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Early Critics

Thomas Rymer = Rymer was a Neoclassicist. Compares Othello to classic literature. Said Othello wasn't a proper tragedy because it didn't have enough poetic justice and because it was unrealistic.

Samuel Johnson = Also Neoclassicist. Said play was realistic. Impressed by: "the fiery openness of Othello", "the cool malignity of Iago.", "the soft simplicity of Desdemona"


The Neoclassicist approach

- Rymer, Johnson
- Compare the play to classical literature
- Influenced by Aristotle
- Women must be polite and only contribute to plot, no side stories of their own
- Language must be appropriate, no crude or rude words
- The overall play must have a moral focus


The Romantic approach

- Coleridge, Hazlitt, Swinburne
- Approach of the late 18th and early 19th century
- Less concerned with morality, more with psychological states
- How individuals could be affected by isolation, melancholy, personal misery
- Relate Othello to tragic heroes
- Admired Shakespeare's presentation of emotion


Romanticism Critics

Samuel Coleridge = Othello DIDN'T kill Des out of jealousy, but because of Iago's manipulation. Othello isn't to blame. Iago is "a being next to devil", his monologues are "the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity". Iago has no reason to be evil but he's evil anyway.

William Hazlitt = Othello has great "depth of passion", evokes a lot of PATHOS. Sympathizes with Othello, says he's "noble". Iago is only evil because he knows how to exercise his intellect more than anyone else.

Algernon Swinburne = Agrees with Coleridge that Iago's evil was "fathomless and bottomless"


20th century critics

- A.C Bradley, T.S Eliot, F.R Levis
- Debate the characters and their actions
- Focussed on the play's protagonist and antagonist
- Either: 1. Othello is a noble hero 2. Othello is deeply flawed


20th century critic - A.C Bradley

- The Tragedy of the play is that Othello is "exceptionally noble and trustful" and is manipulated by Iago.
- Othello is a "great man"
- Othello is "the most romantic" of all of Shakespeare's characters, his intense emotions means he can't think clearly about Desdemona. This is his downfall.
- Any other man in Othello's situation would have reacted the same way.
- Iago has "supreme intellect" and that makes him dangerous
- Iago is angry because he's overlooked because he's not a good person, "Goodness therefore annoys him"
- Iago is tragic because his intellect and skills backfire and hurt him
- Iago is "a thoroughly bad, cold man" who is "supremely wicked"


20th century critic - T.S Eliot

- Othello is deeply flawed
- Eliot said that Othello's final speech was a "terrible exposure of human weakness"
- The final speech was weak because it was full of "an attitude of self-dramatization", Othello is too aware of the audience and the other characters = less realistic
- Othello tries to escape reality at the end, doesn't face up to what he's done.
- Othello grieves himself more than he grieves Desdemona "and is thinking about himself"


20th century critic - F.R Levis

- Othello was deeply flawed
- Othello's downfall was because of his own weakness, not because of Iago
- Iago's success isn't due to his "diabolical intellect" but due to Othello's weakness and hubris
- Othello gives in too quickly
- Othello is self centered


Otherness concept

Modern critics talk about otherness = people or things which don't fit in with social norms of the time.
Being an 'other' means being outside the norm, and being excluded from society as a result.
Desdemona is an other because of her rebellious nature. Othello is an other because he's black.


20th century critics - Feminist criticism

- French, Jardine, Tennenhouse, Traub, Greenblatt, Loomba
- How women are presented in contrast to men
- How women escape or adhere to strict social structure and the patriarchy


20th century feminist - Marilyn French

- Othello is a masculine play because it rejects female sexuality and freedom
- Men hold all the power in the play reflects how men hold all the power in society.
- Desdemona accepts that because of her society "she must be obedient to males"
- All women are destroyed by Iago


20th century feminist - Lisa Jardine

- Elizabethan drama as a whole only presents a male point of view.
- Desdemona is punished for being "too-knowing" and "too-independent"
- Desdemona's death is her being taught a lesson in what happens if you go against the patriarchy


20th century feminist - Leonard Tennenhouse

- Desdemona's death = silencing a rebellious female voice.
- Elizabethan/Jacobean tragedies use violence against women to challenge the patriarchy
- Women who die in these plays blame themselves for their death
- Desdemona as a character must die because she is "the embodiment of power" when she first arrives in Act 1


Performance Criticism

- A modernist Criticism to the play, Performance critics consider the way a reader or audience would react to Othello
- Example: considering the way the play could be presented on screen


Marxist Criticism

- Interested in the political and social context of Othello
- Power structure of society
- The relationship between 'master' and 'servant'


New Historicist Criticism

- Marsh, Dolan
- Consider 'Othello' in it's social and historical context.
- The ideology and beliefs of Shakespearean society
- KEY = whether or not 'Othello' reinforces or subverts the values of Shakespeare's society


Post Colonial Approach

- Loomba, Newman,
- Considers the way in which
Othello's race is portrayed. The status of a black man in a white world.
- How Othello's race determines his downfall before the play has even begun


New Historicist - Frances Dolan

- In Shakespeare's society, murdering your spouse was a threat to the social order
- Jacobean drama reflected social anxieties about the plotting subordinate and the abusive authority figure, and the idea of an traitor inside a social order who betrays everyone
- Othello is a "domestic tyrant who murders his wife on spurious grounds"


Post/Colonial - Frances Dolan

- Othello loses everything because he is a black man in a white mans world
- His race means that he is doomed before the play even begins
- "By making his protagonist black, Shakespeare prepares his original audience to question Othello's authority, to suspect that he might misuse it groundlessly"


New Historicist - Nicholas Marsh

- Iago wants to get back at a society that has wronged him
- Othello's love for Desdemona = courtly love


Post-Colonial - Ania Loomba

- The central conflict of the play isn't love, it's racial conflict
- The racism of a white patriarchy = hurts Desdemona and Othello more than Iago ever could
- The racism of Venice gives Othello a split personality and is "a bear schizophrenic hero"
- Othello is split between being a black man, and being a black man trying to fit into a white society
- At the beginning of the play, Othello is an honorary white man but becomes a "total outsider" to society because his relationship with Desdemona ruins his "precarious entry into the white world"


Post-Colonial - Karen Newman

- The play exposes the "racial fear" of the period
- White males in the play, especially Iago, feel threatened by the "power and potency of a different and monstrous sexuality" which Othello represents
- It was feared that "the black man had the power to subjugate his partner's whiteness"
- By making a black man a hero, Shakespeare's play challenged the colonialist views of his society.
- Desdemona is attracted to Othello's 'otherness' as a black man


20th century feminist - Stephen Greenblatt

- Othello marries Desdemona in an attempt to gain more social power
- Othello is concerned with Desdemona's sexuality because it goes against her "obedience" as a woman"
- Othello feels like he has to punish Desdemona for stepping out of bounds and for being sexual
- Desdemona's sexuality is what makes Othello question his "carefully fashioned identity" and leads to his downfall
- Their relationship is based more on lust than love


20th century feminist - Ania Loomba

- Desdemona becomes as much of an outsider as the black man when she marries Othello
- The play reflects the sexism of the period


20th century feminist - Valerie Traub

- The play shows that Elizabethan women were defined by "their sexual activity"
- The worth of women was decided by their relationship with men
- Shakespeare was concerned by "unregulated female sexuality"
- Iago is successful in manipulating Othello because he taps into temporal concerns about women


Post-Colonial - Louis Montrose

- 'Othello' shows how Elizabethan society rejects other races
- Othello is desperate to be embraced by Venetian culture