Characteristics of Shakespearean Tragedy

Characteristics of Shakespearean Tragedy

Characteristics of Shakespearian tragedy

William Shakespeare wrote a number of tragedies which includes: Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc. His tragedies were different from Greek tragedies but they were derived from Greek tragedies. The dramatic form of Shakespearean tragedies derives from ancient tragedies of Athens, which depicted the tragic downfall of a protagonist or renowned persona of Greek legends. Characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy are far away from Greek tragedy. 

Click here to know about difference between Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy.

Characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy

Characteristics of Shakespearean tragedies are analysis of his tragedies based on his renowned tragic plays like, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Below are the characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy.    

One Man Show

Shakespearean tragedies are mostly one man show. However he used much number of characters in his tragedies compared to Greek tragedies excluding chorus but the focus always remained on hero. Other characters also experience rise and fall according to the plot but hero remains pivotal figure during the whole play.  There is exception in his love tragedies like Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet; where heroin also gains focus of the audience.

Social Status of Hero

In Shakespearean tragedies, hero is from outstanding social status. His heroes are same like Greek and Roman heroes.  His all heroes are from kings (Julius, Caesar, Lear), princes (Hamlet), nobles (Macbeth, Brutus), or military commanders (Othello). Tragedies, written before Shakespeare, were also conforming to the same Greek tradition. Some critic accused him for snobbery, they said that a common man may face a tragedy in his life and his suffering is same like a king or a noble. But, Shakespeare has his own point of view that a common man wins sympathies from only his close and limited class but tragedy of a king or a noble man win sympathies of a large span which makes it more appealing.      

Tragic Fall of Hero

Shakespearean tragedies depict suffering of a hero causing his tragic death. In Shakespearean sense a tragedy is not a tragedy if hero does not face tragic death. Initially hero goes through suffering and calamities leading him to tragic death. The way sufferings befall on hero is interesting in case of Shakespeare. Initially characters commit a sin or make an error of judgment that causes sufferings. The magnitude of suffering increases as the plot of the play progresses. The magnitude of suffering goes up to its maximum level in fourth act.

Sometime, sufferings are not limited to hero alone but other characters suffer too. In some tragedies other characters also face tragic death like hero as in the case of Othello in which innocent Desdemona was murdered  

The Cause of Suffering and Death

In Shakespearean tragedies, the cause of sufferings and death is not like Greek tragedies. Greek believed on destiny but Shakespeare blamed character himself responsible for his doom. A flaw in characters, known as hamartia, is responsible for suffering and death but sometime destiny play its role but on back end. Shakespearian characters are comprised of mixed traits. They are no holy man or perfect in nature. They also commit sin that cause sufferings. In short, It is perfect to say that “character is destiny” for Shakespearean tragedies.

Three Unities in Shakespearean Tragedy

Shakespearian tragedies do not follow three unities. Aristotle proposed the three unities: unity of place, unity of time, and unity of action.  According to Aristotle, firstly, a tragedy must take place in a single location, for example a city square or a house but actions in Shakespearean tragedies are on various places. One scene is at one place and second scene may be in another city. Secondly it would happen during the course of one day but his plays are lengthy and do not follow unity of time. Lastly, a tragedy would be a single story, without sub- plots or sub-sub-plots but Shakespeare has sufficient number of sub-plots in his tragedies. So in this way Shakespearean play do not follow Aristotle’s three unities.  Compared with these set patterns by Aristotle, Shakespeare’s tragedy is a more relaxed genre.

Supernatural Elements and Chance Happening in Shakespearean Tragedies

There are some other external factors, apart from the fatal flaw of protagonist, in Shakespearean plays that are responsible for the tragic fall of protagonist. The use of supernatural machinery and chance happening are the external factors who contribute in tragic fall.  These factors play role in shaping destiny of characters. Shakespeare used supernatural elements like three witches in Macbeth and ghost in Hamlet. These elements prompt the hero to do irrational and heinous offence in the play that causes his tragic fall. In similar way, the use of handkerchief in Othello became cause of chance happening which made him more jealous and extreme jealousy became cause of his fall. Although these factors contribute a lot but basically it is his own character which causes hero’s fall.

Structure of Shakespearean tragedy

Shakespearean plays usually consist of five acts, corresponding to different scenes in each act. Act one includes exposition, outlines the situation, begins the action and introduces the main characters. Act two continues the action towards further development, and introduces complications in the plot. Act three is comprised of climax of the plot, brings everything to a head. A change of direction occurs in this act and audience realizes the sin or folly committed by protagonist that leads him towards sufferings. Act four includes further developments of act three leading inevitably to final act. Act five includes final outcome and revelation that ends with tragic death of hero.

Moral Values and Poetic Justice

Shakespeare never focused on poetic justice which requires the characters to be awarded or punished with their merits and demerits accordingly.  But there is only hero who suffers because of his flaw but there are some other characters who became innocent prey of hero’s flaw. On other hand no villainous character is left unpunished in Shakespearean plays but the destructive power of their evil is strong enough that it pulls other innocent characters into it.  In Othello, Desdemona and Emilia were murdered innocently without any evil committed by them. But the intrigue plot of villain was strong enough that pushed innocent characters into tragic death. The moral values of Shakespearean tragedies do not left pessimistic impression on readers but they feel piteous and fearful. 

Greek Tragedy vs Shakespearean Tragedy

Greek Tragedy vs Shakespearean Tragedy

Greek tragedy vs Shakespearean tragedy

A tragedy is a genre of drama, flourished in Greek literature, became famous in Elizabethan literature where Marlowe and Shakespeare brought it into English literature. Tragedy is a type of drama that presents a serious subject matter, in a single story, about human suffering, followed by sorrowful or dreadful events in a dignified manner causing a downfall of protagonist.

Elizabethan tragedies have same concept of tragedy like Greek tragedy but there are little differences. Mostly they have similarities in major terms but mainly, Shakespeare made it different from Greek tragedies in broader context. Below are the main differences between Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy.

Differences between Greek tragedy and Shakespearian tragedy:

Both, Greek tragedies and Shakespearean tragedies show fall of protagonist who holds a high position in a society. Their heroes are from kings, princes, dukes, military generals or a noble man of a society who holds position in a society.

Ancient Greek tragedies were written by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus and they were modeled upon religious groundings. Elizabethan tragedies were written mostly Marlowe and Shakespeare.

Greek tragedies always follow beginning, middle and end but on the other hand Shakespearean tragedies do not follow proper beginning. In Shakespearean tragedy, A tragedy can start from any scene.

Greek tragedies were based on theocentric vision and mostly they carried religious themes where destiny was controlled by divine powers and it was impossible for a protagonist to escape from fate. In Greek tragedies, fall of character is due to destiny that plays role in the play.

In Shakespearean tragedy character is destiny; the character of an individual is responsible for the downfalls of an individual. In the play, Othello, the downfall of protagonist Othello was due to his own error of judgment that killed his beloved wife because of extreme jealousy. Shakespeare believed that a downfall of hero is not only controlled by fate but misjudgment of a protagonist can bring fall on him.

Greek tragedies carry limited number of characters mostly they are three who perform on stage but Shakespearean tragedies have sufficient number of characters on the stage.

In both tragedies, female characters were not allowed on stage but the roles of females were performed by men on stage.

Greek tragedies involve use of chorus; who participate in play and describes some scene only by singing like scene of bloodshed or opening of the play like prologue. A chorus is a band only for singing and dancing and they do not participate in other actions of the play.

Shakespearean tragedies do not have chorus band.

Greek tragedies were based on single plot but Shakespearean tragedies include subplots.

Greek tragedies follow three unities: unity of action, unity of time, and unity of place but Shakespearean tragedies do not follow three unities.

There is no space for comic scene in Greek tragedies but there are comic scenes in Shakespearean tragedies. In Greek tragedies, Chorus provide relief for the audience where as in Shakespearean tragedies, comic scenes provide relief to the audience.

There is much use of supernatural elements in Shakespearean tragedies like use of witches in Macbeth or in Hamlet; the Ghost of Hamlet’s father is supernatural, and similarly Caesar’s spirit in his play Julius Caesar; whereas Greek avoided these elements.


What is a Sonnet? (Definition, Characteristics, & History)

What is a sonnet?

What is a Sonnet?

The word “Sonnet” came from an Italian word “Sonetto“. It means “a little song”. A sonnet is a short poem of 14 lines. The basic theme of sonnet revolves around love and emotions. It is a perfect poetic style for expressing a single idea or thought. In this literary genre, poets attribute special love and feelings to their beloved. During old literature, mostly poets were court poet. Their writings were on topics like, knights, heroes, legends, and kings but this was a unique change in history of literature when poets started writing to attributes their beloveds. .  More precisely, it originated in Italy from Dante Alighieri. He wrote number of sonnets for his beloved, named Beatrice.

Background of Sonnet Writing

Giacomo da Lentini is the founder of Sonnet. He was the head of Sicilian School under Emperor Frederick II. He wrote almost 250 sonnets. Petrarch constituted Sonnet in 14th century as major form of Love poetry. Later France, Spain and England adopted it in 16th century and Germany in 17th century. Sonnet took form from Italian and it got significance as a form of poetry in 13th century.  More precisely, it originated in Italy from Dante Alighieri. He wrote number of sonnets for his beloved, named Beatrice. Sonnet further developed in 14th century, when Francesco Petrarch made it prominent, through the poems he wrote about a woman named Laura.

Wyatt and Surrey brought sonnet to England. It happened when they went for diplomatic visit to Italy and learnt the sonnet writing. They started sonnet writing when they came back. Wyatt wrote sonnet in 1557. After his death, Surrey took his lead.  Surrey’s sonnets were mostly an adaptation of the works of Petrarch. In 1950s, Spenser and Shakespeare mastered the sonnet. They changed its structure to suit their several desires. After sometime, their form of it became famous. In the mid 17th century, John Milton wrote sonnets about events, people and occasions but the theme of his sonnets was also Love. He was alone and afloat in the durable wane of sonnet.

The English revival continued well into the 19th century with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti introducing female interest into sonnet. The 20th century was full of developed sonneteers. The poets from different countries wrote memorable sonnets. Some of the most prominent sonnet writers from that time include, Robert Frost and Robert Lowell from America, England’s W.H Auden, Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney and John Crowe Ransom, and Edwin Morgan from Scotland.

Characteristics of Sonnet Writing

Sonnet pattern of Petrarch consists of two parts: an octave (first part of sonnet consisting of eight lines) and sestet (second part of sonnet consisting of six lines). Wyatt followed him in style and wrote 32 sonnets in same pattern. In between octave and sestet, there was a pause marked space on paper. There was a change in thought in sestet; sometime called as volta or the turn of thought.

English sonnet consists of 14 lines with first 12 lines divided into 3 quatrains. Surrey brought this change to Elizabethans’ sonnets. These quatrains contain four lines each. The poet writes about a problem or theme in these three quatrains, each quatrain carry single thought followed by next quatrain and then he resolves it in the final two lines. The last two lines are called “Couplet“. It has a regular rhyme scheme. All the poets wrote sonnet in iambic pentameter. A Sonnet helps the poet to explore strong emotions and express them.

Iambic Pentameter:  Iambic Pentameter is a style of writing in poetry where each line is five feet long. Each feet contains two syllable, one is stressed and second in unstressed. In simple way each line carry ten syllables: five stressed and five unstressed. Look at the example

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Shakespeare)

(Shall+I) (com+par) (Thee+to) (a+ sum) (mer’s+day)

Rhyme Scheme of Sonnet Writing by Different Sonneteers

Petrarch: [a b b a a b b a] (octave) + [c d c d c d] (sestet)

Surrey: [a b a b] + [a b a b] + [a b a b] + [e e]

Sidney: [a b b a] + [a b b a] + [c d c d] + [e e]

Spenser: [a b a b] + [b c b c] + [c d c d] + [e e]

Shakespeare: [a b a b] + [c d c d] + [e f e f] + [g  g]

Sonnet writing in Latin Literature

In Latin literature, Giacomo da Lentini created sonnet. Other poets of that time to write sonnets include Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, Petrarch and Michelangelo.

The typical Italian sonnet had its structure in two parts. The two parts together made a complete argument. The first part is octave that describes a problem or question. The second one is sestet that provides a solution. Normally, the solution or resolution starts from the ninth line. It is called turn or Volta. In Sonnets that do not exactingly follow this structure, still the ninth line mostly indicates a turn by a difference in the tone of the writing.

The pattern of ABBA ABBA was the model for Italian sonnets, later. The sestet had two choices: CDE CDE and CDC CDC. After some time, other variations were presented. These included rhyming schemes such as CDCDCD.

Let us look at two famous Latin sonneteers Francis Petrarch and Dante Alighieri.

Francis Petrarch (1304-74)

Petrarch was an Italian scholar and poet. He was born in Tuscan, Italy, on July 20th, 1304. Mainly he was fond of writing Latin literature. The thing that made him famous was his Italian poetry. The numbers of sonnets that he had written are almost 366. He is a father of sonnet writing. Francesco Petrarch introduced Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. His sonnets were admired and simulated in Europe and became a model for lyrical poetry. The subject of his sonnets was Laura, his beloved. There is a little information in his poetry about Laura. He mentioned in a poem that she refused him, because she was already married. He expresses his feelings in love poems.

He travelled around Europe and served as an ambassador. Due to which he got the name, “The first tourist”.

Due to his great work, many famous poets, like William Wordsworth and Sir Thomas, follow his form of poetry. Other English language poets became popular for translating Italian petrarchan sonnets into English.

The basic structure of sonnets of Petrarch is:

– It comprises of fourteen lines of poetry.

– These lines are divided into two parts.

– First eight lines are octave and second six lines are sestet.

– The octave follows a specific rhyme scheme of ABBA, ABBA.

– The sestets may have different patterns like CDCDCD or CDDCEE.

This structure is “Sicilian Sestet”, directly used by Petrarch himself. His famous poetry works include Canzoniere (“Songbook”) and the Trionfi (“Triumphs”). He died in 1374.

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet. He was born in Italy. The exact year of his birth is unknown but people conclude it to be 1265, between May and June. This inference is because of certain clues found about his birth in his poems. There is not much information about Dante’s education too. He might had been homeschooled or got his education from a church or monastery. The only thing that is apparent that he studied Tuscan poetry.

His poetry book, Divine Comedy, was originally called Comedìa and in modern Italian: Commedia and later named Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio. Divine Comedy is broadly taken as the most important poem of the Middle Ages. It is the greatest literary work in the Italian language. In this long narrative literary work, which had three parts, he journeys through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. He writes about different people guiding him through these places. This work is both stylistic and thematic. It played important role in establishment of Italian language as a literary language. Dante’s wrote most of literature after his exile in 1301. Works of Dante include De Monarchia, De vulgari eloquentia (meaning “On the Eloquence of Vernacular”), La Vita Nuova, Convivio (meaning “The Banquet”), etc.

He was a great influence on Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, and including many others. He did the first use of “terza rima” or the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme. People describe him as the father of the Italian language. In Italy, Italians refer to him as il Sommo Poeta (meaning “the Supreme Poet”).

Dante died in Ravenna in 1321 possibly from malaria.

Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are called the tre corone (meaning “three crowns”) of Italian literature.

Sonnet writing in English literature

The sonnet is a unique form of poetry. It became famous and prominent especially in western literature, in which it has maintained its appeal for major poets for five centuries. Sonnet seemed to originate in 13th century and spread to Tuscany in 14 century, where it reached its highest expectations.

Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard introduced the sonnet in England in 16th century. This period was marked as a golden period of sonnet.

The course, which was adaptation of Italian literature, was not rich in forms and structure. Therefore, the arrival of Elizabethan sonnets has changed the form and rhyme scheme of sonnet. The rhyme scheme of English sonnet was ABAB CDCD EFEF. After this change, the sonnet became rich in rhymes but the greater numbers of rhymes had made it a less demanding form. By the time, forms of sonnet developed and the writers started writing about different topics, apart from love.

John Donne wrote his religious sonnet and John Milton wrote sonnets on the subject of politics and religion. He also wrote on personals themes, like his own blindness.

The modern sonnet had been extended to all the subjects of poetry. Still many English writers, including William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Elizabeth Barrett continued to write Petrarchan sonnets.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning resuscitated the love sonnet sequence in 19th century.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a lyric poet, ambassador and a politician in 16th century. He was born in 1503, at Alligator Castle. He was the first poet who introduced sonnet to English literature. His literary work was published after his death. He wrote many sonnets but most of his work consisted of translations and imitations of Italian poet Petrarch.

The subject of his sonnets was like those of Petrarch’s, but the rhyme schemes were different. Petrarch’s sonnets contained an octave followed by sestet, with various rhyme schemes. Wyatt’s octave was the same but his sestet scheme was CDDCEE. His poetry manifests classical and Italian models. His several poems are about romantic love. Wyatt wrote 96 love poems but the most famous were his 31 sonnets in English. Ten of them were the translations from Petrarch’s work. His poems were short in length but impressive and other writers appreciated his writings.

Wyatt also wrote songs, epigrams, and sonnets about his own experiences. He died on October11th, 1542.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516-1547)

Henry Howard, famously known as Surrey, was an English poet, politician and nobleman. He was born in 1516. He is one of the founders of English poetry.

His father was Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. When his father became Duke of Norfolk in 1524, the son adopted the courtesy title of “Earl of Surrey “. Because of his father’s powerful position, he played an active and prominent role in court life. He served as a soldier in France and in Scotland.

Surrey was the friend of Sir Thomas Wyatt. He and his friend Wyatt were the first who wrote English sonnets. Later, William Shakespeare used their form. They were called as fathers of sonnet due to their splendid translation of Petrarch’s sonnets.

After Wyatt’s death, Surrey continued his work. Most of his early work was the translation of Petrarchan sonnets. Later he introduced new rhyme scheme like ABA, CDCD, EFEF, GG.  William Shakespeare adopted this form. He died on January 13, 1547 in London.

Thomas Watson (1555-1592)

Thomas Watson was an English lyric poet. He was born at London, in 1555. He studied at Oxford University. He enjoyed most of his life in abroad. He spent seven years in France and Italy. Then he studied law in London. He was actually a scholar and did translation. He studied law but he never practiced it because he was not interested in law. His true passion was literature. In 1581, his first composition was published which was the Latin version Antigone of Sophocles. He also translated Tasso’s Pastoral play of Aminla in Latin. It was published in 1585.

Watson appeared as an English poet in 1582. He published his Hekatompathia this year. It was a collection of 100 parts, in which he wrote about the pains and sorrows of a lover. He also had shown his expression towards love. The interesting thing about these poems is that, these are written in the manner of sonnets but they are having triple sets of seven-line stanza. Due to his excellent work, he was a best Latin poet of England, in 1587.

He started working in both, English and Latin, in 1590. His last and best book, “The Tears of France” was published in 1593. This is the collection of 60 sonnets.

After Wyatt and Surrey, he was first who introduced imitation of Petrarch into English poetry.

He is one of the excellent love poets among the Elizabethan writers.

He was too young when he died in 1592.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

Sir Philip Sidney was born on November 30, 1554, in Kent, England. He studied at Christ church and then at Oxford university. He went to England for gaining more knowledge of Latin, Italian and French. Due to political family background, he went to German Emperor, as an ambassador in 1577, when he was 22. He was also the member of the parliament in 1581, 1584-85. Sidney was also interested in law, ancient and modern history, medicines and poetry. He started writing poetry and prose but he did not allow publishing of his work.

Sidney also wrote to his beloved. He fell in love with a woman named Penelope Devereux. He composed a sonnet sequence “Astrophel and Stella”. Penelope is Stella (a star) and Sidney is Astrophel (a star lover). The theme of his sonnets is also love, in which he shows his unending love for her. Just like Petrarch, who wrote about Laura.

Penelope was first engaged to Sidney but late she got married to Lord Rich, in 158. Sidney was worried and upset. He overcame his sorrow through his words. After two years, he also got married. Later he wrote for his own delight and for his close friends.

On September 22, 1586, he volunteered to serve in an action to prevent the Spaniards. During this, he was badly injured as a bullet shattered his thigh. His wound became infected and he was ready to die. In his last hours, he confessed: “There came to my remembrance a vanity wherein I had taken delight, whereof I had not rid myself”. It was the Lady Rich. But I rid myself of it, and presently my joy and comfort returned. He was buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on February 16, 1587, with great honour.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)

Edmund Spenser was born at London, in 1552. He belongs to a Midlands family of Spencer. He go admission in a grammar school and entered in the school as a “poor” boy. He learnt about Latin, Greek and Music. Spenser got Bachelor of Arts degree in 1573 and Master of Arts in 1576.

During the university period, he gained wide knowledge about Italian, French and English literature. His knowledge provided him ways to compose his own literary form. Spenser was the greatest of English poets, who had canonized England by his impressive poems.

In 1595, he published his great composition “Amoretti” . It was a collection of eighty-eight sonnets, in which he wrote about his marriage with Elizabeth Boyle. He mentioned the difficulties he suffered before and after his marriage. His poems are mostly autobiographical and based on the personal experience of poet. He died on January 13, 1599 and buried with ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

William Shakespeare is the most influential writer in all of English literature. He was born in 1564, at Warwickshire, England. His father belonged to a middle-class and he was a glove- maker. Shakespeare got admission in grammar school but he left the school very soon because of certain reasons. He got married in 1582, with an old woman, who has three children with her. In 1590, he travelled to London and left his family behind. There, he worked as an actor and playwright. Soon, he became the most famous playwright in England.

His poems consist of various themes like love, beauty, jealousy, passage of time and mortality. He wrote almost 154 sonnets that he published in 1609. First 126 are the address to a young man, last 28 refers to a woman. His first 17 poems are “Procreation sonnets“. In those, he is addressing to a young man and spurring him to marry and have children. He is telling the man so, in order to commemorate his beauty by passing it to next generation.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are almost all constructed of three quatrains followed by a final couplet. He wrote all the sonnets in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme of Shakespearean sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. He died at the age of 52, in 1616. Sonnet has gone through many stages like any other literary form and now includes writing in all subjects of human life.

About Authoress: The article “Characteristics and History of Sonnet Writing” is written by Sayeda Javaria. (

Major Themes in Othello

Major Themes in Othello

The play Othello is a domestic tragedy and involves happening of individual characters. The themes in Othello are linked with individual characters ranging from hatred to love, jealousy to revenge, service to betrayal, and innocence to guilty. Major themes In Othello are love, jealousy, racial prejudice, appearance versus reality, expectations versus outcome and intrigue.

Theme of love in Othello

Love is the main theme of the play but unluckily the web of intrigues spoils it very badly. Love is the main driving force of the play surrounded by other themes. We can see different types of love in the play: Desdemona’s love for Othello, Othello’s love for Desdemona, Emilia’s love for her mistress, Desdemona’s love for her maid, Desdemona’s affections for Cassio, Iago’s love for money, Roderigo’s love for Desdemona, are the few examples of the love in the play.

The marriage of Othello and Desdemona was based on true love but Othello fails to recognize love of her wife, Desdemona, shortly. Initially Othello believes that he is devoted to love but he is defeated in love at the end. He has achieved many victories in the battlefield but in his own home, he loses the battle of love. His enemy, Iago, spoiled his love and he became an easy prey for Iago. It was only due to his wrong judgment and believing Iago without any confirmation.

Desdemona’s love in friendship for Cassio is real because she knows that Cassio and Othello are best friends from a long period but the jealous Othello interprets it as adulterous love. We witness Emilia’s true love in friendship for Desdemona. She stood up to witness for the honor of her dead mistress against her own lying husband, Iago, and was killed for her love for her mistress. Iago uses the word “love” in a wider and falser manner than the others. Iago even says he loves Desdemona but his intentions were different from others, he could feel some sexual attraction for her. For Iago, love is nothing but leverage.

Theme of jealousy in Othello

The demise of the Othello is based on Jealousy that results what Iago wants. What Iago reveals about the jealousy is, “O beware jealousy; / It is the green ey’d monster, which doth mock / That meat it feeds on” (Act III. scene3, lines 169–170). Iago thinks he knows about jealousy, but his jealousy is not strong as compared to the storm of jealousy he stirs up in Othello. Iago was not aware that his seed of jealousy grown in mind of Othello would grow into very poisonous oaks. Othello’s jealousy was like a furious storm from where escape was not possible. The peak of jealousy was only based on one idea, the idea that his wife, Desdemona, has betrayed him with Cassio, that no other explanation or assurance can penetrate. Jealousy drives him so mad that he cannot stop himself to kill his own beloved wife. Iago avails every chance to raise his jealousy by adding more lies and manipulating those lies into reality for him and he was not aware about motives of his so-called Honest Iago.

Theme of racial prejudice in Othello

Racial prejudice plays an important role in the play and one of the major themes in Othello. We can guess from the view of Brabantio when he says, a Moor (Othello) cannot win a heart of a girl like Desdemona (a Venetian girl) but she was seduced by witchcraft that shows Venetian society has racial prejudice. Desdemona is aware of racial prejudice but she is in true love with Othello and marries him. On the other hand, Othello was also aware with this racial prejudice and he suspects how a girl can be in love with him like Desdemona when seed of jealousy grow in mind of Othello manipulated by Iago. Prejudice was penetrated deeply into the personality of Othello and this absorbed prejudice undermines him with thoughts like “I am not worthy of Desdemona,” “I am not attractive,” “It cannot be true that she really loves me,” and “If she loves me, then there must be something wrong with her.” These thoughts were fixed into the mind of Othello by intrigues of Iago. Half spoken sentences of Iago and his comments on Cassio, when he was meeting with Desdemona, mad Othello mad.

Theme of appearance versus reality in Othello

Appearance and reality is also a significant theme in Othello. Othello demand proofs and these proofs ruined his life. Othello demands for proof form Iago and say: “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore, be sure of it, give me the ocular proof” (act III, scene 3, pages 365–366). How Iago makes him fool by providing fake proofs and Othello believes blindly without exploring for truth and reality. Othello did not believe on Emilia when she justifies true love of Desdemona and believes on Iago considering him his best friend. How Othello believes on fabricated and manipulated story of handkerchief without asking true story from Emilia when he asks from her about Desdemona. How Iago was enemy and how Othello considers him true friend. How Cassio was sincere to Othello and what Othello thinks about him. How Desdemona was pious in love with him and how Othello sees her. Othello fails to judge reality everywhere and push himself into unending jealousy. 

Theme of expectations versus outcome in Othello

We can see that what expectations before marriage of Desdemona and Othello were, and how these expectations turned into demise after their marriage. What were the motives of Iago, and how much he succeeded? How Iago plans to remove Cassio from his post and how he receives a good post at the end? We have also seen that how Emilia was loyal to her mistress, and what she receives in her loyalty. She receives painful death by her own husband in regard of her loyalty to her mistress even after her death. How Othello planned to kill Desdemona and how he kills himself after knowing the reality? How Roderigo attacks Cassio to remove him from his way, and how Iago kills him to make his own way clear? Nothing happened in the play as per expectations but we observed that which was unexpected.  On every scene audience were shocked to know something different from expectation.

Act Wise Summary of Othello

Act wise summary of Othello

Othello play is comprised on five acts. Act (I) has three scenes, act (II) has two scenes, act (III) has four scenes, act (IV) has three scenes, and act (V) has two scenes.

Act I of Summary of Othello

First scene of act 1 opens on a street in Venice. Two men, Roderigo, a nobleman, and Iago, an ancient (captain) in the defense forces, are arguing. Roderigo is in love with a noble lady Desdemona, daughter of Brabantio, a Senator, and to win her love, he has paid heavy sums of money to Iago to pass his gifts to her and praise him to her. Roderigo wants to win her love and hopes to marry her. However, they now have news that Desdemona has eloped with Othello, a Moor (an African) who is a General in the defense forces. Roderigo is worried that he has lost his hope to marry her. Iago tells Roderigo that he hates Othello for promoting Cassio to the rank of lieutenant, a position that Iago thinks he himself deserves for this rank. Now Iago plans to bring about Othello’s downfall, and assures Roderigo that he will have Desdemona. They rush to Brabantio’s house and shout loudly until he comes out onto the balcony. Iago reveals to him that her daughter, Desdemona, has run away with Othello a Moor. Brabantio is enraged, and organizes a search party to find them. Roderigo joins them. Iago immediately move towards Othello and informs him about outbreak of their secret marriage and the Brabantio’s reaction

Iago warns Othello that Brabantio may take a legal attempt to spoil their love marriage, but Othello is confident due to his strong position in military force. Cassio comes to call him foran an urgent meeting about the prevailing situation in Cyprus. Iago reveals Othello’s secret marriage to Cassio. Brabantio’s party arrives there; Brabantio threatens Othello and accuses him of using witchcraft to seduce her daughter, Desdemona. Brabantio orders to arrest Othello but leaves him for the Duke’s summons to the emergency meeting in Cyprus.

There are several reports from Cyprus that a Turkish fleet is expected to attack. The meeting was called for how to be prepared and neutralize the attack. Othello joins the meeting accompanied by Cassio, Iago, Brabantio, and many others, and the Duke appoints Othello to lead the forces immediately to defend Cyprus from expected attack by Turkish fleet. Brabantio tells all the matter to the duke that Othello seduced her innocent daughter, Desdemona, using witchcraft and married her by foul means. At initially Duke promises him to support him if he really used witchcraft. When Brabantio discloses that the man is Othello, Duke calls him immediately to defend himself. Othello appears in front of Duke and reveals his courtship of Desdemona in a very sober and persuasive way. He tells that he did not use any witchcraft or any foul mean to marry her, but she was in love with him due to his adventurous life, and requests the Duke to call Desdemona so that she may justify herself. Duke agrees with him and orders Iago to bring Desdemona here. Iago, with a group, leaves to fetch her. After listening to Othello’s views, Duke declares in favor of Othello: “I think this tale would win my daughter too”. Meanwhile Desdemona arrives and reveals the entire story in front of Duke that she was never seduced by any other means but she is in true love with Othello. She thanks to her father for her upbringing, but now that she is married, her loyalty is to her husband, just as her mother’s loyalty was to Brabantio. Fathers must give way to husbands. Duke accepts their marriage and permits Desdemona to go with her husband, Othello. Duke orders Othello to go immediately to Cyprus to command its defense, and Desdemona requests to join his husband as well. The Duke grants her permission to join Othello. Othello, who was leaving for Cyprus that night, Stopped Iago to accompany and tell him to bring Desdemona later in another ship. He tells to Iago that Emilia, Iago’s wife, will be maid of Desdemona. As Othello departs, Brabantio warns him, “She has deceived her father, and may thee”, but Othello is confident of Desdemona’s love.

Roderigo is depressed and Iago says him that such depression is stupid and convinces him to follow them to Cyprus and you must keep trying to win Desdemona. Iago tells him that soon she will become bored with Othello and there will be a chance for him. Iago assures to help him to get Desdemona and because he hates Othello, says he will help Roderigo have Desdemona and tells again Roderigo to bring plenty of money with him. Now, Iago is on stage, considers the situation in a soliloquy: He has consolidated his source of money, and he has heard a rumor that Othello has had sex with Emilia. Although Iago does not believe the rumor, he acts so just to feed his hatred against Othello. In addition, Iago will have Cassio’s position, which he deserves for him.

Act II of Summary of Othello

Act II takes place in Cyprus, Montano, Governor of Cyprus, is waiting for the arrival of the Venetian forces that was delayed by a violent storm at the sea. A messenger brings the news that the Turkish fleet was so damaged by the violent storm that now Cyprus is not under any threat. Cassio’s ship, and Desdemona’s ship, arrives in Cyprus. Desdemona asks for news of her husband, Othello. Othello arrives there, Desdemona joins Othello, and others go into the fortress.

Iago plans to make use of Cassio. He dislikes him who received the rank promotion he himself wanted.  Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and convince him to remove Cassio from the way. Using Roderigo, Iago arrange a fight that eventually results in demotion of Cassio. Iago, in his soliloquy, reveals his hatred for Othello and reveals his plan, but the details are not yet clear to the audience, but Iago plans to grow seed of jealousy and unrest in Othello’s mind.

At night, a celebration was arranged in honor of Othello’s marriage and for the destruction of the Turkish fleet by violent storm. Othello appoints Cassio to command the night watch during the time of celebration. After party, Othello and Desdemona retire to bed to spend their first night together since their marriage. Now Iago hits a plan and urges Cassio to drink more. Iago incites Roderigo into a fight with drunken Cassio. Othello wakes up and ask to know who started the fight, Iago names Cassio. Othello demote Cassio from his position on the spot. Now Iago give advice to Cassio to ask for help from Desdemona. She will speak on his behalf with her husband to restore his position. Cassio gets agree with his advice, and Iago uses Emilia, his wife, to arrange a private meeting between Desdemona and Cassio.

Act III of Summary of Othello

Now Cassio tries to meet Emilia to take her help to access Desdemona. Iago sends Emilia out to speak with him, and she tells Cassio that Othello and his wife, Desdemona, are discussing what happened last night. Desdemona has already spoken to her husband, Othello, for his restoration of position and Othello gave a positive signal.

Cassio meets Desdemona and requests to her to intercede with her husband, Othello, for restoration of his post. Desdemona agrees because she knows that Cassio is an old friend of Othello’s. Iago manipulate this meeting in such a way that suddenly Othello and Iago enter, Cassio depart quickly because he was ashamed of last light antics. Iago avails the opportunity and passes an undermining comment, “Ha, I like not that”. This comment rankles in Othello’s mind. Desdemona still speaks to Othello in favour of Cassio, Othello is distracted by his private thoughts. The moment Desdemona and Emilia leave, Iago begins to plant seeds of doubt and suspicion in Othello’s mind. Othello is consumed with doubt and suspicion. Iago leaves some sentence half spoken and change the conversation that adds suspicion in minds of Othello. He is burning is state of jealousy, uncertainty and anxiety and demands for proof from Iago that how Desdemona is unfaithful. Iago tells him to ask for handkerchief from Desdemona that he gave him as a gift. (Iago has already manipulated the situation because Emilia founds fallen handkerchief of Desdemona and brings it home. Iago snatch it from Emilia and place that handkerchief on the way of Cassio, Cassio finds that handkerchief and handover to Bianca to make a copy of it and says he will return original one to the owner when he will find the owner.) Iago tells Othello that he has seen Cassio using a handkerchief embroidered with strawberries; Othello identifies this handkerchief as the one he gave to Desdemona as a gift.

When Othello enters home, he claims a headache and asks Desdemona to bind his head with handkerchief. Desdemona tries to ignore his questions about the handkerchief, requesting again for Cassio’s promotion. Othello walks out in fury. Othello’s love has changed into vengeance now. Othello wants to kill Cassio and asks Iago for help and Iago agrees to do it, and then Othello thinks how to kill Desdemona.

Act IV of Summary of Othello

Othello becomes faint and furious when Iago says him that Cassio has confessed to sex with his wife, Desdemona.  Iago once again manipulate a situation when Cassio enters and Iago claims that Othello has epilepsy and ask him to leave for a while and come few moments later.  Meanwhile Iago tells Othello to hide and listen to Cassio. Iago says he will ask from Cassio about his amorous adventures with his wife, Desdemona. Othello hides himself, and Iago talks with Cassio about love affairs with Bianca, a mistress of Cassio. Othello thinks Iago is asking about Desdemona. Then Bianca enters, with a handkerchief, which she throws back at Cassio. Othello sees his Desdemona’s handkerchief in the hands of Cassio’s mistress and now he is sure that Iago is right that her wife is cheating him. He is now convinced by Iago’s proofs and wants to kill both Cassio and Desdemona that very night.

Othello asks Emilia about his wife, but she assures him that there is no such affair between Desdemona and Cassio. Othello ignores it considering that Desdemona is so cunning that she has deceived even her maid. Othello’s changed and threatening attitude towards Desdemona, and calling her “whore” and “strumpet” makes her frightened. Emilia comes in, and Othello leaves. Desdemona is aware that she is being punished, but she does not know the actual reason. Emilia suspects that some wicked has turned Othello against Desdemona. When Desdemona tries to ask from Iago to advise her to pacify Othello, he cleverly says that these are state affairs that make him angry.

Othello orders Desdemona to dismiss her attendant and go to bed. Desdemona share it to Emilia and feels fear of death and request Emilia to wrap her body in a wedding sheet after her death. Then she sings a song.

Act V of Summary of Othello

In the street at night, Iago convinces Roderigo to waylay Cassio. When Cassio comes, Roderigo attacks at him but luckily Cassio is wounded and Roderigo fails to kill him. Iago, who was observing from behind, stabs Cassio in the leg. Cassio cries and Iago runs away. When Othello hears cry, he believes that Iago has murdered Cassio.

In last scene of act V, Desdemona is sleeping on her bed, Othello enters and he is sure what to do next. Desdemona wakens and calls him, but he asks her to pray at once. Suddenly, Desdemona comes to know that he intends to kill her. She is very frightened although she knows that she is not guilty. She weeps and begs him to banish her rather than kill her, or let her live just a little more, but cruel Othello strangles innocent Desdemona with a pillow. During this, Emilia knocks, Othello hides the bed by bed-curtain, and opens the door to see who is knocking. Emilia reports that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Then she hears the voice of Desdemona from the bed. She is saying “falsely murdered” and Emilia shouts for help. Desdemona says that he is innocent and denies telling that anyone has killed her, and dies. Emilia says she is eyewitness and will tell what she has seen. Othello tries to justify that he killed her because of her infidelity. Emilia claims that she was innocent, faithful and loving. Othello tells that Cassio and Desdemona were in bad relations, and your husband, Iago, know it very well. Emilia curses her husband, Iago, calls him a liar, and shouts murder to waken others. Gratiano, Montano, Iago, and others run where Emilia is crying, and she asks her husband, Iago, to defend himself. Iago says that Desdemona was undeniably unfaithful with Othello and she was attached with Cassio, but Emilia knows this is untrue. She tells the whole story of handkerchief, which her husband urged her to steal, and gave it to him. Iago stabs and kills Emilia and runs away. As Emilia dies, she tells Othello that his wife, Desdemona, loved him too much. Othello realizes too late that Iago manipulated his downfall. People catch Iago and bring him back. Cassio and Othello ask why he did it, but Iago does not reveal anything and says he will never speak again. Othello stabs himself falls onto the bed, and dies with his wife. Lodovico handles the situation; he makes Gratiano next of kin of Othello’s house and property. He appoints Cassio as commander and gives him power to sentence Iago. Lodovico returns to Venice with the sad news.

Short Introduction of Characters: Othello

Short Introduction of Characters in Othello

The play, Othello, has limited range of characters. Othello is the protagonist of the play, Iago is the villain, and Desdemona is the heroin in the play. All of them are described in detail below.


Othello is a protagonist of the play. He is a Moor (an African), a general in the Venetian defense force. He is a man of courage and honor and has a good reputation in state of Venice.  He loves a Venetian girl, Desdemona, and marries her. Soon after marriage, he took his wife to campaign against the Turks. Iago, one of his soldiers, hates him, and make him suspicious about his wife that she is in relation with Cassio and inflames his jealousy. Othello, demands proofs. Iago, by making him fool, provides fake proof and makes him more jealous. Othello decides to kill both. Othello ask Iago to kill Cassio and he himself strangles Desdemona. After knowing truth, Othello stabs himself and dies.


Iago is villain and an ancient (captain) in the Venetian defense forces. He hates Othello for promoting Cassio instead of him. He exploits Roderigo, lover of Desdemona, to accomplish his motives. He is expert in making intrigues, and makes Othello suspicious about his wife and manipulates to remove Cassio from his position. He kills his wife at the end when she reveals truth about his intrigues.  Iago, finally charged with his wickedness, he refuses to speak or to repent his actions, and he goes to his punishment still surrounded by mystery.


Desdemona is a noble Venetian lady, daughter of a Senator, Brabantio. She Loves Othello for his courage and adventurous tales. She marries Othello and accompanies him to campaign against Turks in Cyprus. She is innocent, loving, and caring wife. Iago spoils her life by making her husband against her. She beg from her husband not no kill or to banish her or give her some time to prove herself but cruel Othello strangles her with a pillow on her bed. Desdemona says to Emilia that he is innocent and denies telling that anyone has killed her, and dies. She dies declaring her love for his husband.


Brabantio is a Venetian Senator and Desdemona’s father. He is angry at his daughter for celebrating marriage with a Moor, Othello, without his permission. He catches Othello, and charges him for seducing his daughter by using witchcraft. Duke of Venice listen whole matters and accept marriage and permits Desdemona to go with Othello. Brabantio warn Othello that Desdemona has deceived his father and she may deceive you.   


Roderigo is a Venetian nobleman and he is in love with Desdemona. He wants to marry Desdemona and pays Iago to court Desdemona on his behalf. Iago uses him to fulfill his own motives and uses him as a source of money. After marriage of Desdemona, he is disappointed but Iago insist him to follow them and keep trying to get Desdemona. Iago uses Roderigo in an attack on Cassio but Roderigo fails to kill him and Iago kill Roderigo to ensure his silence.


Cassio is a lieutenant in the Venetian defense forces. Cassio accompanied Othello as a best friend when he was courting Desdemona. He is honest, speaks well, and he is lively and trusting. Iago convinces Othello that Cassio is in adulterous relation with Desdemona. Othello ask Iago to kill him but he survives in attack. He is appointed governor of Cyprus after death of Othello.


Bianca is a courtesan (prostitute), in love with Cassio. She is expert in needlework and Cassio asks him to make a copy of a handkerchief that Othello gave it to Desdemona as a gift. Desdemona dropped it and Emilia found it, and brought it to home. Iago snatches it and place it on the way of Cassio to manipulate it as a proof for Othello that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. Bianca throws it back at Cassio, believing it is the token of his new love.


Emilia is Iago’s wife and maid of Desdemona. She knows about her husband, Iago, better, and she is suspicious of his bad actions and motives. She is loyal to her mistress and when Othello inquires her about Desdemona, she justifies her chastity and says she carries true love for her husband. She witnesses death of Desdemona and reveals it to all. She receives death by her own husband, when she reveals Iago’s plan to all.

The Duke of Venice

The Duke of Venice is the leader of the governing body of the city state of Venice. He appoints Othello to command the forces defending Venice against the Turkish attack on Cyprus. He also listen Brabantio’s charge on Othello for seducing his daughter but after listening whole matter, he urges Brabantio to accept his daughter’s marriage and permits her to go with Othello.


He is brother of Brabantio. He and Lodovico find Cassio wounded after Roderigo stabs him to kill. After suicide of Othello, Lodovico makes him next of kin of Othello’s house and property.


He is cousin of Desdemona. After the death of Desdemona and Emilia, Lodovico questions Othello and Cassio together, thus revealing the truth. Lodovico handles the situation after death of Othello; he makes Gratiano next of kin of Othello’s house and property. He appoints Cassio as commander and gives him power to sentence Iago. Lodovico returns to Venice with the sad news.


He is Othello’s predecessor as the governor of Cyprus. He is Othello’s best friend and a loyal supporter.

Brief Introduction of Othello by William Shakespeare

An introduction to Othello

An Introduction of Othello

Othello is one of the most famous plays among Shakespearean tragedies. It has a verity of themes: Love, jealousy, racism, prejudice, appearance and reality, possessiveness, intrigue, betrayal, etc. Unlike other Shakespearean tragedies, King Lea, Macbeth, and Hamlet, Othello is a pure domestic tragedy as it deals with domestic issues of a married couple: the husband’s jealousy and the wife’s ignorance that lead to demise and bloodshed at the end.

Othello is simplest in its form with well-structured and single unified plot. It has limited numbers of characters with equal involvement and everyone is performing his own individual role, which increase its comprehensibility. Othello has often been described as a “tragedy of character” and that is why it is a domestic tragedy.

A brief Story of Othello

Othello, An African Moor, General in Venetian Military Force, married to a Venetian girl Desdemona. Iago, one of the soldiers under Othello’s command, hates Othello for not promoting him to the position of the lieutenant and plans for the downfall of Othello. To achieve his motives, Iago uses his friend Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona and wants to marry her, to pave his own way. Iago tells Roderigo that Othello preferred Cassio although I deserve for this post.

Iago plans a web to entrap Cassio for demotion by making him drunk and put him on a fight with Roderigo meanwhile Othello appears and ask who is responsible for this fight. Iago blames Cassio and Othello removes him from his position as a punishment.  Iago manipulates this situation by asking Cassio to ask for help from Desdemona to get back his position. Meanwhile, Iago creates suspicion in mind of Othello that Cassio is in adulterous relation with his wife, Desdemona. Iago, as a proof, manipulate Cassio’s meeting with Desdemona for getting back his position and Othello suspicion gets fire to see that his wife is in relation with other Venetian and he thinks that he is Black Moor and how a Venetian girl can love him.

Othello plans to remove both to neutralize his jealousy and ask Iago to kill Cassio and he himself take the task to kill Desdemona. Iago uses Roderigo to kill Cassio, but Roderigo fails to kill Cassio who gets wounded only, Iago kills Roderigo. At the same time, Othello kills his wife, Desdemona. Emilia, wife of Iago, who was maid to Desdemona witness death of her mistress and reveals it to all. Othello tell her that he killed her because she was in relation with Cassio. Emilia justifies Desdemona’s true love and says that her husband, Iago, mad you mad in this jealousy by his multiple intrigues. When Othello comes to know what reality is, he stabs himself and dies with his wife.