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Public and Private Tensions in Othello

  • Date Submitted: 05/04/2011 11:03 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 40.6 
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Private and Public Tensions in Othello

The public and private domain, and the perception of Othello’s often-duplicitous characters’ language and actions within these spheres, builds the audience’s insight into their true personalities. The tension between the public and private is made explicit primarily through the character of Othello, but also through subsidiary characters and Shakespeare’s deliberate use of setting.

Othello is an essentially public man placed within the framework of a domestic tragedy; the Turkish invasion and machinations of the Venetian state provide the backdrop to an essential private heartbreak. As a public leader, Othello experiences delight and success amidst the ‘pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war’. The imagery commonly associated with the noble Othello is suggestive of power and bravery; images of the sea and military heroism abound. Desdemona echoes Othello’s dignified description of his illustrious career, in military terminology, with the declaration that her ‘downright violence... may trumpet to the world’ as her ‘heart [is] subdued’ by ‘her lord’. By using the terminology of war to describe her love we see that the heroine is ‘well tun’d’ with her husband (it is fitting that he describes his as her ‘fairy warrior’) but his language, and the violence that is always explicit in sea and military imagery, acts as ominous dramatic irony for Othello’s ‘bloody thoughts with violent pace’ which are chilling immersed with similar natural imagery. It is this inability to separate his public and private life in the name of his romance with Desdemona proves to be his downfall.

The private man has been almost wholly concealed, even from himself, for he has had little need to explore it. This and our lack of knowledge about Othello’s past leave us ignorant of the private Othello. His ‘role-playing’ increases our difficulties, not only in his narratives: the calm voice of authority as he responds to a crisis speaks for the...


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