This unit will be based primarily upon the 1995 movie version. It is an open notes test. Any handwritten notes you take on the film will be allowed on the test. That includes anything you write while watching, anything you copy off this web site, or any other source you get information from.
The Cast of Characters
The information for each character is a modified version found on No Fear Shakespeare. It would not be a bad idea to go there for a summary of what is going on to beef up your notes a bit.
Othello - The play’s protagonist and hero. Othello is the highly respected general of the armies of Venice. He is a Moor, or North African. He is an eloquent and powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, Othello is easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his self-consciousness about being a racial and cultural outsider. He possesses a free and open nature that his ensign Iago exploits to twist Othello’s love for his wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy.
Desdemona - The daughter of a Venetian senator. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. While in some ways stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed. Be clear on this - Desdemona loves Othello only.
Iago - Othello’s ensign (Othello's 2nd highest soldier, just under the rank of lieutenant) and the villain of the play. At various points in the play, he claims to be motivated by different things: resentment that Othello passed him over for a promotion in favor of Michael Cassio; jealousy because he heard a rumor that Othello slept with Iago’s wife, Emilia; suspicion that Cassio slept with Emilia too. Iago gives the impression that he’s tossing out plausible motivations as he thinks of them, and that we’ll never understand what really drives his villainy.
Emilia - Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, Emilia is deeply attached to Desdemona and distrustful of her husband.
Roderigo - A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.
Bianca - A prostitute in Cyprus. Bianca’s favorite customer is Cassio, who teases her with promises of marriage but laughs at her behind her back.
Brabantio (Desdemona's dad) - A senator. As a friend of Othello, Brabantio feels betrayed when the general marries his daughter in secret.
The Duke of Venice - The guy with the cool hat who is politically in charge.
Montano - a friend of Othello's and Cassio's in Cyprus. Cassio loses his position because he gets into a fight with him while drunk.
Lodovico - You won't need to know him for the test. I included him here because of his hair!
Here are some play advertisements for Othello. Do any of them look good to you?
Can't get enough? You can also try this modernized remake using basketball instead of war as the background.
Still need more? Then you can check out this Japanese mange that takes the name and the themes, but not the charcaters. Instead of Othello and Iago, we get YaYa the Cry-ya. Personally, I'll stick with the original, but if anyone wants to do a review on either this or the above movie, I'll work out some extra credit.
The Strawberry Handkerchief
This handkerchief was given to Othello's mom by an Egyptian gypsy. This gypsy told her that if she gave the handkerchief to her husband, he would stay faithful to her as long as he had it. If her were to lose it, he would be reckless with his love and attentions. After his death, the mom gave it to Othello and told him to give it to the one he would marry to keep her faithful.
Iago uses this as proof that Cassio and Desdemona are cheating. He got it because his wife took it for him as a favor.
The strawberries on the handkerchief are not just there for looks. They are symbols of love and perfection.
Click the cartoon for a more detailed analysis of the handkerchief.
The Chess Symbols
This is over the top symbolism. Normally when you have chess pieces used as symbols, the black piece has the archetype meaing of evil; however, in this case, the black piece is Othello because he is a moor. The white queen is Desdemona. The white knight that comes between them is who? It's not that hard to figure it out and it foreshadows Iago's plan to get his revenge.
Putting Out the Lights
Right before Othello goes to kill Desdemona, he puts out the lamps hanging on the wall. Before putting out the last candle he has, he says,
"Put out the light" Then he looks at her, knowing what he is about to do and says again, "Put out the light."
This time, the light is not the candle. It is instead it is symbolic. Light is often a symbol of beauty, truth, and life. Desdemona is the light of his life and he is about to put it out. Desdemona is also faithful to him, but he does not see this truth. Dark deeds are often done in the dark.
I will ask you to identify who said the quote and what does it mean in the context of the story. Your best way to prepare for this is to highlight the quote and stick it into Google and see what pops up for it.
"Look to her Moor, if you have eyes to see,
"Thus do I make my fool my purse."
"I hate the Moor."
"Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,
"One who loved not wisely, but too well."
"Demand me nothing, what you know, you know.
Some Good Links to Help You
Sparknotes Video of Othello (the whole play summed up in nine minutes - It's worth it to get your notes caught up)
Sparknotes: Othello - a great place to go to get a summary of the play.
Othello - the game
This game is also called Reversi, but was renamed after the play Othello because of the black and white imagery with it. You can play it online but this version changed the colors, so the imagery is lost. Alas.
Extra Credit Question
Who died in the play off stage, but survived in the movie?
Brabantio (Desdemona's dad)
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