Sunday, December 19, 2010
Conflicting interpretations of Othello (a Difficult play), Race and Color and Tragedy of Misunderstanding
Apparent simplicity: Othello offers more textual and editorial problems than most other Shakespearean plays. It presents a semblance of simplicity to a critic unlike the dazzling complexities of Hamlet, the cloudy sublimities of King Lear or the delicate poetic symbolism of A Winter’s Tale. There seems to be in Othello nothing disputable; but it is the most difficult play to interpret when we have a close look at its complexities.
Variety of Opinions: Othello, in reality, is a difficult play and this is endorsed by a variety of conflicting opinions and interpretations of the critics. There are voices heard about Othello as a pure and fine hero and about him as a coarse and brutal murderer. Some are Taking Iago as motiveless and others are trying to find motive behind his malignity. Some voice that it is a Christian play and the character of Othello represent the fall of Adam and Desdemona as Eve and Iago as the Satan or Serpent and others will see Desdemona as a figure so delicate at whose fate, eyes are filled with tears. So, every one has his share in the interpretation of Othello.
Tragedy of Misunderstanding: At somewhat superficial level, Othello may be taken as the Tragedy of Misunderstanding. No one among the characters understands any one else. Nor are they able to understand themselves. If Othello understood Desdemona, He would know that she is chaste and that she loved him for his qualities, and not for the fulfillment of her animal desires. She is not the kind of girl. If Desdemona understood Othello, she would know that he doesn’t yet see her as a real girl, but something as magical that has happened to him and he would run mad if something turns out to be wrong about her. If Emilia understood Iago, she would know that he is not merely a coarse husband, but a friend who delights in tortures. He is a personified devil and a sadist. Even Iago doesn’t know this about himself to the end of the play. So misunderstanding prevails in the whole play and with all the characters.
Iago’s Wild Excitement: Iago, the matador, succumbs to the excitement of his combat with the bull. From that point, he abandons all thought of motives and works from contingency to contingency. Of course, Desdemona must die, for if she lives, it will come out someday that Iago was lying and Othello will hunt him down. Cassio must die for the same reason. Roderigo who knows too much is also bound to be killed. Iago’s prime objective was to cause as much harm to Othello and Cassio as he could and once he treaded on the path of harm, he couldn’t resist or stop because it was too late.
Causation: A question naturally arises; how do these misunderstandings arise? In each case, Shakespeare has provided a sufficient answer. Desdemona, young and inexperienced, has been over-protected b her father, so she has less knowledge of life, people and things around than she should. Iago misunderstands because he is a fool and a brute when it comes to generous emotions. Roderigo misunderstands because he is a utter stupid who is easily led by Iago. Othello is taken in by Iago, not because Iago is a good actor, but that he has shown himself a trustworthy fellow before Othello and that every one respects him. Othello is an outsider; Venus needs him, rewards him and uses him. So he can be beaten, not with force, but with trust. Brabantio has received him as his guest and given him honor and respect, but he feels betrayed at the elopement of his daughter with Othello and Othello, on ht other hand, would have thought not to discuss the marriage issue with him because he could have refused him.
Difference of Race and Complexion: Othello’s being vastly different from Desdemona and others in race and color seems to have something to do with his tragic outcome. Brabantio thinks that his daughter has been bewitched by Othello because her decision to marry a black man is totally unnatural and throughout the play, the characters that dislike him refer to his point of being a Negro.
Othello’s insecurity: This difference seems to be an underlying sense of insecurity and fear in Othello which influences his conduct at crucial moments. It is an outward symbol of his isolation. In the whirl of a different nation, he stands alone and unprotected. It was his conscious decision to serve Venus as in the end he says, “I have done the state some service.” With this sense, he wants to renovate Desdemona’s love as a living link with Venus and he promises to break down his alienation, is central to the whole being.