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Negativism in “Othello” by William Shakespeare


Othello is one of the most popular plays by William Shakespeare. It has a lot of themes that intricate the mind of a viewer and a reader as well. The role of this play is really significant for contemporary human beings. It was outlined by William Shakespeare in the medieval times. It is still apparent today. It is meant that the themes of betrayal, treachery, fallacy and revenge are heard throughout the whole play. Characters of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Cassio are interwoven in a juncture of different feelings, intentions and deeds. In this, respect this work by Shakespeare needs thorough analysis on main aspects of the tragedy. People in modern society still repeat the tragedy of Othello, because bad intentions cannot be abolished totally.

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Every negative feeling can move a man to insane actions. Thereupon, Othello is prone to be betrayed and provoked. It is done by people from his surroundings. A dramatic touch considers the fact that Othello cannot recognize that he was manipulated intentionally. His arm of service and family affairs cannot go together. This is why it was a weak point for his enemies. It is seen when Othello thinks of his “enemy number one” from the positive viewpoint:

Iago is most honest.

Michael, good night: to-morrow with your earliest

Let me have speech with you (Shakespeare 2:3).

The fate of Othello is in that he gets stuck into passions centered on his wife Desdemona. Unfortunately, the human nature stands on some vital principles or traditions for a particular community. The tragedy is in the fact that some people do not mind these strong objectives. Others use them to destroy a strong person.

Iago uses circumstances, so that to hurt the state of mind of Othello. It is a curious thing that “before we meet Othello, we are utterly dependent on Iago’s and Roderigo’s descriptions on him” (Adelman 37). It is not surprising why his words start the play. Jealousy takes over him from the very start. Looking at Othello, the Moor from Venice, he cannot make up his mind to the success of the Moorish general. “Othello’s mounting anguish under the impact of Iago’s scheming is very moving, and the irrationality of the Moor’s jealousy is obvious to every spectator” (Wangh 202). Othello’s assurance in Iago is seen in the final scene when Othello kills Desdemona:

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No, his mouth is stopp’d;

Honest Iago hath ta’en order for’t (Shakespeare 5:2).

This never stopped Othello thinking that Iago is a really devoted ensign. Moreover, the protagonist is always proud of him. He never blames Iago, while Iago organized such circumstantial atmosphere of treachery, betrayal, revenge and murder.

The more Othello wants to make kind deeds, the more he fails. The picture of passions in Othello grows with each moment when his temptation to know the truth reminds him the words of Iago. In this respect Othello wants to make up the truth in relations with Desdemona. Alas, he falls short of the rational deeds that were needful to resolve the problem. In some episodes the betrayal of Othello by Iago was not recognized by the protagonist due to some factors. One of them is that Othello was suspicious and in some places it was measured with Paranoia. It can be extracted from the episode with a handkerchief:

That is a fault.

That handkerchief

Did an Egyptian to my mother give;

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She was a charmer, and could almost read

The thoughts of people: she told her, while

she kept it (Shakespeare 3:4),

Thus, one may say that Othello is a man of passions. A reader can designate rather contrasting feelings of “pity and fear, sympathy and repulsion, sickening hope and dreadful expectation” when glancing at the main character and his deeds (Bradley 177).

Desdemona unintentionally became a victim of a cruel game. Sexual jealousy is the factor that intended Othello to commit a murder. “There is a dangerous form of psychosis which is called the “Othello syndrome” as its main theme consists in a delusional belief in infidelity of the spouse” (Todd and Dewhurst 367). In fact, Desdemona was shocked too much. Her expectations were high. She describes it in the song that initially pays attention on her unhappiness:

I called my love false love; but what said he then?

If I court moe women, you’ll couch with moe men (Shakespeare 4:3).

She was really devoted to her husband, whom she called “My Lord”.

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However, strong male feelings are usually considered to be above a fragile nature of a female person. The sorrow of Desdemona is in the fact that her love as well as her life are under the abysm of intrigues. She tries to enlighten Othello by means of her cute and good reputation. However, she fails to make him realize the absurdness of the situation.

Othello was involved into the vortex of emotionally dreadful circumstances due to prejudices from the side of his surroundings. The humanity cannot reduce all biases related to the appearance of a person. It was so always. Thus, Othello’s ensigns, Cassio and especially Iago, experienced such attitudes toward the protagonist. Envy and hatred in most points drive Iago to more manipulation with the characters and their sincere feelings.

One of the points is that Othello is a Moor. He goes through the transformation of his individuality. His terrible deeds and inability to control passions and rage are inflicted easily by his roots. Needless to say, that his origin could provoke Iago views on Othello “from gracious virtue to black damnation” (Vitkus 123). To say more, from the psychological point of view the fear of religious conversion could provoke the surroundings of Othello acting against him. The tragic hero can be called one of the most romantic. However, he is also considered by critics to be “painfully exciting and the most terrible” (Bradley 176).

In fact, the Ottoman Empire was distinctively felt by European residents from the side of the North and West Africa. The first ones appeared in London just at the time when Shakespeare was about to write a new play. It is supposed that “silence about the prevailing racist tendencies in Othello criticism actually supports racist doctrine and practice” (Orkin 254). Othello became the protagonist in the person of a Moorish general. Thus, his deed could not but provide some kind of awareness and psychological impact on the audience.


To sum up, the feelings and passions of Othello describe the nature of a human being in all times. It cannot be called ever-changing, but stable in negative qualities. Betrayal stands, as the most viable feature that is apparent in the whole play.

It was inflicted by Iago’s envy and hatred that caused jealousy in Othello. The result of these psychological manipulations indicates the murder of Desdemona. The tragedy of this play is entire for human beings. It touches upon social, religious and mental affairs of people in course of a particular time. Hence, a reader should evaluate this play in terms of descriptive details in each among main characters. William Shakespeare discovered stable negativism in people and depicted it in his characters. So it should become a lesson for everyone today.

Works cited

Adelman, Janet. “Iago’s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello,” (1997):37-42. Web.

Bradley, Adam C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and MacBeth. New York: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Orkin, Martin. “Othello and the “plain face” Of Racism,” (1987): 254-273. Web.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. The Literature Network, 2009. Web.

Todd, John and Dewhurst, Kenneth. “The Othello Syndrome: A Study in the Psychopathology of Sexual Jealousy.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 122(4) (1955):367-374.

Vitkus, Daniel J. “Turning Turk in Othello: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor,” 1997. Web.

Wangh, Martin. “Othello: The Tragedy of Iago.” Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19 (1950): 202-212.

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