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Irregularities in Othello

Irregularities in Othello

The Shakespearean tragedy Othello contains various irregularities of time and occurrence which cause the audience to scratch their head in wonder and doubt. Let us analyze some of these shortcomings in this essay.

In the Introduction to The Riverside Shakespeare Frank Kermode explains one of the difficulties in Othello:

Othello murders his wife on the second night in Cyprus. The difficulty, of which Shakespeare was clearly aware, arises from the fact that this leaves no time for her to have had “stol’n hours of lust,” certainly not to have enjoyed them repeatedly, as Iago alleges. In such allusions to frequent adultery as III.iii.340-43 and V.ii.211-12, Shakespeare slides over from Short to Long Time very successfully; the audience is not invited to consider that Othello is forgetting that Desdemona was not in the same ship as Cassio, and has had no chance since. We accept it as possible for her to have been unfaithful, though we know she was not. (1199)

Consider the basic plot and what a “house of cards” it is. Without extreme good luck, such a plot would not be possible. A. C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the important “accidents” that befell the antagonist during his deception of the general:

The skill of Iago was extraordinary, but so was his good fortune. Again and again a chance word from Desdemona, a chance meeting of Othello and Cassio, a question which starts to our lips and which anyone but Othello would have asked, would have destroyed Iago’s plot and ended his life. In their stead, Desdemona drops her handkerchief at the moment most favourable to him, Cassio blunders into the presence of Othe…

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…ally to be moving in the right direction. (329)


Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Heilman, Robert B. “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.

Kermode, Frank. Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.

Shakespeare’s Othello – Iago

Othello’s Iago

We find in William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello an example of personified evil. He is the general’s ancient, Iago, and he wreaks havoc and destruction on all those under his influence.

Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar in “The Engaging Qualities of Othello” comment on how the character of Iago is the wholly expected type of villain for an Elizabethan audience:

Iago at once captures the attention of the spectator. He is the personification of the villain that Elizabethans had come to expect from Italian short stories and from Machiavellian commentary. Villains of this type, as well as those of domestic origin, had long been popular on the stage. From the days of the mystery and morality plays, the characters personifying evil invariably had gripped the attention of audiences, for iniquity always stirs more popular excitement than virtue. (127)

First of all, Iago’s very words paint him for what he is. Robert Di Yanni in “Character Revealed Through Dialogue” states that the evil antagonist reveals his character quite plainly through his speech:

Iago’s language reveals his coarseness; he crudely reduces sexual love to animal copulation. It also shows his ability to make things happen: he has infuriated Brabantio. The remainder of the scene shows the consequences of his speech, its power to inspire action. Iago is thus revealed as both an instigator and a man of crude sensibilities. (123)

David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies enlightens us on the ancient:

Iago’s machinations yield him both “sport” and “profit” (1.3.387); that is, he enjoys his evildoing, although he is also driven by a motive. This Vice-like behavior inh…

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…gton, David, ed. William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.

Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare’s Four Giants. Rindge, New Hampshire: Richard Smith Publisher, 1957.

Di Yanni, Robert. “Character Revealed Through Dialogue.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Literature. N. p.: Random House, 1986.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.

Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.

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