En 03: Appreciation of Drama

Mr. C. Buechmann, Instructor

First Critical Paper:

Shakespeare, William. Othello

General Instructions: As published in the Reading Syllabus for En 03, by class time on -------- I am to receive a critical essay of about four pages on Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice.

The essay must reach me both as a traditional paper copy and as a Macintosh document in Microsoft Word 5.1. I have supplied a Style Sheet, outlining the specific document conventions you need to observe when producing a printed, not typed, document . Be forewarned, you'll probably have to forget a few of the rules your old typing teacher taught you! The Mac is not a typewriter, and we should take advantage of its ability to reproduce the standards of the traditional print shop! Failure to meet all terms will result in a penalty, unless I can be persuaded to modify the terms.

Specific Instructions: You are free to come up with a topic of your choice. Just make sure it addresses a significant issue, is limited to what can be accomplished on four pages, etc. Your goal is to persuade me, your reader in this case, that you are offering an argument that is being supported with sufficient, specific evidence from the text. I don't expect to read exactly what I might have claimed: all you should worry about is that you come across as somebody who has made a reasonable case in support of your thesis.

A Possible Topic in Descriptive Form: The outcome of Shakespeare¹s celebrated domestic tragedy is not of historical consequence: it is ³all in the family,² though Venice and her possessions are important both as the physical and the ideal settings. Othello considers himself the defender/champion of Venetian ideals and values. Yes, he is black, but that fact does not matter to anybody who does not wish him ill for other reasons. Othello never considers himself a victim of racial prejudice, nor does he show any apprehensions because he was not born in Venice. He boasts his royal descent makes him the equal of any Venetian, by the way. So, don't invent problems that he does not recognize himself.

Critics like to point out a parallel between Oedipus and Othello: whereas Sophocles' Oedipus end up uncovering a genuine horror, Shakespeare's Othello ends up realizing that the horror he has dreaded exists only in his own mind. He does not realize that fact until it is too late, of course. However,when he does make that discovery, Othello, like all genuine tragic protagonists, concludes that he himself is responsible for the tragedy because he "loved not wisely". He does not blame anybody else, and, not trusting the Venetian authorities to punish him as he thinks he deserves, he commits suicide to assure himself of a place in hell.

In your essay, you might wish to examine the choices Othello had before him. He appears to be the man in the middle: Desdemona (and what she represents), on the one hand, and Iago (and what he personifies), on the other. What does committing himself to either Desdemona or Iago signal to us? Make sure to support your claims with sufficient, specific, and concrete evidence from the text.

If you have questions or simply want to check out your ideas before you commit them to 'paper,' feel invited to see me. It usually helps a lot to start such a critical essay early.

----Good Luck, cpb

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This page was updated on June 22, 1996