Othello – a preliminary essay

Othello from Google ImagesWhen responding to an essay question, it is imperative that you begin with a strong thesis statement. This will help you structure your response and allow you to return to your argument throughout your essay.

Through its portrayal of human experience, Shakespeare’s Othello prepares us for an inevitable tragedy.

How is this revealed in the first three acts? In your response, make detailed reference to the play.

  • Decide on an aspect of ‘human experience’ that is explored in the play and make this the basis of your thesis:

From colleagues to friends to partners – all relationships contain an aspect of power.

Everyone experiences jealousy in its different forms, whether in our career, family or marriage.

The human capacity for passion drives our desire for acceptance.

  •  Decide on which characters best represent these different aspects of ‘human experience’:

Iago’s urge for power carries us toward the ultimate tragic finale.

Othello’s inability to control his jealousy leads to the final tragedy.

Desdemona is destined for defeat because of her lack of power.

  • Notice how these brief statements lead to an understanding of a key aspect of Shakespearean tragedy – that of a personality flaw that condemns an individual to suffering and loss. Now, link each character and aspect of ‘human experience’ with a relevant dramatic technique:

Iago’s urge for power, revealed in his soliloquies and asides, carries us toward the ultimate tragic finale.

Othello’s inability to control his jealousy is seen in the language that indicates his state of mind and leads to the final tragedy.

Desdemona is destined for defeat because of her lack of power as evidenced in her weak, submissive dialogue.

  • These sentences should be included in your introduction to outline the key points of your argument AND shows how successive paragraphs will be structured. NOTE: you will not need to use the idea of ‘tragic finale’ or ‘final tragedy’ in both cases – this will add a sense of repetition to your introduction.
  • Remember to include a sentence that indicates which theoretical perspective you will use:

Shakespeare’s characterisations explore gender relationships and their inherent distribution of power.

Examined through a psychoanalytic perspective, each character in Othello demonstrates the inability to fulfill their desire.

  • Consider writing a paragraph (to follow your introduction) that explores the key ideas of ‘Shakespearean tragedy’ but try not to labour the point. We don’t need to know about his life, or the Elizabethan age UNLESS  there is a direct link with your thesis eg. the patriarchal society that enforced gendered expectations. Be careful – Shakespeare isn’t ‘showing us the Elizabethan age’, it was simply the era he experienced that informed his understanding of society and the world. Many of the attitudes and ideas, such as racism and sexism, are still apparent today – perhaps to differing degrees …
  • Remember to link your paragraphs back to your thesis with strong topic sentences and / or linking sentences to your next paragraph:

Perhaps the most obvious form of public power is that of Othello as commander.

From almost the beginning it is evident that Iago is jealous and ultimately doomed, reflecting an important tenet of Shakespearean tragedy.

Iago is open with the audience as to his intentions for destroying Othello.

Desdemona’s subservient role becomes clear through her relationships with men which reinforces our understanding of Elizabethan patriarchy.

To achieve power over Othello, Iago must manipulate, scheme and deceive.

  • You will need to include specific evidence in each paragraph that shows your understanding of the first three acts.
  • Your conclusion must revisit your thesis, yet rather than simply repeating, you should aim to include some evaluation that suggests the notion of ‘inevitability’. Consider using some of these words in your sentences:

successful, potent, powerful, strong, valuable, useful, convincing, compelling, valid, impressive, credible, lucid, coherent, interesting, essential.

  • When you have finished your final draft, put it down and go for a walk. Then, READ IT ALOUD! You will quickly identify simple errors, clumsy expression and over-used words and ideas. Edit these: less is usually more.
  • Be brave – dare to leave something out, rather than over state the obvious





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