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Villains, Sin, and Sex in Shakespeare’s Othello and King Lear

Villains, Sin, and Sex in Othello and King Lear

Many of Shakespeare plays are littered with crude and graphic sexual references, jests, and insults. But there is one type of character present throughout Shakespeare’s plays that twist the sexual imagery and repartee, and that is the villain. There is a deeply rooted combination between sex and evil. This essay will develop this idea in depth by focusing on Iago of Othello and Edmund of King Lear.

Iago is probably viewed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains. He’s calm, cool, collected, and simply put: brilliant. He manipulates Othello, the moor’s lieutenant Cassio, Desdemona’s scorned suitor Roderigo, her father Brabantio, and his own wife Emilia with such masterful skill and ease, that there is no stopping him until it’s too late. But what is this great skill that he wields at his victims? What hideous power can Iago possibly posses in order to pull the great puppeteer’s strings? It’s sex.

While Iago is not a sexual being per say, he certainly wields a sexually edged blade when he begins to attack his victims. In the grand scheme of things, he is angry that Othello has passed him over for the rank of lieutenant, and Iago wants his revenge. In order to complete his vendetta against the moor, he uses a sexually charged scheme that carefully embroils others to unwittingly aid him in his goal. In the very first scene of the play, Iago pulls in the jilted suitor Roderigo to begin his revenge. The moor has secretly married Desdemona, and now Iago plans to begin his downfall by informing her father. Roderigo is coerced into this plot by his own lust for the senator’s daughter, which Iago exploits to his fullest capabilities. While trying to rouse Br…

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…akespeare s Philosophical Patterns. London: Mass Peter Smith, 1968.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. Gloucester: Peter Smith Publisher Inc., 1973.

Schlegel, August Wilhelm. Criticism on Shakespeare s Tragedies . A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. London: AMS Press, Inc., 1965.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Eric A., McCann, ed. Harcourt Brace Jovanovick, Canada Inc., Canada. 1998

Snyder, Susan. “Beyond the Comedy: Othello” Modern Critical Interpretations, Othello Ed. Harold Bloom, Pub. Chelsea House New Haven CT 1987. (page 23-37)

Norman Sanders, ed. Othello. Cambridge: New York, 1995: 12.

J. Adelman. “Iago’s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello,” Shakespeare Quarterly v48 Summer 1997: 130.

Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Garden City: Doubleday

Importance of Setting in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Importance of Setting in The Tempest

The island of magic and mystery that Shakespeare creates in The Tempest is an extraordinary symbol of both the political and social realities of his contemporary society, and of the potential for a reformed New World. Shakespeare’s island is a creation which allows the juxtaposition of real and idealised worlds, and shows his audience both what they and what they ought to be. The seventeenth century was a time of ideological upheaval in Europe, with Medieval ideas of a hierarchical and ordered society being challenged by Renaissance thinkers. For the dynastic powers, including England under Elizabeth I, colonialism was an important opportunity to realise territorial ambition and prove religious pre-eminence. To Shakespeare, colonialism was an opportunity for mankind to explore the extraordinary possibilities of the human mind, free from the conflict and prejudice of real life. Just two years before The Tempest was written, British colonists were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island, and their report of the paradise and magic they found there is one of many popular writings of the time that may have had an influence on The Tempest.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare adheres closely to the classical unities of time, place and action. The unity of place required that the scene should remain unchanged throughout the play. The entire action, with the exception of the first scene, is confined to the island. The storm of the first scene symbolizes a transition in the lives of the characters, and establishes their relationships with each other and with a world in a state of disorder. The initial reactions of the characters when arriving on the island are important metaphors for the ideologies they h…

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…neously on many aspects of an audience’s sensibilities. With elements of supernatural music, dance, sound effects and movement in every scene of the play, the audience would never forget that the island is set apart from reality.

As isolated as the island of The Tempest may be, its characters are representative of people in our own society. The social disorder in which they find themselves becomes an exploration of their aspirations – some have unique ideas about a perfect way of life, while others are merely products of a hegemony of political clambering in the imperfect society from which they come. Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest is more than an artist’s farewell; it explores the endless possibility of our minds and our endeavours, as mankind enters a “brave new world”.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

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