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Othello GCSE Essay Essay, Research Paper

When Iago’s treachery is fully revealed, Othello asks “Why hath thou

thus ensnar’d my soul and body?”+

Explain Iago’s motives for hating both Othello and Cassio, analyse the

methods he uses to ruin their lives and show how Shakespeare reveals

Iago’s thoughts and plans to the audience.

The play “Othello” was written by the playwright William Shakespeare,

one of the best and well-known writers of that period and upto the

current day. He wrote it in 1604 to be performed to the new King: King

James I and for that reason he included themes in it such as Turkish

history, witchcraft and black magic which he knew King James I liked.

The play is named after one of the main characters who has a fatal flaw.

The character in question is Othello, the Moor of Venice, a believing

and honourable member of the Venetian community and a general of the

Venetian army. Although the play was named after Othello, Shakespeare

brings in a true villan whose name is Iago. At the time Spain was

Englands enermy and Iago being a Spanish name makes the audience sure

that Iago is evil. Iago could arguably be the main character, making the

play a tragedy which is a play in which characters must struggle with

circumstances in which most meet death and despair which in this case

the Moor’s torture and eventually his, and other innocent characters’

demise. Shakespeare seems to suggest in this play that white Iago is

a very negative character and Othello the black general is the hero.

This would have been at a time when much of England would have questioned

these views. Shakespeare may have been trying to make a social comment

and putting forward a negative attitude towards racism.

The story is based around a tale by the Italian writer Giraldi Cinthio.

It begins in Venice, a `nice’, civilised city, and moves to the chaotic

war in Cyprus. This change has a lot of significance and relevance in the

play because it symbolises the changes in Othello’s life and perceptions.

Cyprus is an island that is exposed and can be easily attacked which

brings in irony when Othello moves there Iago’s plan succeeds.

The play begins with a conversation between Iago and a Venetian nobleman

Roderigo. They are discussing about how Desdemona, whom Roderigo loves,

has eloped with Othello. Through this early conversation it is evident

that that Iago is manipulative and cunning as he is already taking

advantage of the rich and love struck Roderigo, whose money he has full

use of:

“Thus do I ever make my fool, my purse..”

The first word we hear from Iago is “Sblood”, a strong swear word in the

British language at the time. We learn through the conversation that Iago

uses crude language and is not well spoken, or noble, but a simple man,

a soldier. Iago explains to Roderigo why he hates the general, Othello.

It seems that he had pleaded with Othello for the position of lieutenant

in the army, but despite his efforts Othello promotes Cassio, a nobleman:

“One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,….That never set a squadron in

the field”

>From this statement we know that he despises Othello for this decision

because not only is Cassio inexperienced, but he is also not from Venice

but from Florence.

As Iago tells Roderigo of what he thinks as a mistake we become more

aware of his bitterness. Iago here also gives a further reason why he

hates Othello to the audience in the way of a soliloquy, a dramatic

device whereby a character talks directly to the audience about his

feelings and opinions. This way of conveying an idea to the audience

is used by Shakespeare a lot because it builds up tension because the

audience know things the other characters don’t.

In this soliloquy, Iago tells the audience of his suspicion that Othello

has slept with his wife, Emilia:

“And it is thought abroad that `twixt my sheets He has done my office.”

At this point we start to become more aware of his jealous nature and

suspect that it may be based mostly on his paranoid mind. Not only does

he believe that Othello has slept with his wife he also believes that

Cassio has as well,and with has good looks, his charm and his luck with

women also the fact that Cassio got the promotion and not him makes Iago

totally jealous of Cassio and this is why he hates Cassio so much.

“He hath a person and a smooth dispose to be suspected – framed to make

a woman false.”

He suggests in this sentence that Cassio is irresistible to women because

of his charm and looks. Shakespeare is showing here how jealous Iago

is but also showing that sometimes Iago can be honest.

In the first act of the play, Iago convinces Roderigo to help him arouse

Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in order to tell him of the secret marriage

between his daughter and Othello:

“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tapping your white ewe.”

Iago again uses crude, racist language bringing sexual animalistic

images which would have been despised in the city of civilised and

sophisticated Venice. Shakespeare makes Iago does this to anger Brabantio

into violence and to make the audience question their own views on racism.

This method of manipulation is used by Iago as he knows how his words

will affect others. He uses this method against Othello to convince

Othello of Desdemona’s affair and also uses it against other people

during the length of the play.

“Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, As salt as wolves in

pride and fools as gross as ignorance made drunk” (Act III Scene III)

Here he compares Desdemona and Cassio to animals to bring into Othello’s

mind terrible and horrific images to make him angry. Iago is confident

that his words will hit their target. Iago frequently uses racist terms.

In the presence of Roderigo and to anger Brabantio, he is often being

racist. He refers to Othello as a “Barbury horse”, a type of Arab horse,

which is not only racist but adding animalistic terms in as well.

In the play, the scene changes from Venice to Cyprus. Shakespeare uses

Venice to symbolise truth and civility and, in contrast to this, the

setting moves to Cyprus, bad, terrible and war-torn, and the setting for

Othello’s similarly tumultuous trial. Whilst Othello’s mind is at rest,

the audience enjoys a Venetian setting, and when he becomes provoked

and disturbed, we see the backcloth of Cyprus. The other characters in

the play also seem pleased and contented of the implications of being

in Venice. Brabantio himself explains:

“What tell’st thou me of robbing? This is Venice; My house is not

a grange.” (Act I Scene I)

This is just proving that the idea of robbery in Venice is just outrageous

to a man like Brabantio, content with his Venetian home and his Venetian

blood and not used to uncival behaviour.

The difference between Venice and Cyprus is really shown by Iago whose

plan is unsuccessful in his attempts to bring comedown to Othello in

Venice by telling Brabantio that Othello has slept with his daughter in

no uncertain terms, while in Cyprus he succeeds, by breaking up Othello’s

marriage and then annihilating Cassio. He makes Othello believe that

Cassio is Desdemona’s secret lover, thereby ruining both of his enemies

with the same liebut first of all he makes sure everyone thinks he is

Cassio’s friend:

“Touch me not so near I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth

than it do offence to Michael Cassio.”

He does this so no one will suspect him of foul play. This brings

a lot of dramatic irony into the play by characters such as Othello

and Cassio continually calling him “honest Iago” while the audience

know he’s not. Therefore Iago can continue his evil plan without being

suspected. Next Iago loses Cassio his position of lieutenant. In doing

this he brings cleverly into the plan stupid, lovestruck Roderigo.

Iago tells Roderigo that he should pick a fight with Cassio while he is

on duty. Iago does this because he knows that this would hurt Cassio’s

reputation and ruin his friendship with Othello. Othello holds a party

and Iago joins Cassio. Iago asks him to partake in a glass of wine.

Cassio agrees, but insists that he can only have a little for he has

“no brains for drinking”. But he gives way and soon gets drunk.

Iago gets Cassio drunk to help him with his plan. When Roderigo starts

on Cassio, Cassio will respond, therefore upsetting Othello when he

sees them, giving him no choice but to take Cassio’s position from him.

Iago then cunningly tells Cassio that to get his position back he needs

to persuade Desdemona to speak to Othello on his behalf.

“Confess yourself freely to he … requested”

Iago does this so when he has filled Othello’s mind with thoughts,

having Desdemona coming up to Othello wanting to talk about Cassio will

upset Othello further. While Desdemona is trying to speak to Othello

about Cassio, Iago is planting lots of sexual animalistic thoughts in

Othello’s mind:

“Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, as salt as wolves.”

While Othello is thinking about this, Iago also reminds Othello of

Desdemona being disloyal to her father and leaving him in secret stating

that she could so easily do it again. In the end, with Iago making

more and more comments and Othello becoming more and more suspicious,

Othello is pushed over the edge, killing his wife and himself.

Act III Scene III is the most important scene in the play and is often

called the Temptation Scene. it contains lots of tension and works up the

audience a great deal. This is because this is where Iago’s plan seems

to change everything so quickly. At the start of the scene Othello says:

“Excellent wretch: Perdition catch my soul But I do love thee: and when

thee not, Chaos is come again.”

He means that if he didn’t love Desdemona, it would be chaos. This builds

up the tension because of the dramatic irony because we, the audience,

know what’s going to come. Iago continues to make Othello suspicious

and then says:

“Utter my thoughts? Why say, they are vile, and false?”

Shakespeare again questions society by putting in he play what lots of

people have done and will do. Here Iago is actually getting Othello

to ask him what he is thinking, not directly telling him, but using

his suspision against him making him ask what Iago thinks so that,

cleverly, he cannot be blamed later on. He does this by telling him

that he doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. He does this, making

Othello’s suspicions work against him, making him ask and from there

onwards puts concocted words into Othello’s mind. The things he tells

Othello mostly are to make his suspicions grow, but Iago does add the

slightest of truths in to prove it a bit more:

“She did deceive her father, marrying you..”

Here he reminds Othello that Desdemona did deceive her father, so could

deceive again. While Iago is reminding and telling Othello what has

happened, and what could be happening, he is adding language in which

he is saying how a lady could fall for Cassio, building up Othello’s

fatal flaw – jealousy. Here we see a big change Othello turning into

someone almost like IagoThe audience see Othello’s language change from

gentlemanly to crude:

“Damn her lewd minx…”

Here is Othello uttering in Shakespearian times very bad words.

Shakespeare makes Othello change his languageand thoughts just to

show the audience how someone can easily change from mere suspision.

Then the last statement Othello says in the scene proving the point for

the audience that Othello has changed:

” O damn her, damn her. Come go with me apart, I will withdraw To

furnish me with some swift means of death”

This changes the way the audience perceive Othello from Othello saying

life would be chaos if Desdemona wasn’t there at the beginning of

the scene to damn her, get heraway from me and kill her at the end.

This really starts the tragedy with the audience now knowing that evil

Iago’s plan has worked and the play will have a tragic ending, This

builds up the tesnion as well, because the charaters in the play still

refer to Iago as “honest” when the audience can see plainly he is not.

The handkerchief scene is another important scene in Othello. The scene

is full of tension, which Shakespeare keeps on cleverly adding to, to

bring more furore from the audience. This tension is brought about by

Desdemona speaking for Cassio which compounds Othello’s fears and at

the same time Othello asking for the handkerchief bringing in dramatic

irony creating tension.

Throughout the scene, Othello gets more and more desparate making the

audience sit on the

edge of their seats even more and then at the same time Desdemona

interrupting with words for Cassio. Here you can see that, even though

Desdemona keeps on denying it, Othello won’t rest and keeps on asking

her, showing how well Iago has worked up Othello with evil lies.This

scene and the temptation scene bring the play up to its climax full of

dramatic tension Shakespeare has cleverly made. Lots of Iago’s motives

were based on suspicion and his truly wicked and cunning ways forced

Othello’s weakness to come from him – jealousy. Othello changed during

the play from a polite general to a badly spoken murderer all because

Iago thought Othello may have slept with his wife and Othello didn’t

promote him but Cassio. In this play Iago was prepared to ruin and end

peoples’ lives just because of his jeaousy. His motives were small and

his actions huge and horrific. So what most people would wonder and what

Othello asked on the brink of death was:

“Why hath thou thus ensnar’d my soul and body?”


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