Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- In what way is Othello's race relevant to the events of the play?
- Compare and contrast Desdemona and Emilia's views on love, sex, marriage, and men. Do either Desdemona or Emilia change their viewpoints as a result of their conversations with each other?
- Why does Iago want to destroy Othello?
- Iago is constantly talking about women in derogatory ways, from his joking assessment of women for the amusement of Desdemona in the second act to his put-downs of Emilia to his assumption that Desdemona will probably cheat on Othello eventually. Does the play support Iago's opinion of women, or refute it?
- Check out Iago and Desdemona's views on love and sex. Are they similar? Different? Does Iago believe in love at all? What relationship might Desdemona draw between love and sex? Does the play ultimately endorse either of their views?
- In what ways are the marriages of Desdemona/Othello and Emilia/Iago similar? In what ways are they different?
- Who is a more jealous person, Othello or Iago?
- Who does Othello ultimately care about more – Desdemona or himself? Some critics have argued that Othello's love of Desdemona is ultimately self-centered. Would you agree? Does this mean that, without Iago, they would have lived happily ever after?
- "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them" (1.3.167-168). This is how Othello describes how he and Desdemona fell for each other. What does this tell you about their relationship? Check out the lines 1.3.128-170 carefully. How do you envision their interactions? What kind of relationship is portrayed in this passage?
- In Othello, most of the action takes place between only two characters: Iago and Othello, and this "action" is basically intense conversation and plotting. What effect does this produce on us as a reader? What challenges does this pose for directors and actors? Is Othello a domestic drama? Does it feel claustrophobic? How does the scale and focus of the play reflect the themes of jealousy, hatred and obsession?
- In 1998, Patrick Stewart, a white actor, played the role of Othello surrounded by an all-black cast. Do you think this way of performing Othello would be effective? Would it substantially change any of the themes or dynamics of the play? Which ones?
- There are only three women in the play: Desdemona, Emilia (both wives), and Bianca (a prostitute in love with one of her clients). What insight does the play provide into women's lives? How does the addition of Bianca, a prostitute, to the play emphasize or contradict different characters' ways of thinking about women? Compare and contrast Bianca's relationship to Cassio with Desdemona and Emilia's relationships with their husbands.
- Desdemona's love for Othello is unconditional. Even when he hits her and calls her a whore, she still says she loves him. At the end, she says she killed herself rather than tell the truth and implicate Othello. Is Desdemona's overwhelming love admirable? Should we pity Desdemona rather than admiring her? What would your advice to Desdemona be?
- The plot of the play hinges on the loss of a handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona. Two little deceptions – Emilia's stealing of the handkerchief and Desdemona's lie to Othello that it is not lost – cement Desdemona's doom. What does it mean that such a little object has such a huge impact on Othello's mind? What dramatic effect does this produce? Do you think that, in a situation of jealousy, even a handkerchief could sway someone's opinion one way or another? Is the importance of the handkerchief in the play believable?
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