Sample Questions

Sample Questions

1) Describe and discuss the stages by which Iago makes Othello jealous.

As an introduction, you should discuss generally how Iago works to decieve others. Explain his reputation as an honest servant, a sort of Italian ‘Jeeves’ character. Explain that using this reputation, he can direct not just one but nearly all of the characters. Explain how he does this, his methods of manipulation: the use of words to create images.

Compare his approach to Roderigo against that to Othello. Highlight that, with Roderigo, he presents Roderigo with lies. Explain that his approach to Othello must be different because Othello is not as stupid. With the straight-forward deception of Roderigo as a useful comparison, you can explain more fully his approach to Othello: he starts subtly - Act III, scene 3 – with "Ha, I like not that"; he arouses Othello’s curiosity and maintains it by being deliberately ambiguous, "I think...". He acts like one who is hiding something and Othello is curious.

Othello’s curiosity leads him to suspect Cassio and Desdemona. Iago does not tell him so, he barely hints. His suggestion is in his reticence. He introduces the idea through questions such as "Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lad, / Know of your love?". It is not the question itself that leads Othello to his conclusion but the hesitation with which it is asked and the reticence with which Iago follows it up. It is as though Othello’s mind is directed like a train upon tracks but the driving force, the engine, is Othello, not Iago. Iago keeps the fire of curiosity stoked up with coals such as "Indeed?"

By Act III, scene 4, Othello’s mind is rapidly heading for jealousy central station and Iago need only drop a few poisoned words such as "Will you think so?" to keep the fires raging. His suggestion continues, leaving sentences hanging, "But if I give my wife a handkerchief -" and as Othello becomes more and more passionate, Iago pretends to try and calm him down. He knows that he cannot calm a passionate man like Othello but he must be seen to try so as to keep up his reputation as the honest"ancient".

Then there is the question of proof. There is no proof. All the proof is imaginary. Iago’s greatest weapon is imagery. With his words, he creates in Othello’s mind, obscene images of Desdemona and Cassio. These become for Othello, proof of his wife’s infidelity. The dream that Iago invents is one of these images. Othello demands "ocular proof". This comes in the form of a handkerchief. Discuss the importance of the handkerchief both as a symbol of fidelity and as a token piece of tangible evidence.

Conclude by reiterating the point that Othello does the thinking, Iago the directing. Discuss how this is much more powerful than the deception of Roderigo because it arouses such passion and is so resistant to Desdemona’s profession of honesty.

2) During a performance of Othello, a member of the audience suddenly got up and shouted "You bastard!" as Othello set about stifling Desdemona. What aspects of the play do you think have contributed to its impressive and enduring effect on audiences?

In the introduction, make the general point that Othello is a tragedy. Briefly discuss the basis for the tragedy – the corruption of Othello, the murder of innocence, etc.

Discuss why this tragic story has such an effect on audiences. Discuss the characters themselves: Othello, the noble Moor becoming a savage beast (a "bastard"), the enduring innocence and purity of Desdemona. Discuss the dramatic power of the last few scenes – the mounting suspicions of Emilia balanced by her fear of Iago; the terrible duality of Othello’s perception of Desdemona as both pure and false at the same time; the innocent uncomprehending yet unassertive protests of Desdemona; her final plea for one more night, half an hour longer to live... "You bastard!"

Discuss also the audience’s perspective. They have watched the plot unfold. They have witnessed the misunderstandings. They have seen Othello slowly corrupted, his mind poisoning itself at Iago’s command.

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