Drama Analysis on Othello
Essay 2 Prompt: Drama Analysis
ASSIGNMENT: Identify a specific and intriguing element of Shakespeare’s Othello that connects to one of the play’s themes. Since part of your essay grade is based on your critical thinking, make an effort to be original. (I have read about a billion essays “arguing” that Othello is jealous and that the play’s theme is that jealousy is destructive.) I have provided some optional sample topics on the second page of this prompt. You are welcome to change or combine any of the topics to suit you or to ignore them entirely and just develop your own topic. Write an essay that presents a cohesive argument about a focused, interesting aspect of Othello and how that aspect of Othello contributes to one of the play’s themes: The primary way people go wrong is by writing an essay that just summarizes portions of the play. Simply explaining what the lines mean in 21st century English is not sufficient; you must present your point of view about some debatable element and then support that point of view with textual evidence. Ultimately, your essay should explain how your topic and your point of view about that topic are important to how we interpret the play and its themes.
ESSAY REQUIREMENTS: Construct a logical and thoughtful academic essay:
• Open with an introduction paragraph that provides relevant context for your analysis. Your audience has read the play, so do not explain the basic plotline or state obvious facts (e.g., “Desdemona is Othello’s and Brabantio’s daughter” or “Iago is the antagonist”). State your thesis at the end of your introduction, making a claim about one specific aspect of the play.
• Organize the essay logically, clearly, and cohesively; use topic sentences, point sentences, and transitions to guide readers and to clarify your train of thought. Your topic sentences should explicitly state a claim about Othello that you will prove in the paragraph.
• Provide specific, concrete textual evidence from the play that supports your thesis and topic sentences. Use short direct quotations to show readers the lines you are discussing. Quote only what you need; do not use block quotations unless you are quoting dialogue.
• Discuss the evidence thoroughly; explain the meaning of your quotations, and demonstrate why they are significant and how they support the topic sentences. Push yourself beyond obvious, superficial interpretations and try to dig deeper and think critically about the text. (Note: Analysis doesn’t entail paraphrasing/restating a line, but explaining its significance.)
• Conclude with a paragraph that summarizes and synthesizes your essay; explain So what. Your conclusion should explore the larger, thematic implications of your argument.
• Use MLA style for citations and formatting. Type in 12-point Times New Roman or Calibri.
• This is a formal essay: use Standard English grammar and avoid 1st and 2nd person POV.
• The essay must be a minimum of 750 words in length, not including the Works Cited page.
Note: This essay is not a research paper; the assignment emphasizes close reading of and critical thinking about a play. However, you may use the Oxford English Dictionary to investigate a word or another primary text to study an allusion. Overall, the essay should present your interpretation of Othello. Please don’t Google the play—not even “just to get ideas”; don’t risk plagiarizing.
SUBMISSION. Your revised essay is due on Monday, October 18th. You must upload an electronic copy of your essay to the correct dropbox.
OPTIONAL LIST of TOPICS (to help with brainstorming and getting started) Most of these ideas are still fairly broad and need to be narrowed to produce an effective essay. You are welcome to change or combine these topics to suit you or just to develop your own topic.
1. What does the play argue about otherness, including but not limited to race? To what extent does “outsider” equal “other”? How does the shift in setting affect the characters’— and the readers’— understanding of otherness?
2. What does the play suggest about language and speech? What does Iago’s communication demonstrate? Why does he speak effectively in both prose and verse? What does Othello’s communication demonstrate? Why does he repeat that he’s a bad speaker? Why does the quality of his language shift so widely over the course of the play? What does the female characters’ speech suggest about their identities and/or their roles in the play and society?
3. To what extent do the military and the characters’ lives as soldiers affect the play? How does Shakespeare juxtapose the militaristic with the domestic? What is the connection between the play’s treatment of military men and its conception/discussion of honor?
4. Why does Shakespeare use a motif of sight and seeing? What are the literal and symbolic implications of seeing in the play?
5. What does the play suggest about personal agency? Iago, who is listed as “a villain” in the dramatis personae, is often blamed for everything, but why are the other characters not held responsible for their own actions? (But what are the implications of blaming others?)
6. How is Cassio and Bianca’s relationship different from the other romantic relationships in the play? Why is theirs the only relationship that doesn’t end in tragedy?
7. What is the function of the setting in the play? How is Venice different than Cyprus? Why did Shakespeare use two settings (most plays have one setting—per Aristotle’s unities)?
8. What is the role of religion in the play? Which characters are religious? How does Iago treat religion? What about Desdemona? Emilia? Othello?
9. To what extent is Emilia a good or a bad character? Does she exhibit loyalty or betrayal? To whom should she be loyal? How do her obligations and decisions compare and contrast with Desdemona’s obligations and decisions?
10. How does Roderigo function in the text? What does his presence suggest to readers? In what ways does Roderigo contribute to the play’s themes?
11. How is the concept of honor important? Which characters are honorable? When and why?
12. Does Desdemona die a virgin? What does that suggest? If not, what does that suggest?
13. What is Shakespeare suggesting about marriage? How does the play’s discussion of fidelity and commitment intersect with its statement about marriage?
14. Hubris is the conventional tragic flaw; to what extent is Othello prideful? Which other characters demonstrate pride? How does it affect them? (Connection to one’s reputation?)
15. What is Shakespeare saying about the nature of Truth? Class/wealth? Revenge? Duty?
Finally, here is a sample thesis statement. Notice that it includes a claim about the function of the handkerchief and also contains a claim about one of the play’s themes.
• In Othello, the handkerchief symbolizes Desdemona and Othello’s relationship and it demonstrates the fragility of their union; however, like so much else in the play, the handkerchief is a lie—a false symbol manufactured by Iago—emphasizing that even things which appear to be clear and straightforward “ocular proof” can actually conceal the truth.