Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monsters in Literature: Othello (Round Two)


Group members:
Kristen W.
Mario P.
Kayla P.
Emily C.
Tzivia H.

I'll post image and book when you all finalize.

18 comments:

Tzivia H said...
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Tzivia H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tzivia H said...

In case Mr. Gallagher wasn't sure, we chose "Othello" as our choice.

1A - Primarily Act I

Shakespeare wastes no time establishing Iago as the nefarious antagonist of "Othello." In the first act, Iago dually expresses his hatred for Othello but does not reveal his hatred to Othello himself. It is in this subtle manner that Iago is revealed as a monster- he is not open about his convictions. He feigns honor to both Othello and Roderigo. In spite of this manuevering for personal gain, Iago is upfront about his motives whether or not Roderigo understood its implications. On page 9, Iago notes that he "follow[s] him [Othello] to serve [his] turn upon him." Although the quote specifically references Othello only, the idea remains at the core of all Iago's actions. He doesn't act maliciously merely to produce problems, he acts in a manner to suit his own needs, regardless of the repercussion. In this way, page 49 represents a pivotal piece of irony. Othello notes of Iago, "A man he is of honesty and trust." Not only does this statement represent opposite characteristics of Iago but further, it displays the inherent ignorance of the masses to Iago's motives.

Othello's actions are very much juxtaposed with Iago's (in spite of the fact that Iago appears more moral than Othello). IE, when questioned by Barbantio even to the extent of being referred to as a "foul thief" (Shakespeare 25), one that used magic to induce his daughter into marriage, Othello not only remained collected but further spoke of Barbantio respectfully. He noted, "Good signior, you shall command with years/Than with your weapons," (Shakespeare 25), noting that he could effectively command Othello with his high position rather than through combating. Othello's refusal to fight, in spite of being a general also paints him in a sympathetic light.

Beyond simply a moral image of Othello, I noted that his ethnicity/race became an topic of frequent discussion among the other characters- in a negative light. The characters frequently refer to Othello as the "Moor," rather than noting his proper name. In a most brash display of disdain for Othello, Iago commented that he was a "Barbary horse" (Shakespeare 15). However, a pun spoken by the Duke seemed to touch upon the core of this race discussion. He noted that Othello "is far more fair than black," (Shakespeare 49). For my part, I took this both as a discussion of his morality over immorality and his being more fair-skinned than dark-skinned. Race seems to play a greater role in this play than others I've read, in which being darker-skinned is noted as a flaw. Has anyone else noticed this trend?

On a completely different note, I am really enjoying this play (especially in comparison to the Wallace book) and am finding it much easier to discuss. What are others' initial reactions?

**Sorry about the deletes, in spite of rereads, I kept finding glaring errors

R. Gallagher said...

Tzivia, great first post... I'm also drawn to the word "honest", as in Shakespeare's English it can also be used as a term for 'being old / elderly'--this will also come up in Hamlet, as Shakespeare likes to pun on this word...

Curious as to connections you all see in Wallace's BIWHM.

Tzivia H said...

2A

Although mentioned in passing in the first act, the second act brought in the inclusion of Iago's wife, Emilia. On closer inspection I found it odd that Iago should be married as his malicious nature disagrees with the domestic role necessary in sustaining a marriage. Beyond simply a lack of human caring, Iago expressed a chauvinistic attitude that further undermined the sovereignty of his marriage. In a conversation with Desdemona and Emilia, Iago provided a generalized character dissection of women. He concluded by noting that women's role is to "suckle fools and chronicle small beer," reducing them only to domestic tasks (Shakespeare 71). It's important to note that his harsh analysis of women is not simply a result of the times, as Desdemona reacted quite shocked, noting "O, most lame and impotent conclusion!" (Shakespeare 71). This coarse view of women is especially juxtaposed by the idealized marriage of Othello and Desdemona. Referring to her as "sweeting," Othello prods Desdemona to return to bed for "'Tis the soldier's life to have their balmy slumbers walked with strife," (Shakespeare 99). Gender relations are yet another technique Shakespeare uses in establishing Iago and Othello as foils.

1B

I am going to attempt to respond to myself, however counterproductive it seems..

In my first post I spent a great deal of time discussing what I percieved to be race relations. I was unsure of the assertion however, because I had little evidence to fortify it beyond a few puns (possibly misread). The second and third acts however offered more solid evidence attesting to the race disparity. As Iago discusses women with Desdemona, he notes, "If she be black and thereto have a wit,/She'll find a white that shall her blackness (hit)," (Shakespeare 71). Thus, in spite of her wit (a positive quality), a possible suitor would still negatively focus on the color of skin tone. The Folger's Edition also provides further evidence by defining "black" on the previous page as "dark in complexion and therefore, by the standards of Shakespeare's day, unattractive." However, one may not pay as great heed to the Folger's definitions. Beyond simply race/ethnicity, greater emphasis was placed also on nationality. Michael Cassio notes that he "never/knew/A Florentine more kind and honest," than Iago, suggesting that his own townspeople are inherently good. These subtle differences between people frequently are the cause of conflict in many of Shakespeare's plays, one could especially note Romeo and Juliet where family names catalyzed much of the tragedy.

Mario P. said...

1B

I want to start this by responding to part of Tzivia's first post that commented on Iago's stance as the villain in this play. It is true that Shakespeare took no time to show Iago's true intentions. Even Iago on page 11 Iago himself says, "Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty. Bet seeming so for my peculiar end." He is clearly saying that he only pretends to like and honor Othello, when in reality he does it for his own ends. Iago continues this train of thought finishing with, "I am not what I am," which is supposed to contrast's God' words in Exodus 3:14 "I am what I am," as stated in footnote 71 in the Folger Library edition of Othello.

1A

One thing that I found interesting was when Iago and Roderigo go and see Brabantio to inform him that his daughter is married Othello Brabantio yells at Iago "Thou art a villain!" (page 19) and Iago responds, "You are a senator." This made me laugh, and it seems that Shakespeare seems to be inserting some satire into his play with this. To call someone a villain is to claim that they a wicked and evil person, and respond with to that by calling someone a senator in a successful attempt to justify your villainy seems to say that a senator is just as wicked as a villain.

Anyone else pick up on that and think that was what Shakespeare was saying? Or am I just reading too much into a specific line?

Kayla P said...

Part 1A- (Acts 1-2.2)
Though this book is fairly interesting, I don’t find the reading to be that simple. Did anyone else struggle to get through it? I think it is because I’m so used to being able to just breeze through text, and with Shakespeare one actually has to stop and contemplate the meaning, or read it multiple times to understand it. But thankfully, I am able to make some connections between “Othello” and “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”. In BIWHM, a main focus seemed to be on the “back stabbing” characteristics of men and women. There was a story about a man who was helping a woman and to her face was very kind, but when he told the story to his friend, the main thing he commented on was the appearance of her breasts. In truth, he wasn’t all that kind. Stories like that seem to connect to “Othello”. Clearly, Iago is acting one way to Roderigo, another way to Othello, and even still another way to Brabantio. He doesn’t really care about helping Roderigo win over Desdemona; all he cares about is having his own will be done. All in all though, he doesn’t seem to have one true reason to hate Othello or want to seek revenge on him. Nothing seems to be quite plausible enough of a reason for him to hate Othello so deeply. First he says he hates him because of the position Othello has that Iago had wanted. Then, it seems as if he is helping Roderigo win Desdemona, just because they are friends. But clearly, Iago is as two-faced with him as he is with Othello, so that isn’t a strong enough reason. Then, he goes on a crazy rant about how Othello has slept with his wife. He claims that he suspects “the lusty Moor/ Hath leaped into my seat…/ And nothing can or shall content my soul/ Till I am evened with him, wife for wife.”(79). He comes up with this reason so out of the blue, that it hardly seems possible that he could really suspect the two of having slept together. I feel like that is what makes him so malicious though. He’s so crazed that he doesn’t even need a reason to hate. He just hates for the sake of it. Does anyone else agree, or is that too farfetched?

Part 1B- I’m sorry that you had to respond to your own prompt Tzivia. But, I think you had some good ideas, even if you were bouncing your own ideas off... well, your own ideas. You pointed out in your first post that Shakespeare wastes no time establishing the antagonist as Iago, which is clearly true. But I thought it was interesting how he went about doing this. Iago spoke of Othello as if he was the monster, yet the reader is able to distinguish between the two. Othello is described in many negative lights, such as “a lascivious Moor” (21). This brings me to another point you made, Tzivia. There were many nods to the race of Othello, which I had noticed. This is clearly an intentional choice, and I think it adds to the difference between Othello and everyone else. He is a general in the war, yet he is so different from others in the country. Then, he wins over Desdemona, setting him apart even more. The color of his skin is just another reminder of how different from everyone else he is. Does anyone have some different ideas about what part the skin color plays in this story?

Kristen said...

1A
When I was reading this, I found myself asking.."Who is he?" A name was never given to this character. He was always spoken about by Roderigo and Iago, yet a name was never released. I was wondering why Othello's name wasn't given out until much further within the text. At first nicknames were given out like "the moor" and I felt myself getting a bit lost. Then I realized that names were beginning to arise and I felt as if that was a very interesting way to approach the text. Shakespeare had an interesting way of catching his reader early by the act of adding a type of mystery and suspicion. I felt as if Othello always seemed to promote himself an a sort of outsider, and never completely included himself. Although he was the strongest of the characters, he seemed to lay back at times and watch things happen. I felt as if that really gave a better realization of how intelligent Othello actually was.

1B.
I wanted to comment on Tzivia's second blog. I felt as if it would tie in nicely with my first one. Character is what I was trying to focus on. Iago does have a very interesting nature to him. He seems very coldhearted and definately not the person that I would choose to be a father. Compared to Othello, Iago is a complete opposite. On page 73, Othello enters by saying "O, my fair warrior!" and Desdemona answers with "My dear Othello!" I felt as if they reversed roles. Usually then man in the relationship would be called the warrior, but in this case it is the other way around. I think this is done to truely show just how unkind Iago's character towards his wife. Any ideas?

Kristen said...

2A
Isolation really began to stand out to me within this play. The interesting part was, it was not just by one character. Many of the characters played some sort of role in the idea of isolation. Iago and Roderigo seemed to be attatched to each other. They do not let others within their boundries. Also, Othello has traveled from Venice to Cyprus and doesn't trust many people. He depends on himself only which makes him such a strong soldier. Iago has many soliloquies within the play. He steps aside from all others and seems to be in his own world speaking directly to the reader. This provides proof to show just how alone these characters truely are. I feel as if this isolation eventually leads to destruction. All three of those characters eventually die within the play. These deaths were the faults of the men themselves. Isolation seemed to lead to they're own self-destruction.

2B
I'd like to comment on Kayla's first post. I really agree with you about Iago's character. It really blends in well with my idea of isolation. Iago cannot really find a true bond with anyone else so he basically manipulates everyone into thinking he is on their side. He runs around throwing information to Othello and Roderigo as if he actually cares about what they're problems are. I agree Kayla, I feel as if he hates everyone for no reason and searches for insane excuses to be mad. I found Iago's character to be one of the most interesting to follow. His mood changes by second, and his opinions depend on who is around him. I feel as if there is never a dull moment with him! Does anyone else like his character as much as I do?

Tzivia H said...
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Tzivia H said...

**Note, having gone on the Polar Express, I am only required to do 3 blog posts

3A
A differences in societies is highly recognizable from the major conflict in the play. Othello is beside himself with grief and ultimately kills Desdemona based on allegations of her adultery. He noted, "[Her] name, that was/As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black," (Shakespeare 145), highlighting the taint in his wife, after her supposed cheating. Later, Emilia enlightens Othello about the truth concerning Desdemona and Iago kills her, referring to her as a "villainous whore" and her words as "filth" (Shakespeare 255). The shock of her death is produced by the mere fact that she was innocent of the crimes he suggested, but not that he killed her. Women seemed to be disposed of quickly if they erred, even insignificantly.

Iago has been established overwhelmingly as the villain, the monster, of Othello acting purely on his own volition. Nevertheless, one could also concede that jealousy itself is the monster within this book. Othello's jealousy towards Cassio's alleged relationship with Desdemona ultimately was the cause the harshness of his personality and eventually the murder/suicide of Desdemona and himself respectively. While further, Iago's jealousy of Cassio's lieutenancy motivated his nefarious actions in the first place. As Shakespeare concedes, "They are not ever jealous for the cause,/But jealous for they're jealous. It is a monster/Begot upon itself, born on itself," (163).

I perceived the ending to be extremely ironic. Michael Cassio is one of the few characters that ends up living: Othello kills Desdemona, then himself, Iago is taken to be killed, while he previously murdered his wife Emilia. Cassio however, was the source of contention for Iago and the cause of all the scheming. This irony seems to relate to the tragedy of the piece- as the individual who motivated much of the crimes did himself not die. By the conclusion, even Iago's wishes were not manifested, and it was he that developed much of the plot. The other piece of tragedy that I'd like to note concerns Desdemona's death. Othello killed her on the basis of adultery, and it is eventually revealed that she is morally against them (and of course, that she was innocent). A conversation with Emilia revealed her chaste nature when she asked with naive surprise if "there be women who do abuse their husbands/In such gross kind?" (Shakespeare 215), referring to extra-marital affairs. This irony too heightens the tragedy of her death in that she was both innocent in principle and action.

2B
I must agree with Kayla's connection to BIWHM. Although the specific flaws differ significantly, one can note the parallels between the gender relations. Throughout much of BIWHM, Wallace discussed men acting poorly in relation to women, objectifying them or generally acting in a self-serving manner within relationships. These flaws too are found in Othello, as you noted Kayla, although I think the similarities are greater in the sense of gender relations. The women, seemingly objects, were disposed of for minor infractions, similar to interactions in Wallace's book. Revenge however seemed to be the overarching monster in the book, while Iago served as the physical villain.

Tzivia H said...

3B
To conclude, I'd like address an interesting point made by Kristen. You noted the isolation of the characters that was the cause of much of their actions. I must agree with what you said in the middle of post- emphasizing dependency rather than isolation. Dependency issues do seem to fuel much of the conflicts within the story. As you noted, the dependency of Roderigo on Iago initially allowed Iago to pursue his own self-serving goals. Overall though, Othello's dependency on Iago for his "honesty" caused the demise of many, including himself. In terms of the isolation itself, it was never explicitly stated, thus I wasn't as aware of it. However, your comment on the frequent soliloquies of Iago would seem to provide evidence to his isolation.

[A 4AM post? This is what happens when you intend to nap until 11 and fail].

Kayla P said...

Part 2A- Act 2.3- 4
So, Iago is becoming increasingly crazy, but at the same time I kind of admire him. Sure, I wouldn’t like to know him in person, but honestly, all this scheming is pretty cool. This makes me wonder what kind of guy Shakespeare was though. If he is able to come up with all of this, he is either extremely talented or just messed up. I’m sure most people will choose the former.
I’ve been thinking, is Iago really the only monster in this story? In BIWHM, there was often more than one possible monster in the story, though Wallace tried to show how it was often within our own selves that the monster can be found. So, I was basically thinking, couldn’t Othello himself be seen as a monster? If you think about him as his own monster, that is exactly what he is. He lets himself become easily angered, and gets in the way of his marriage by doing so. He begins to accuse a man he formerly trusted, and believes a man who never has any solid evidence for anything he claims. I think he is his own monster by this part of the book.

2B-
Kristen, isolation is a huge part of this book, I’ve noticed the same thing. Iago does it very often, giving the reader hints of what he is doing, yet never actually interacting with anyone. He never interacts with anyone in any way besides underhanded ways. Even when he is with someone else, it hardly matters, because his true self can never come out. This connects back to BIWHM showing that the true monster is really within us. Iago is only isolated because of his lies. It is like a constant tangle of lies live inside of him, and it’s a mess that he created, and only he could untangle. Also, Othello is probably the most visibly isolated. With his skin being so dark, everyone can clearly see his differences, unlike Iago who is able to hide his isolation. Kristen, you mentioned something similar about Iago’s isolation, but you said it that because he can’t form a relationship with someone, that is why he creates all those lies and facades. I was thinking instead that he formed all the lies which led to him not being able to create any close relationships. That’s sort of like the “which came first, chicken or egg” question. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, because either way, he is isolated and alone.

Kristen said...

3A
I wanted to talk about the idea of the handkerchief as a symbol. I was trying to figure it out, then realized that it is different symbol for different characters. To Desdemona it was a symbol of love due to the fact that Othello had given it to her. Iago completely turns the meaning around to fit what he is trying to do. He is there to manipulate the characters and cause a form of dilemma throughout the play. To Othello, it is pure and meaningful. It had come from his mother and father and was said to be woven from 200 year old fabric. This shows that Othello takes it as fidelity as well as virginity. That is why he had given it to his love Desdemona. The color of red within the handkerchief may suggest blood of some sort? Maybe it is forshadowing death. Does anyone have any ideas on what it may represent?

3B
I wanted to comment on Tzivia's third comment. I completely agree with you when you say ultimately jealously is the villian of the play rather than Iago. Although Iago promotes it I feel as if it is the inside feelings of the character that ultimately lead to the killing of his wife. Iago makes up false rumors to lead Othello to believe that Desdemona was unfaithful to him. Within Othello is his own sense of power and cautiousness at the same time. He is very timid when it comes to Desdemona and doesn't want her to leave him. Eventually, he goes mad and his anger gets the best of him. Ultimately, they each lead to their own deaths in my mind. I believe Tzivia is thinking the same thing as well.

Kristen said...

4A
The audience plays a major role in the play itself as a whole. The racism of the audience ultimately takes over. Throughout the play, people are called names such as a "Barbary horse" and " an old black ram." This is to be used as a reference to relate to the society itself. The characters show that they are racist themselves by calling each other these names. The vulgarity of the characters demonstrates just how the society ran while Shakespeare was creating this play. These are the ideas of Shakespeare himself, yet the society effects it in an enormous way. The audience will feel like they can relate to the play more with the racism, and that is what made it so well known and popular. Shakespeare used his knowledge of the society to his advantage and the animal names are merely one of the ways that Shakespeare creates the tone of the society within his writing.

4B
I'd like to comment on Kayla's second blog. I do like the character of Iago as well. He just makes the plot that much more interesting. Also, I think you are on the right path saying that the monster can be within Othello. The truth is, I believe there is a little bit of monster within every one of the characters that we meet in the play. Each has secrets of their own, and manipulates others to their own advantage. Eventually the monsters inside of them lead to their own self destruction. It is tragic, isn't it?

Kayla P said...

Part 3A- Act 4- end, but then sort of the entire book too. (I went on the Polar Express as well, so this is my last post.)
I’m not even sure what to think of this book. I don’t think I like it though. What I thought was strange was that everything focused so much around one dropped handkerchief. In the beginning of the story, Othello treats Desdemona with kindness and love. He ushers her back to bed, tells her stories to woo her, and lets her get her way. Most husbands wouldn’t let their wife come along with them to anything that has to do with war, but she requested it, and he gave her permission. So, as time goes on, things still seem okay, even though Iago is meddling. But then, once that handkerchief comes out, things begin to go downhill. Othello refused it, because he already felt that his wife was cheating on him. He had finally let Iago’s words work their way inside his head. Iago asked him if he had seen a white handkerchief spotted with strawberries in his wife’s hand, mentioning casually that he was “sure it was your wife’s—Did I today/ See Cassio wipe his beard with.”(149) Later that day, Othello demands the handkerchief from his wife. Of course, she has no idea what is going on, and doesn’t suspect anything, so she doesn’t see the importance of giving it to him. But by the Iago had planted the seed of jealousy into Othello’s brain, and he felt he had seen all the proof he needed. Then, by the end of the book, he feels he has enough proof to kill Desdemona, because even though he eventually did question her, her words fell on deaf ears.
3B-
Tzivia, I totally agree with you about BIWHM connecting to gender roles in Othello. This is especially apparent in Act 4 when Othello sends Desdemona away angrily, instead of in his previously calm manner. Also, he never once questioned her about what was going on. Instead he believed everything Iago told him. This shows that he only sees Desdemona as a possession, because he doesn’t find her capable or honest enough to tell him the truth. Also, it shows what a huge part sight or rather, lack of sight plays in the story. Right after Iago mentions he had seen Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s hand, Othello cries “Now I do see ‘tis true.” (149) Though he hadn’t truly seen anything, Iago’s words were enough for him to think he knew all he needed to know.
My final comment- I thought that when Emilia and Desdemona were talking, and Emilia mentioned that women have the same needs as men, and their infidelity should not be blamed on anyone but the husbands, and that there should be a middle ground, I thought that was a really interesting observation. It seemed to differ from the ideas of her time, that women are below men, and they are not equals. Did anyone else find that to be an interesting comment?

[A nap until 11? That’s strange enough in itself. I was in bed by 10 last night, and sadly, that is pretty late for me.]

emily said...

For this post I'm going to tie both A and B together, as this subject has already been discussed but I’d like to continue a little more in depth into it.
I'd like to elaborate a little bit more on the theme of isolation in the play. It is clear that the characters are emotionally isolated from one another, as everyone said; however, I would also like to address the physical isolation the characters experience. Shakespeare creates a sense of isolation through his use of setting. The characters move from a city-Venice- to a remote island-Cyprus. Not only is Cyprus simply isolated in that it's an island, but it's also surrounded by jagged rocks and choppy water. In this sense, the physical setting mirrors the emotional detachment the characters feel. Also, as Kayla touched upon, Othello’s isolation is represented in the color of his skin, another physical manifestation of internal isolation.
Lastly, I would like to agree with Kristen’s second post, in which she points out that it’s Othello’s independence that makes him such a strong military hero; many of the characters are isolated but still dependant on the actions of one or two people, however Othello is completely independent.

emily said...

2A. In terms of connecting the play back to BIWHM, I think the idea of monsters is certainly prevelant in both works; they are simply presented in different ways. The monsters in Othello were probably easier to detect than they were in BIWHM, but that is simply becuase there was a central, physical villian-Iago. However, as Tzivia said before, to call Iago the only villian in the play would be very superficial; clearly the "monster" in this work is the jealousy inside of everyone. Specifically, however, there is sexual jealousy and tension. Although instances of jealousy appear throughout the play, the most prevelant and important are the examples having to do with romance (othello's jealousy being the most obvious). I think in this way Shakespeare comments on the power of sexuality and love, but also adresses the egotistical aspect of this.

2B. In response to Kayla's final comment and question, I don't think that throughout history women ever felt that they were inferior to men-except, of course, for select women who hold this as a personal belief. Not to sound like a total feminist, becuase I don't claim to be, but I think that it's always been men who have considered women inferior. Thus I didn't find it odd when the women discussed how their relationship failures were just as much to blame on the men. Women have probably always had this idea, it was just never socially acceptable to voice these opinions in anywhere but the privacy of your home to your closest friends.