and says that Othello does not murder Desdemona, but rather sacrifices her. He saves her from herself in the name of love and honour. This view surprised me as it idolises Othello and appears to over-look what Othello does and tries to find a good reason behind it. It is unlike most other views on Othello’s characters that I have seen.

    • Mrs Taylor says:

      You are very restrained Freya in your judgement on Thomas Rymer (point 2) – he wouldn’t be welcome in our lessons with such shortsighted, misogynistic opinions. Clearly I remain neutral for the benefit of developing open minded students 😉

  3. Grace Allum says:

    Critical views:

    1) I find it interesting that Bradley says that “Othello is, in one sense of the word, by far the most romantic figure among Shakespeare’s heroes”. However I disagree as I do not regard Othello as romantic at all, even before he murders Desdemona he comes across very arrogant and vain, portraying that he can’t love anything more than he loves himself. Using Act 1 Scene 3 as an example of this, where Othello says “She loved me for the dangers I had passed”, which makes you question the realness of their love. Othello craved the attention of others; the only thing he loved about Desdemona was her interest in him, which portrays him not as a romantic figure but someone quite shallow.
    Reference: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16966/16966-h/16966-h.htm

    2) Bradley describes Othello as “trustful, and thorough in his trust. He put entire confidence in the honesty of Iago, who had not only been his companion in arms, but, as he believed, had just proved his faithfulness in the matter of the marriage.” Which is interesting as many may have interpreted Othello as naive when trusting Iago and even when told that Iago was deceiving him by Emilia in Act 5 Scene 2; “He lies to th’heart”, he continues to believe Iago and no one else, which makes him look rather ignorant and stupid.
    Reference: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16966/16966-h/16966-h.htm

    3) While reading Leavis’ critical view on Othello, it’s interesting how he believes Othello to be the villain and justifies Iago’s actions. He describes Othello as flawed from the beginning; “the nobility as here no longer something real, but the disguise of an obtuse and brutal egotism. Self-pride becomes stupidity, ferocious stupidity, an insane and self-deceiving passion.” Leavis is convinced that the tragic ending is not due to Iago’s actions but Othello’s readiness to respond to Iago’s actions. I partly agree with Leavis as from the start Othello has a manner of egotism which results in him being led by Iago’s schemes, at times his pompous attitude leads him to mistrust and misjudge the wrong people. For example, when he believed Iago when he told Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness and overreacted without confronting Desdemona, showing his true colours of a ‘deceiving passion’.
    Reference: http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/assets/qualifications-and-standards/qualifications/ncea/NCEA-subject-resources/English/91479-A/91479-EXP-A-student4-001.pdf

    Grace Allum

    • Mrs Taylor says:

      Grace, your comments in point 1 make me afraid for your potential suitors in Oceana. Let’s hope they keen on the right side of attentive and avoid fawning over you.

  4. lucy says:

    Personally, I found the view that stated Iago as “not human” interesting. Obviously Bradley believed that such evil, such malice, could not exist in a purely human form in actuality, and that Iago as a character would be more in place in a symbolical text.
    This critic also believes it a common misunderstanding that Iago has some reason to be aggrieved at the beginning, but that what we are forgetting is that this is never information given by Shakespeare, but simply knowledge derived from what Iago tells Roderigo.

    In addition, the same critic believes that Othello really is noble and “virtually faultless”. I find this view fascinating, as to me; and many others I am sure, someone that kills someone simply in the heat of the moment is never, under any justification, going to be someone who is without blame.
    I find it particularly interesting that Othello’s given justification for murdering his wife, “She must die or she’ll betray more men” is seen by A.C Bradley as proving the nobility of Othello’s character even further. I suspect this view, post feminist era, is not one widely shared, as it shows that Bradley clearly thought this selfless justification gave Othello more honour.

    Leavis points out that any kind of love that Othello had for Desdemona was not true love, but rather “a matter of self centred and self regarding satisfactions”. This meant Leavis believed that any justification of murdering his wife out of love, and jealousy at her supposed cheating as not admissible. I agree, as it’s clear that any sort of love Othello has for Desdemona is not for customary reasons.
    Leavis notes that it is “plain that we should see in Iago’s prompt success is not so much Iago’s diabolic intellect as Othello’s readiness to respond”. This shows that Iago is simply drawing out of Othello something already in him, challenging the view of Iago as completely culpable for the tragic ending of the play.

    • Mrs Taylor says:

      The idea of Iago as being more symbolic and one dimensional than human is interesting and worth considering further. This would like to the literary tradition of the vice figure…

  5. Bryony Pearce says:

    1) Bradley describes Othello as virtually blameless and ultimately good “Once again this demonstrates honour and nobility on Othello’s part”. I found this interesting as to me it’s quite a controversial view, as Othello did kill Desdemona himself, and even if he did it whilst believing she was unfaithful he is ultimately still a murderer, and so to me it is hard to find Othello honourable and noble by the end of the play.

    2)Leavis on the other hand takes the polar opposite view that Othello was flawed from the start as his arrogance and self importance cancelled out any goodness on his part: “Overly aware of his nobility”. This suggests Othello cannot be considered a hero as he is too flawed, and the evil and wickedness overshadows any light. This is interesting as Othello is usually considered ultimately good at the start at least, whereas Leavis argues he never had any exceptional redeeming qualities.

    3)Another interesting point was that Leavis suggests the murder of Desdemona was entirely Othello’s fault when compared to Iago as even though Iago was clearly evil, he describes Othello’s “readiness to respond” as equally evil to Iago’s “diabolic intellect”. This is interesting as Iago is usually considered to be more responsible so I quite enjoy this interpretation which recognises Othello’s incredible accountability.

    • Mrs Taylor says:

      ‘I quite enjoy this interpretation which recognises Othello’s incredible accountability’

      I am enjoying the fact that you ‘enjoy’ an interpretation Bryony! This makes me happy.

  6. Orla Kearns says:

    1. Bradley describes Othello as noble and good, and makes him out to be a faultless victim of Iago’s evil. I think that this is a much idealised opinion of Othello, and I think that Bradley is also guilty of assurance in his hope regarding Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. Othello is made out to be a hero, when in fact he can only be described as “faultless” when in a scene of conflict: his comfort zone. He has no experience of domesticity or relationships. Bradley says that he “decides and acts instantaneously” and used this as a positive aspect of Othello’s character, even though this quick temper, I think, is detrimental to his character- he murdered his wife, how could that be a positive example of instant decision making?!

    2. Leavis takes an opposite opinion to Bradley and says that “Iago is not the villain of the play, Othello is”. I am more inclined to agree with this view, as Iago cannot be entirely held accountable for the events of the play. Although he came up with the plans that in themselves were villainous, it is Othello’s “readiness to respond” that results in the deaths of Desdemona, Emilia and himself, and secures Iago’s success. Othello is also regularly self-dramatising in speech, a quality which makes him irritating and aware of his self-worth, which Leavis voices as Othello is “overtly aware of his nobility”.

    3. Bradley blames Iago entirely for the fate of the play, and exonerates Othello of all guilt when he says that Othello’s “opinion of Iago was the opinion of everyone that knew him”. Bradley can justify Othello’s actions by blaming Iago and does so with vengeance.

    • Mrs Taylor says:

      Your comments on Othello’s heroism within the field of battle is interesting and something which was evident in the NIcholas Hytner production some of us saw live from the National Theatre. The foregrounded military context we saw may encourage the audience to recognise Othello’s deep rooted loyalties to his comrades and Iago in particular. We feel it is more understandable he believes Iago.

  7. simonebadham says:

    I have found Bradley’s views of Othello interesting and from his reflections I have found 3 points which caught my eye:

    1.He labels Othello as ‘trustful and thorough in his trust’ by putting ‘entire confidence in the honesty of Iago’, however I think that by putting his full trust in ‘Honest Iago’ over Desdemona, who has betrayed her father and proven her devotion to Othello, shows how Naive Othello is, contradicting the element of trust found within him.

    2. Bradley also highlights how ‘hesitation is almost impossible to him’ [Othello], following on from his thought that Othello is trustworthy by reiterating- ‘His trust, where he trusts, is absolute.’ I would agree with Leavis’ response to this in the way that ‘Othello’s readiness to respond’ is what prompts Iago’s success, showing him and Iago to be on the same wavelength.

    3. ‘I do not mean the ridiculous notion that Othello was jealous by temperament’- I would agree with what Bradley deems a ‘ridiculous notion’ as i believe that we are all products of our environment and, to a certain extent, the way in which we are brought up and the morals are instilled within us by our guardians and the attitudes of our communities are what shape our temperaments. Therefore, I think that Othello’s jealousy stems from his loveless childhood of violence and war, that molded him into a competitive being who does not share his successes, in this case, Desdemona’s affections, whether they are divided or not.

  8. Katie says:

    Bradley sees Othello as a ‘nearly faultless hero’ and strengthens his argument for Othello’s character by also describing him as ‘noble’ and attempts to make excuses for his impulsive actions upon Desdemona by placing blame on an ‘external evil’, the ‘demi-devil’, Iago. Leavis however suggests that the real traitor in the play is Othello himself. Iago simply represents something that is already inside of Othello. Leavis goes on to state reasons why Othello is not a true hero at all but ‘overly aware of his nobility’ and not taking full responsibility for his actions even after the murder, opposing Bradley’s views of Othello’s ‘honour’ and ‘nobility’. I strongly agree with Leavis’ interpretation as I cannot see the justification in the brutality behind the murder of Desdemona and that all Iago did was reveal and emphasise the real darkness inside of Othello that was before hidden to the audience.

    Bradley and Leavis have very different ideas behind the emotions shared between Othello and Desdemona. Bradley seems optimistic and believes in a ‘happy story’ of ‘romantic lovers’ which was torn apart by evil. Leavis however describes the declared love as being ‘corrupted’ and states his views of how it is purely a loved built upon the foundation of being loved and admired. Othello is described being ‘self-centred’ which further illuminates the greed Othello has not to love and be loved, but to own and control Desdemona’s heart. This in another clear indicator his his ‘possessiveness’. I agree with the views of Leavis here as think that if their love is supposed to be so real then he would have been so easily manipulated. Iago hardly needed to force feed ideas of Desdemona’s supposed infidelity down Othello’s throat for him to successfully turn Othello against his innocent wife.

  9. Katie says:

    Bradley sees Othello as a ‘nearly faultless hero’ and strengthens his argument for Othello’s character by also describing him as ‘noble’ and attempts to make excuses for his impulsive actions upon Desdemona by placing blame on an ‘external evil’, the ‘demi-devil’, Iago. Leavis however suggests that the real traitor in the play is Othello himself. Iago simply represents something that is already inside of Othello. Leavis goes on to state reasons why Othello is not a true hero at all but ‘overly aware of his nobility’ and not taking full responsibility for his actions even after the murder, opposing Bradley’s views of Othello’s ‘honour’ and ‘nobility’. I strongly agree with Leavis’ interpretation as I cannot see the justification in the brutality behind the murder of Desdemona and that all Iago did was reveal and emphasise the real darkness inside of Othello that was before hidden to the audience.

    Bradley and Leavis have very different ideas behind the emotions shared between Othello and Desdemona. Bradley seems optimistic and believes in a ‘happy story’ of ‘romantic lovers’ which was torn apart by evil. Leavis however describes the declared love as being ‘corrupted’ and states his views of how it is purely a loved built upon the foundation of being loved and admired. Othello is described being ‘self-centred’ which further illuminates the greed Othello has not to love and be loved, but to own and control Desdemona’s heart. This is another clear indicator his ‘possessiveness’. I agree with the views of Leavis here as think that if their love is supposed to be so real then he would have been so easily manipulated. Iago hardly needed to force feed ideas of Desdemona’s supposed infidelity down Othello’s throat for him to successfully turn Othello against his innocent wife.

  10. Jess Uren says:

    Three interesting critical facts I have found are;
    1) Leavis describes that Othello’s ‘readiness to respond’ shows how he is the true villain of the story. I found this interesting as throughout the play it is seen that Othello is being victimised and manipulated by the cruel Iago, however if you delve deeper, it is evident that Othello does not need much evidence as he is eager to believe Iago. The only hard evidence he is granted with is the handkerchief which Emilia handed to Iago, and even this could not be thought of strong evidence, as Iago has no proof of Desdemona giving it to Cassio and consequently Othello still murders Desdemona through her plea of innocence. Therefore I believe showing that Othello is the real villain.
    2) Another interesting fact I found was that Bradley describes Othello as a ‘faultless hero’. In one aspect I agree with this statement, as Othello is named a hero in war by many people throughout the story as he has rescued many people and is a well respected officer. However, I believe his true character is relieved throughout the story where he coldly murders Desdemona, I believe this demonstrates him as no longer a hero, but a self centred cynical human being.
    3) . Leavis also says, ‘Othello doesn’t take full recognition or responsibility for his actions.’ I agree with this statement, as in the final act even though Othello kills himself as he is ‘distraught’ with what he has done, I feel as though he is only doing this as he is wallowing in his own self pity, and wants everyone around him to feel empathy towards him. This happened because he had just murdered Desdemona and even though she expressed her innocence he still believed he was right and she was wrong. Therefore being proved wrong he now wants a dramatic ending by taking his own life and wanting everyone to watch, not because he was genuinely sorry for his actions.

  11. Livia says:

    It is surprising to read that A.C. Bradley attempts to acquit Othello away from all guilt of wrongdoing and invests it in Iago by claiming “Othello’s opinion of Iago was the opinion of practically everyone who knew him”. Visibly Iago is not wholly blameless yet Bradley appears to shy away from the fact that Othello did kill his wife, with no consideration for her argument and that she might in fact still remain the “sweet Desdemona”(3.3.55) that he married. Instead, Othello transforms from a noble husband to a raging animalistic murder declaring he will “tear her to pieces”(3.3.442). He is too indulged in the satisfaction of relieving his jealous rage to appreciate that Iago was the true deceiver -and Bradley does not consider him to be responsible?
    It is interesting, also, to read that Arthur M. Eastman states “Nothing that is in Iago is absent from Othello” which supports the concept of Othello having equal responsibility for Desdemona’s death. It claims that Iago, though physically having no part in Desdemona’s death, fully anticipated Othello’s murder of Desdemona and that perhaps it does not distress Othello, quite as much as he demonstrated, to do so. Iago and Othello being virtually identical is beneficial in Iago’s scheming, as he can easily determine how he may react and manipulate him accordingly. The judgment of Othello is contradictory in the two critics and their perceptions of him are polar opposite.
    Bradley also claims that Othello “does not belong to our land…almost as if from wonderland” which connotes a man of supernatural existence; something which, in my opinion, there is no evidence of in the play. He evidently idolises Othello and believes him to have intention of “saving Desdemona from herself”; a view point which evidently suits the contemporary views of women to be properties of their fathers/husbands but is shocking to post-feminist audiences like ourselves.

  12. Issie Buckley says:

    1) I found Bradley’s image of Othello as the ‘most romantic figure among Shakespeare’s heroes’ incomprehensible and, honestly, an offence to Shakespeare and his work. As Leavis argues, Othello’s love is corrupted, and simply a matter of ‘self-centered and self-regarding satisfactions, pride, sensual possessiveness, appetite and love of loving’, and I agree with this interpretation entirely. Othello’s apparent love for Desdemona cannot be described as ‘romantic’, as it is so lacking in trust; Othello was quick to believe Iago’s destructive lies about Desdemona’s adultery, before so much as speaking to his own wife. It is simply absurd to suggest that Othello has a ‘romantic nature’; has Bradley failed to acknowledge the fact that Othello has brutally smothered her to death based on false accusations? I think that the love displayed is entirely a matter of Othello’s own egotistical nature and his thirst for the pity and sympathy from others; ‘she loved me for the dangers that I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them’. I find it offensive that Othello has been awarded the title of ‘most romantic figure among Shakespeare’s heroes’, as Shakespeare has sculpted so many acclaimed characters in his plays. Romeo Montague, whose love for his faultless Juliet is absolute and pure, is facing competition for the validity of his love, from the villainous Othello.

    2) I was interested by Leavis’ idea that Iago’s success in villainy is ‘not so much Iago’s diabolic intellect as Othello’s readiness to respond’ – this idea contradicts the conventions of a tragedy, as it presents the idea of the apparent victim also being a villain. This argument highlights Othello’s weakness and gullibility, and also how, as Bradley says, ‘hesitation is almost impossible to him’ and that he will ‘press for immediate conviction or immediate relief’. Although Bradley is referencing these traits in a positive way, I think that it is these features of Othello’s character which causes the tragic events of the play to flourish. Although Iago is considered the main villain of the play, his strengths are undermined by Leavis’ ideas; Othello is in fact assisting Iago’s schemes, and without his characteristics, Iago’s plans would be less effective. This is because Othello is quick to believe everything Iago tells him as valid, and it is certain that he acts on impulse due to this; for example, firing Cassio and murdering Desdemona. I think that Iago is not only a villain, but a feature in the play to highlight Othello’s own characteristics and villainy.

    3) The final point I found interesting is Bradley’s idea that Othello is ‘self-controlled’. I disagree with this as I think that it is actually Othello’s vast lack of self-control which allows Iago to easily manipulate his thoughts and actions throughout the play. Othello also lets his own pride and jealousy control him; the entire execution of murdering Desdemona, for me, comes down to Othello’s attempt to preserve his pride and image, and his paranoid jealousy of Cassio’s ability to attract Desdemona. I think that if Othello really did have self-control, he would not have been so susceptible to Iago’s lies and attempts to destruct him and his relationship, and he wouldn’t have acted as impulsively and irrationally as he does when he murders Desdemona. There are many other examples of Othello losing his control in the play, for example, striking Desdemona and passing out upon hearing Cassio’s staged conversation with Iago.

  13. Paige John says:

    Three of the most interesting points that I have read on the critique of Othello, have all been made by the same woman, Karen Newman. Newman states that “Desdemona’s desire threatens patriarchal privilege, “women depend for the class status on their affiliation with men”, “for her [Desdemona’s] transgression, her desire of difference, she is punished not only I loss of status but even of life”. What Newman is homing in on is the feminist aspect of the play, and how Desdemona’s actions are mostly definitive in the climax of the play. What we see on the surface of the play is the challenge of race and prejudice, but as we delve deeper the issue of femininity, reputation and sexuality emerge. What a post-feminist modern day audience can appreciate the way Desdemona acted is out of impulse to escape the oppression she felt of a male dominated world, and a built up need to breakout, as all her natural desires and true feelings have been suppressed throughout her womanhood. What appeared to a contemporary audience a classic example of the unholy, sinful nature of corruptive women, we can now see was a very forward-thinking Shakespeare maybe hinting, very slightly, at the idea that maybe (shock! Horror!) Women are people too.

  14. Nicole Fullalove says:

    1) Bradley describes Othello as “extremely self reliant” however the play contradicts this where Iago speaks without evidence and Othello, does not become “self reliant” or even look for evidence. In my opinion, Othello did the complete opposite of being self-reliant, and he took a life for his own naivety, irrationality and lack of common sense where he should’ve looked for his own reasons so he could make valid accusations towards Desdemona- this is one of the most frustrating parts of the play!
    2) In his critique, Bradley also says that Desdemona and Othello were both “qualified to live happily” however this is easily argued with. There is the idea that it was all a material love and there was so deep love it was merely skin-deep. “I won his daughter” and his tales of “broil and battle” shows his stories of battle wooed her and there is no mention of a love or a connection but only a capturing of her admiration. So, it is a bit inaccurate to say they were “qualified to live happily” as they barely knew each other and it was all material love.
    3) Another interesting point is that Bradley says “hesitation is almost impossible to him” (meaning Othello) which is here told be a good thing. However, his irrational and non-hesitant actions in the play caused him to commit murder and suicide; this surely cannot be seen as a good thing. Bradley also describes Othello as “absolute”; this could also be a bad thing for the same reasons, his ways resulted in an unhappy ending.

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