There are 2 central themes in this tragedy that are both
intertwined, being race and the age-old battle between good and evil.
Othello is of a different race from his wife and all the other
main characters, he being a black Moor and they white Venetians, except Cassio who is from Florence. The hero is alien to the other players.
He is an imposing man much respected due to his vast experience maintaining the security of the Venetian Empire. The Duke of Venice depends greatly on Othello and when the crisis over Cyprus arises, Othello is the first to be called upon to take control of Cyprus and oppose the Turkish fleet. He is a brilliant military tactician and his previous successful campaigns have emphasized his honorable character. The charismatic Moor wins the love of Desdemona; his magnetism is greater than the conventions of marrying within one’s race.
Shakespeare is at pains to show Othello as an intelligent,
masculine soldier who captivates Desdemona who shows great courage in eloping with him. What precisely Shakespeare’s views were on mixed marriages is left to the audience to decide.
At the start of the plot, the Jacobean public may have been
shocked at this union between the black Moor and the fair Desdemona, but we soon see that each is worthy of the other’s love, and this emotion is deep, but unfortunately does not have time to blossom
before the evil Iago poisons it.
At the end of the play, we hope that Iago’s plans will fail and
Othello and Desdemona will live happily together.
In Romeo and Juliet the couple’s love helps to unite the feuding
families after their death.
Likewise Shakespeare makes it clear that Othello and Desdemona’s
love does not die, and was not diminished by Iago’s evil. Perhaps Shakespeare’s aim is that there will be more understanding between the races as a result of this timeless piece of literature.
GOOD and EVIL
The fact that Othello is black also gives a twist to this theme of the plot.
All the evil in the play stems from Iago and his fairly minor
grievance against Othello by being overlooked for promotion eventually consumes him.
His drive to obtain satisfaction is pursued with vigor, involving all the main characters in the play. Part of his plan is to use Roderigo, Cassio and his wife Emilia without regard for them. He murders two of these players and wounds the third, and has no respect for life. His game of manipulating people has dire consequences and his ability to do this arises from his adept lying and acting.
Othello’s race has no real bearing on Iago’s plot, although he
uses it whenever possible to undermine the Moor, denting his confidence and ego. Iago clearly acknowledges the nobility of Othello. He seeks the destruction of this man because he has been
offended. If Othello had been white, as in the original story by Cinthio then the plot development would have been much the same. Making Othello a black Moor adds spice to the tale and
provides the audience with dramatic effect.
The symbolism is that Othello, the noble black Moor, defender of
the Venetian state, married the fair innocent Desdemona. Evil in the guise of Iago tries to destroy Othello and his earthly world, but he fails.
Othello’s noble soul remains intact, his love for Desdemona endures. He is not reduced to jealousy or hate. Desdemona is innocent of any crime.
The Jacobean audience and all those since leave the play with
the thought that Othello and Desdemona are reunited after death where evil cannot touch them, unlike the physical world that they briefly shared together.