Othello by William Shakespeare

For the Genrethon I decided to read Othello by Shakespeare, and this is my review of said tragedy.

The story
Othello is about a Moor, Othello, who lives in Venice and is a general in the Venetian army. He has married Desdemona, a young white woman. Her father is a senator and he isn’t too stoked about that. Othello’s ensign Iago is jealous and angry at Othello for being better than him basically, and for promoting Michael Cassio ahead of Iago. Othello trusts Iago and he has no idea he is scheming against him. Iago is also friends with Roderigo, who is angry with Othello for marrying Desdemona, who he had proposed to. The Duke sends Othello to Cyprus to fight the Turks and he brings Iago, Cassio, Desdemona, and the shit. Goes. Down.

I don’t know why this play is called Othello, because Iago has a much bigger part, he has more monologues, and he has more agency. And most conversations are with Iago, or about Iago. So why it isn’t called Iago is beyond me. Iago is almost an archetypical villain. He is a moustache-twirling, grumpy, evil, vicious villain. I love him, obviously, but he’s just so stereotypically evil. The reason he is angry is basically that Othello has slighted him by promoting someone else, and he decides to have everyone kill each other.

I found it sort of weird that everyone trusted Iago so completely. A lot of Shakespeare’s plays seem to be full of misunderstandings that could easily be solved if people just asked each other questions. So anyway. Clearly they’ve known Iago forever, and he’s a master manipulator, but for me who had just been dumped into it, it seemed so weird. Why are they trusting him? Like, do they never talk to each other about Iago? WHAT IS GOING ON?

I feel like I’ll always come back to Iago in this, because no matter how much he’s a stereotype I loved him. He’s just so mean, he’s basically a mean girl, and I love him. Othello was an interesting character, he is also a very trusted person. He’s a general, even though he’s not a native Venetian, so he is clearly skilled. It’s not clear where he’s from, he’s just described as a Moor, and they allude to him not being white, and this being bad to some extent, as it isn’t seen as particularly fortunate that Desdemona has married him. He’s referred to as barbaric in some ways, and he’s very isolated from the others. Which might make it natural for him to trust Iago, this one person who seems to be helping him (to Othello’s eyes).

In the first scene (I think) Othello and Desdemona are said to be “making the beast with two backs” and I realize that this might be where that comes from, but I have only ever heard it as a joke-y way to describe sex in American TV, so I burst out laughing when I read it. Clearly I am an adult. It was just a bit weird to read something which I have sort of taken for a modern joke in a text from the 1600s.


I liked it. It was funny in some ways, Iago was fascinating. He’s clever and awful, which is great. It was a good read.