How does shakespeare explore the theme of authority in ‘Othello’? In the play Othello, Shakespeare explores through the theme of authority. He presents different types of authority such as racial, military, political, sexist, emotional and deception. Shakespeare uses techniques such as characterisation, symbolism, contrast, repetition, dramatic irony and pronouns to help portray the theme of authority. Shakespeare uses characterisation to develop the characters to help express authority in Othello.
Othello is seen as the protagonist and tragic hero of the play. He is described as an eloquent and physically powerful figure at the beginning of the play. He uses his experience of fighting in the battlefields to woo Desdemona and to gain her love. “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them. ” From this Othello gains authority over Desdemona as she loves him. He is depicted as a general who is of military authority over the armies of Venice, but also as a moor in the eyes of Iago, Brabantio and Roderigo because of his racial colour. Your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs. ” In spite of his military status, he possesses a free and open nature which Iago uses to his advantage to twist Othello’s love for Desdemona, which turns his love into an uncontrollable and insane jealousy. Due to Iago’s manipulation Othello becomes obsessive and compulsive which adds fire to the jealousy within Othello. Shakespeare portrays Iago as a manipulative and evil person. He is seen as the antagonist of the play.
Envy of Cassio, jealousy of Othello’s possession of Desdemona, jealous fear that both Othello and Cassio may have cuckolded him and the incessant desire for money and power is what fuels Iago’s motivations and leads to Iago’s destructive actions. Iago like Othello is motivated by the same envy and jealousy that arouses murderous hatred. Iago’s desire for power leads Iago to manipulate and destroy other’s reputation to gain his own. Iago is highly skilled with words and uses language to gain his power.
One such situation is when Iago convinces Cassio to drink to get him drunk which leads to Cassio losing his position as lieutenant which is then given to Iago. Iago uses people’s weaknesses and strengths to control his victims. This creates a sense of authority over them as he can easily manipulate them to do what he wants and to get what he wants. The women in Othello are characterised to have little to no power or authority against the males. This shows a sexiest view of authority.
Though Desdemona is the senators daughter and starts off as a strong and independent woman defying her father, near the end she is seen as weak and unfaithful and also as a push over as she easily forgives Othello for everything he has done therefore showing that Desdemona has little power in her relationship with Othello. Emilia is portrayed as a cynical and worldly woman. Emilia is deeply attached to her mistress, Desdemona, though she tries to grab her husband, Iago’s attention and affections by stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief and giving it to Iago.
In the end though Emilia goes up against Iago she is killed for it. Bianca, is a represented as a prostitute who doesn’t have any power or authority and is abused by Cassio as he doesn’t respect her and uses her as a sex toy. The handkerchief plays a very important role in Othello. It symbolises different things to the different characters. For Desdemona the handkerchief is a symbol of Othello’s love and for Othello it symbolises marital fidelity as it was his mother’s and used it to keep his father faithful to her.
By losing the handkerchief and lying about it, Othello sees it as a sign of infidelity and thinks that Desdemona is cheating on him. For Iago, he sees it as an opportunity to use the handkerchief to beguile Othello into believing that Desdemona is unfaithful to him and cheating on him with Cassio who Iago uses as a part of his plan to confirm Othello’s uncertainties of Desdemona’s infidelity which drives Othello insane with jealousy. The handkerchief is a symbol of fidelity and trust which Iago manipulates to gain power over Othello.
Dramatic irony is shown throughout the play. Iago is the main source of dramatic irony for his cunning ways. Iago is depicted as having two faces, one that is for show which is as a loyal soldier and trusting friend while the other as an evil and sinful man which only the audience knows until the end of the play. Iago’s loyalty as a soldier and as a friend is contrasted sharply to his true intention which is to destroy the lives Othello, Cassio and, Roderigo as a bonus, to gain power and money.
Such irony includes Othello’s trust in Iago, as Othello listens to Iago and does what he says, giving Iago power over him, though the audience knows his true intensions which is to destroy his life and everyone he loves. Cassio is also a victim to manipulation. Iago uses persuasive language to get Cassio drunk which leads Cassio into getting into fight with Roderigo, who Iago also has power over, to get Cassio stripped of his status as lieutenant which goes to Iago.
Though Cassio thinks of Iago as a friend who wants to celebrate with him, he is just another civilian towards his plan to gain power. The use of repetition is mainly used by Iago which is used to emphasis and brainwash his victims. “Put money in thy purse”, is repeatedly said to hypnotise Roderigo into believing that Iago will help him get Desdemona for the price of all his money, but of course this is dramatic irony as the audience knows he is being used by Iago, creating a strong authority over Roderigo.
Iago has Roderigo so mesmerised that he convinces him to kill Cassio, as Iago has made him believe that Cassio was also after Desdemona’s affections and was competition that had to be eliminated. “Villainy”, is repeatedly said by Emilia to emphasis the murder of an innocent lady and to create guilt inside of Othello’s conscience. Shakespeare conjures an Elizabeth racial stereotype which creates a racial authority. Elizabethans were very sensitive to the use of the pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘thee’, which sent clear social signals.
Even though Othello is of high authority, he is not treated with the same respect as the white people because of his racial colour. People such as Iago use ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ towards Othello and ‘you’ and ‘your’ towards Brabantio. This shows that Iago acknowledges Othello as a superior but has no respect for him as he calls him by ‘thee’ which implies contempt. The use of pronouns such as ‘you’ is more formal and distant, suggesting respect for a superior. “An old black ram is tupping your white ewe”, is a racist comment used to describe Othello.
Because of the white dominated race in Cyprus, black people such as Othello do not get the same respect as one should get. In conclusion, Shakespeare has expressed many views of authority in Othello. The use of techniques and structure has helped develop the theme of authority. One of Shakespeare’s messages of authority in the play is that jealousy can be destructive and powerful and can lead people to do unmentionable deeds. It can lead us into compulsion and obsession and destroy the person that we are.
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