Othello – the Universal Appeal Essay

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Othello – the Universal Appeal

For 400 years the audience has found William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello to be relevant to their lives and tastes. Why? What enduring qualities does the play possess in order to ensure its continuing success?

Does the reason lie in the great heterogeneity of characters and scenes and actions within the play? Robert B. Heilman in “The Role We Give Shakespeare” relates the universality of Shakespeare to the “innumerableness of the parts”:

But the Shakespeare completeness appears graspable and possessable to many men at odds with each other, because of the innumerableness of the parts: these parts we may consider incompletenesses, partial perspectives, and as such they
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Nor would they have made their lasting impact, if their author had not been past master of his exacting and exciting medium, linguistic, poetic, dramatic.[. . .] The book-learning that Shakespeare displays here and there is far less impressive, in the long run, than his fund of general information. His frame of reference is so far-ranging, and he is so concretely versed in the tricks of so many trades, that lawyers have written to prove he was trained in the law, sailors about his expert seamanship, naturalists upon his botanizing, and so on throughout the professions (2-4).

Shakespeare’s universality – his ability to please every taste, to win “all men’s suffrage,” in Ben Jonson’s phrase – was compounded out of his very heterogeneity, his appeal to individuals through a concrete understanding of their concerns (18).

Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” ranks the play Othello quite high among the Bard’s tragedies:

Othello, written in 1604, is one of the masterpieces of Shakespeare’s “tragic period.” In splendor of language, and in the sheer power of the story, it belongs with the greatest. But some of its admirers find it too savage. . . .(131)

The play opens at night on a street in Venice, Italy, with a heated discussion between Iago, the general’s ancient, and Roderigo, a wealthy playboy. Both men consider it in their best interest to awaken the senator Brabantio from bed for the sake of recovering

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