What Is The Main Theme Of Othello?

Updated 30 September, 2024
The major themes explored in the play Othello by Shakespeare are jealousy, revenge, and appearance vs reality.
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Throughout Shakespeare’s magnificent play, Othello, we come across a rumour that has been spread, questioning a wife’s loyalty and faith. This leads to countless mentions of two significant themes, jealousy and appearance vs reality.
Jealousy is one of the two main forces in the play that dictates the action of Othello and Iago and is transcendent to modern audiences. An example of jealousy in Shakespeare’s play is placed in Act 3 Scene 3. “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds on.” Iago refers to jealousy as the “greened eyed monster.” As this metaphor suggests, jealousy is closely associated with the theme of appearance and reality. At a point in the scene, Othello asked for Iago to provide “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s infidelity- he wants to see reality. Iago further provides evidence of the handkerchief Othello gifted Desdemona. Othello accepts Iago’s claim and believes it is “ocular proof”. As he makes insinuations about Desdemona’s adultery and infidelity, Othello coerces Iago to reveal what he knows.
Additionally, the theme of appearance vs reality plays a major role in Othello when resonating with audiences and transcend time. The theme is displayed as early as when Iago delivers in his soliloquy at the end of Act 1. “The moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men are honest that but seem to be so. And will as tenderly be led by th’ nose as asses are.” Allusion is used to imply that Othello is foolish in trusting Iago. Iago starts his speech by announcing his clear intentions to trick Roderigo for his own personal gain. After manipulating Roderigo, he turned his eye onto Othello also manoeuvring him, just because of the hatred Iago had for him. Both Roderigo and Othello both believed their friendship was too strong to betray each other as Othello says, “Othello thinks men honest that but seem to be so.” Iago intended to destroy Othello by exploiting his beliefs in the reality of appearances.
Finally, jealousy and appearance vs reality are the key themes explored in Othello that lead to and aid the downfall of Othello.

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