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Pink | 6554 comments This is the discussion thread for Othello by William Shakespeare, our Old School Classic Group Read for June 2017.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


message 2: by Katy, New School Classics (new)

Katy (kathy_h) | 9558 comments Mod
There was a buddy read for the play earlier. You can view that discussion here: Othello BR


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments Something occurred to me last night whilst watching the play on TV - daughter made a comment about how she thought it would end, she was right, of course, but I was surprised she didn't already know the story. Because the thing about Shakespeare is that even without having read his plays, we know how they all end.
I have always thought that his plays are all cliches and actually cited that as the main reason for not wanting to read anything by him.
What I realised, though, was that those things are only cliches because of Shakespeare. That in his time the themes and motifs we all see from a mile off nowadays were new and groundbreaking.

It sounds melodramatic, but I genuinely believe that this book has changed my entire perception of Shakespeare.


Pink | 6554 comments It's nice to hear that this book has changed your perception of Shakespeare for the better. Like a few others on here, until recently my only experience of Shakespeare was through school and I hadn't read or watched his plays since then. I'm glad to have finally given him a try as an adult and I've found that I really appreaciate and enjoy his work.


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Amy Eckert | 117 comments I know the play, Ive seen the movie, so I'm taking the time to actually sit and READ it. It's interesting how when you are young you think of literature, especially of this time period and older, as being totally stuffy, boring, and dry. Yet- it is just as graphic and bawdy as things are today. In the opening scene, when Roderigo is talking to Brabantio and saying those things "the beast with two backs" and "tupping the black ram" (or something close to that) it is extremely graphic. I love this story, and think Iago, next to Lady Macbeth, is my favorite Shakespearean character. He'd be so much fun to play!


message 6: by Cynda (last edited Jun 03, 2017 11:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cynda | 3041 comments This is definitely my 2nd read of Othello and possibly the 3rd. I am this time doing a word game, not a count, no not a count. Writers use word repetitions to get our attention, to tell us to pay attention here. In Othello, Shakespeare is being over-the-top in with his repetitions. He repeatedly uses words such as
Honest
Noble
Soul
Sin
Evil
Money
Fair
Jealousy
Proof
And probably another set of words just as long.
I am soon to start Act IV. I am looking forward to seeing what words Shakespeare repeats as the tragedy nears.
oohhhhh Danger lurks here! Do not listen to the villain! Excuse him from service!


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments Cynda wrote: "This is definitely my 2nd read of Othello and possibly the 3rd. I am this time doing a word game, not a count, no not a count. Writers use word repetitions to get our attention, to tell us to pay a..."

That's really interesting, Cynda. I might run through it again looking just for those words.


Paula W | 553 comments Oh my goodness. I just realized that I never reviewed this when I read it not too many months ago.


Nina Ive | 69 comments I had never read this in school or seen it before so I didn't know how it would end. I naively hoped good would win over evil. but no. What is the view on Iago? Was his motive purely that he thought Othello had slept with his wife? what did he have against Cassio? and what is an ancient?


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments I think Iago was purely driven by race. In almost every speech/rant against him there is some reference to Othello's colour. I didn't really feel that he would much have cared if someone else did sleep with his wife; he wasn't exactly devoted to her!

Google describes Iago as:
Othello's ensign (a senior position also known as “ancient” or “standard-bearer”) - I guess appointed a valet-type role assigned by the senate rather than chosen by Othello as Cassio was. (Which may account for the hatred of Cassio - if they were technically performing the same role but one placed and the other chosen it makes sense the placed one would feel himself inferior to the other.)


Cynda | 3041 comments Tonia wrote: "Cynda wrote: "This is definitely my 2nd read of Othello and possibly the 3rd. I am this time doing a word game, not a count, no not a count. Writers use word repetitions to get our attention, to te..."

Great, Tonia. Let me know if you do :-)


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin | 124 comments Oh no! I got this book because of Paula but I don't have time to squeeze it in =( Well, squeeze for that tome is putting it mildly =)


Paula W | 553 comments You can do it, Melissa! It is really short.


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin | 124 comments Your funny =D


Cynda | 3041 comments Tonia wrote: "I think Iago was purely driven by race. In almost every speech/rant against him there is some reference to Othello's colour. I didn't really feel that he would much have cared if someone else did s..."

Hi Tonia. In Act I, scene 1, lines 42-66. Iago speaks of others who have learned how to show/display their service to their master, here Othello. Iago determines that he will find a way to prove his attitude of service to Othello. He was Cassio's job. He really wnts respect.
I thought it might be a matter of class. And it may be. Those whose families teach them and show them how to express their service to their employers get ahead. Iago may or may not have had that advantage. I would guess not.
I hope this helps.


message 16: by Cynda (last edited Jun 05, 2017 07:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cynda | 3041 comments I had forgotten that so many people died in this play. I know it is a Shakespearean play and all that. I just forgot. Good to re-read. I enjoyed my word game that I mentioned in message. I have some words to add (Still not a complete list of repeated words.)
Heaven
Knave
Strumpet
Murder
Death
Strong language when said by a Shakespearean actor and when fear, anger, jealousy give rise to these words.


Emily Dybdahl | 147 comments Amy wrote: "I know the play, Ive seen the movie, so I'm taking the time to actually sit and READ it. It's interesting how when you are young you think of literature, especially of this time period and older, a..."

I was also a little surprised by the bawdy comments (made mostly by Iago) in this play too. Mostly because the introduction told me how much plays were censured by the government in that time period, and also because I didn't notice that type of language in previous Shakespeare plays that I've read.


Paula W | 553 comments Emily wrote: "Amy wrote: "I know the play, Ive seen the movie, so I'm taking the time to actually sit and READ it. It's interesting how when you are young you think of literature, especially of this time period ..."

Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet never stopped with the sex jokes. Pardon my crudeness, but if you look closely enough, nearly everything Mercutio said was a "dick joke".


Melanti | 2384 comments Emily wrote: "I was also a little surprised by the bawdy comments (made mostly by Iago) in this play too. Mostly because the introduction told me how much plays were censured by the government in that time period, ..."

I think the censoring in Shakespeare had more to do with politics than language, didn't it? There's a LOT of dirty jokes in Shakespeare's plays. Some really, really bawdy stuff.

Though sometimes it takes some extra effort to notice since our slang has changed over the centuries... For instance, "nothing" is slang for "vagina" which puts a whole different meaning to the title "Much Ado About Nothing."

Or, once you know that bit of slang, Hamlet trying to lay his head on Ophelia's lap while talking about "nothing" being a thought that belongs between a woman's legs is rather crude.

It's not all puns and double entendres, either. There's another play (I forget which one) where a man is reading a woman's letter and says he recognizes her by her C's, U's, 'n' T's. That's pretty blatant.


message 20: by Emily (last edited Jun 08, 2017 05:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emily Dybdahl | 147 comments Haha, I guess it's been so long since I read Romeo and Juliet that I forgot about the innuendo. Probably time for a re-read one of these days. ..


message 21: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy After reading Act I I'm surprised that Shakespeare made this story into a play. His intent, however, seems to be about showing how people (like Iago) can use their power over others who are susceptible to their influence for the simple sake that they can. Iago's ostensible motive that he had been demoted by Othello and did not get the job that he felt should have been his almost rings hollow considering the effort he makes in attempting to manipulate a situation so that Othello suffers for his decision. Iago's deception is made more despicable since he knows that Othello has total faith in him and he uses this trust to enact his revenge. It seems to be made the easier since Othello has the odds against him in that he thinks himself so wonderful in everyone's eyes that he would be forgiven (and rightly so) the slight of not asking his father-in-laws approval before marrying his daughter. I've never read this play of Shakespeare's, so I am looking forward to what now transpires in the Second Act!


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1673 comments I think the most interesting part was how Othello saw everything as proof, after he had started to believe Iago. He only sees what supports his suspension and even misunderstands somethings that way.


message 23: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 627 comments *Reads Act I

Iago is a bad man!

*Double checks title page.

I would feel better about the next four acts if this play was called The Painful Death of Iago


message 24: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Fountain | 290 comments My recent Shakespeare reads were comedies, and those some of the lesser known plays, so this was quite a change – a tragedy, and one of The Bard’s better known plays. It’s been decades since I read a Shakespeare tragedy and I’d forgotten just how – well – how tragic they are.

Othello is the tragic hero, and I get that, brave defender of the republic and all, but I found him quite fickle and faithless. He loses faith far too easily with both Cassio and Desdemona, and is far too trusting of the unctuous Iago. That is my only complaint with this play. But plays are supposed to be enacted – not read. I’ve never seen this performed but I imagine a good performance could cover this small complaint.

Overall very good, but yeah – tragic. Have some Jerome K. Jerome or P.G. Wodehouse handy after reading Othello.

my full review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimeques...


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Amy Eckert | 117 comments Question, was Emilia present when Othello was going off on Desdemona about the handkerchief? I feel like she was and jAustin didn't say anything.

Also, I don't get why so many actors think Hamet is like THE Shakespeare role. I'd rather play Iago any day. He gets to be charming, manipulative, evil, and funny. I love how he is so "tentative" when telling Othello about his suspicions, knowing Othello will go nuts. "Oh, what? I just thought, oh, never mind..."

One more thing: I noticed when Othello says he will kill Desdemona, and a Iago tells him not to do that, butbtonfocus on Cassio, was he actually trying to spare Desdemona? Also, are we supposed to believe the "oh, he slept with my wife" excuse? Wouldn't there be a bit more familiarity between Emilia and Othello if that were the case? Wouldn't it kind of show on Othello's part, getting all jealous and calling his wife a whore, in front of Iago, someone who's wife he had slept with? I didn't buy that, but why else would Shakespeare put it in there? Why wouldn't he leave it as "I'm angry I got passed over"? Man, I love this play!


Melanti | 2384 comments Amy wrote: "Question, was Emilia present when Othello was going off on Desdemona about the handkerchief? I feel like she was and jAustin didn't say anything. ..."

The productions of this that I've seen she just stands in the background and looks horrified but doesn't speak up.


In the original folktale this was based off of, Emilia and Iago are married, and she's terrified of Iago, which is why she doesn't speak up until after Iago dies.

And in the original story, Iago was in love with Desdemona, and assumed the reason she wouldn't have an affair with him is that she was already having an affair with Cassio. There's all sorts of love triangles and love quadrangles in the original folktale.


Francisca | 368 comments Fun fact: Desdemona is apparently the Shakespearean part that spends the most time on stage dead, without possibility of being switched by a dummy.

Phil wrote: "*Reads Act I

Iago is a bad man!

*Double checks title page.

I would feel better about the next four acts if this play was called The Painful Death of Iago"


The play does seem to revolve around Iago's various webs: he doesn't just manipulate Othello, but his own wife, Cássio, Roderigo... and if Emilia hadn't spoken at the end, it's unclear that he wouldn't have managed to dance his way out of the final denouement.


Ashley Mehrens | 13 comments I love the complexities that make Iago such a compelling villain. I personally think most of his motivation is anger at being passed over for the position. I think he's ambitious and he's seeing others he considers less worthy (Othello for his inconstancy and Cassio for his womanizing) being honored over him. I think all the other annoyances (like the rumor about Othello and Emilia) become greater in light of his bruised ambitions. I do enjoy how much he manipulates the others, but I love even more that his own wife ended up being his undoing.


Kaylee (kaylee66) | 50 comments I agree with Ashley. I think most of his motivation is anger at being passed over for the position, but it's not just simple jealousy, but resentment that more deserving ordinary working men like him get passed over in favor of less worthy people with connections. So to balance the scales, he feels justified in cheating a system that he sees as being discriminatory and unjust towards people like him.

Then from there, I think he just got into a vicious cycle; the more he manipulated everyone, the more justified he felt, the more malicious he became. And his conscience never told him that he'd gone too far, because he had convinced himself that everyone was getting what they deserved, and the further he went, the more this conviction grew in his mind, until it was the only thing in there.


Nente | 780 comments Loved reading the discussion, and yes I agree that Iago is one of the most compelling Shakespeare's characters - right up there with Richard III as a villain - but on this second reading of the play I found myself putting male characters aside, and thinking more and more about Desdemona.
I find the most remarkable thing about her is that she really is in love with Othello, not just hero-worshipping or submitting to the fascination of someone so different from her whole social circle. She transcends not only stupid racial considerations, but the simple subversion of racism as well. Here is the truest tolerance: whatever she feels is not because of race and not despite it - it is really what she feels for this individual person, her soul speaking directly to his. I love this, I can't find more words.

A musical aside: just listened again to Kathleen Ferrier's beautiful recording of the Willow song. I need a moment to cry here.


Francisca | 368 comments Nente wrote: "Loved reading the discussion, and yes I agree that Iago is one of the most compelling Shakespeare's characters - right up there with Richard III as a villain - but on this second reading of the pla..."

I love your description of Desdemona, Nente! It's very eloquent


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Phil Jensen | 627 comments My take on Iago is that he is a very small person. He gets passed over in favor of Cassio, who seems to be a better candidate for the position anyway. A healthy attitude would be to develop skills and seek opportunities to show them, but Iago seeks to feel better about himself by tearing others down. He seems convinced that he's more deserving than they are, but does absolutely nothing to prove it.

I was fascinated by the racial aspect of the play. An soldier of African descent is placed in charge of a European military unit as a result of his valor in combat. If this play had come out 100 years later, it would have been banned in half of the United States.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1673 comments Phil wrote: ".... An soldier of African descent is placed in charge of a European military unit as a result of his valor in combat. If this play had come out 100 years later, it would have been banned in half of the United States. "

I am not well into US history. If the play had come out in 1703-ish it would have been banned in most of the US? Why?


Francisca | 368 comments I think Phil maybe meant 200 years later? Given that the US didn't exist in 1703... :P


message 35: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 627 comments Francisca wrote: "I think Phil maybe meant 200 years later? Given that the US didn't exist in 1703... :P"

Ha, ha, yes.

Slavery was a source of censorship in the United States, and it was already in full swing during the 1700s when the US was still the "thirteen colonies." Anything that criticized the concept of slavery or implied that Africans were capable of being responsible for anything would have been suppressed.

I got curious about this and googled around, but couldn't find much. Abigail Adams criticized Othello in the late 1700s, and her son John Q. Adams objected to it in the early 1800s. I also know that Les Mis was censored in the US, but I can't find any other examples.


Melanti | 2384 comments Interracial marriage wasn't fully legal in the US until the late 1960s, so I wouldn't be too surprised if there was a bit conflict over that aspect of the play before then.

Though, I can't recall seeing it on any challenged book lists.


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Bob | 4959 comments Mod
Phil wrote: " I also know that Les Mis was censored in the US, but I can't find any other examples.
..."


I am not even a novice historian, but I seem to remember reading that Les Mis was extremely popular in the early 1860's especially among the soldiers of the Confederate States.

I can't site the source, but it may have been in The Civil War: A Narrative, my memory has never been overly impressive


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Phil Jensen | 627 comments Bob wrote: "I am not even a novice historian, but I seem to remember reading that Les Mis was extremely popular in the early 1860's especially among the soldiers of the Confederate States. ."

The US edition was censored to remove Hugo's criticisms of slavery.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1673 comments Bob wrote: "Phil wrote: " ... remember reading that Les Mis was extremely popular in the early 1860's especially among the soldiers of the Confederate States. ."

Gone with the Wind says so, and it is nicknamed "Lee's miserable"


message 40: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4959 comments Mod
I know that this is not on the topic of Othello, but I am curious. Les Miserables was published in 1862. The American Civil War was very much about abolishing slavery. Why would the United States censor any anti-slavery sentiment? I can see the Confederacy not being happy about anti-slavery rhetoric. But by 1862 could the South have done much to censor a 1500 pages book. We’re talking the very middle of a devastating war. With New Orleans captured and the Union Naval blockade, was the South doing much trading in literature, or were the books read by confederate soldiers coming off the battlefield?

It’s been about six years since I read Les Mis, but I just don’t remember any big anti-slavery discussion in the book. Val Jean was treated horribly as a state prisoner. Fantine was forced to become a prostitute in order to provide care for Cosette, and Cosette was an abused child being forced into hard work. Like I’ve said my memory for detail is not great, I just don’t remember Les Mis having any discussion about slavery.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1673 comments I don't think anyone said that "Les miserable" had been banned in relation to slavery.

I googled a bit, and it seems that:

“... the Catholic Church's list of books forbidden to members of the faith.
Les Miserables made the Index in 1864 and according to Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds, stayed there until 1959. Books were usually placed there for being critical of the clergy or the papacy. In 1904, it was banned from a Philadelphia school because it contained a French word associated with prostitution (grisette- a working class woman, "good-time girl").”


message 42: by J_BlueFlower (last edited Jun 29, 2017 01:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1673 comments Banned books (sortable by year). Some crazy cases Green Eggs and Ham banned in China...
Neither Othello nor Shakespeare is on that list.

Another list Book censorship in the United States. Harry Potter banned....! Again neither Othello nor Shakespeare is on that list.


Melanti | 2384 comments Phil wrote: "The US edition was censored to remove Hugo's criticisms of slavery. ..."

Well, one US "translation", published in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Not all US editions everywhere. That was basically an abridgment of an uncensored/unabridged translation published in New York the previous year.

And there were lots of other passages taken out too - not just the slavery related ones - for the practical reason that there was a paper shortage during the war. I'm assuming it started by them cutting out the French history passages as a standard abridgment and then just also cut out the slavery bits - cause why not make a political point while you're at it.

So Northerners had the uncensored version, Southerners had the censored, abridged version.



J_BlueFlower wrote: ". Harry Potter banned....! ..."

Yep, for religious reasons. Preachers got on that one due to the portrayal of witchcraft. My sister had to hide those when she was reading them because her husband refused to let them in the house. Their pastor said it was a work of the devil, etc.

That second list is mostly from 1990 onward, though, since that's when the ALA started keeping track, so if Othello had been challenged for racial reasons, that list would be too new to really show that.


Cynda | 3041 comments I am a amateur historian--And you are correct Phil. Many Confederates soldiers identified with the struggle detailed in Les Mis. I understand that the Southern folk had been encouraged to feel less than. But it was a different sort of less-than, a landed, financially comfortable less-than, not the beat down sort of less-than French peasant. I am sure the Confederate soldiers just saw the social and political and military struggle.


message 45: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 627 comments Sorry for being off topic! Here's a link for anyone who wants more details on the Les Mis censorship case: https://books.google.com/books?id=dmp...

On a different note, I saw that a number of readers were surprised by the ending. Traditionally, Shakespeare's comedies end with a multiple wedding, and Shakespeare's tragedies end with multiple violent deaths. That was an audience expectation, so people would have known going in that this would end with the death of Othello plus at least two more characters. I was actually surprised that Cassio made it out alive.


BurgendyA | 19 comments Phil wrote: "Sorry for being off topic! Here's a link for anyone who wants more details on the Les Mis censorship case: https://books.google.com/books?id=dmp......"

Me too. Especially how consumed with all the anger & hatred Othello was.


message 47: by Suki (last edited Jul 18, 2017 02:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 76 comments I finished Othello earlier today, and I just finished watching the 1952 movie version with Orson Wells. I don't think I could have followed the movie if I hadn't read the book first! The thing I really liked about the movie is that it put a picture to the words with regards to clothing and architecture. The costumes and scenery were amazing!

The book I read was the Signet Classics edition. It is written in Shakespearian English, with plentiful footnotes defining the more archaic words and phrases. It took a couple of pages before I was comfortable with the language, but then I started to really enjoy it. The Signet edition also had lots of extras: an overview of Shakespeare's life, descriptions of the theatres of the time with a focus on the staging of his plays, and a discussion of the version of the English language in use at the time including grammar rules; an introduction to the play discussing major plot points and places where lines could be interpreted in more than one way, depending on how you chose to define certain words or which version of the original printed editions was used. There are also a number of critical essays at the end of the book, along with a translation of Hecatommithi, one of a collection of sixteenth century tales printed in Italian and written by Giraldi Cinthio, that was the inspiration for Shakespeare's Othello. It was a lot of extra reading, but I found the information very interesting and helpful, and I got a lot more out of the story than if I had just read the play itself.

Now that I've got my head into a "Shakespearian" place, I'm going to carry on and read several more Signet Edition plays I have while I still understand how the language works.

I was really surprised how easily Othello believed Iago's insinuations and lies even though he (supposedly) loved Desdemona and had known and trusted Cassio for a long time. Even when he questions Emilia and she tells him that when Desdemona and Cassio happened to be together, she heard every word of their conversation, they never whispered together, and she was never sent out of the room on an errand. Rather than believe her truth, Othello just chooses to see her as a "simple bawd" and firmly believe Iago's story. It seemed to me as if he was already insecure in the relationship, as if he maybe felt as if he'd married above himself, and was subconsciously looking for confirmation of this. It is made very clear that Othello is a black man and it is an interracial marriage, although it doesn't seem to be as much as an issue within the play as it would be later in the performance of the play (in the 19th and 20th centuries, Othello was almost always played by a white actor in blackface, especially in America, where a black man kissing a white woman onstage would not have been tolerated-- in fact, a black actor would not have been allowed to play in a white theater company.) It probably didn't help that her father didn't approve the match, either. The real tragedy is that Desdemona really was in love with him.

With regards to the question of censorship that was raised in several of the previous posts, there was censorship, but it was of a religious nature-- "...in 1606 parliament passed 'an act to restrain abuses of players', prohibiting the utterance of oaths and the name of God."


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Phil Jensen | 627 comments Suki wrote: "I was really surprised how easily Othello believed Iago's insinuations and lies"

Much Ado About Nothing has a very similar plot, albeit in comedy form. Because he addressed the same problem from two angles, I suspect that Shakespeare was troubled by how easily a woman could be destroyed by baseless rumors. It reminds me of some of the things that go on in the internet age.


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Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 76 comments Phil wrote: "Suki wrote: "I was really surprised how easily Othello believed Iago's insinuations and lies"

Much Ado About Nothing has a very similar plot, albeit in comedy form. Because he address..."


Phil-- That is an excellent point. There has never been anything more potent than the internet when it comes to showing how eager people are to immediately believe the worst of others.


Melanti | 2384 comments Suki wrote: "It seemed to me as if he was already insecure in the relationship, as if he maybe felt as if he'd married above himself, and was subconsciously looking for confirmation of this. It is made very clear that Othello is a black man and it is an interracial marriage, ...."

I've always read that as part of the reason why Othello was so easy to believe Desdemona would cheat - after all, she's not "supposed" to be with him anyway. He's black, she's white. Then class differences, etc.


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