Tuesday, December 13, 2011


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Shakespeare’s “Othello” is a controversial play which depicts and addresses the issue of miscegenation. Race and racism play an intricate part in the plot of the play. Othello’s race is significant in the play and provides the basis for his own insecurities, Iago’s villainous acts, and his dishonorable downfall.

Shakespeare’s audience of the early seventeenth century held the stereotypical assumption of African-Americans as savages.(Little 05) This discriminatory assumption also comes into play in Othello’s ending rage as it is described by Iago “he foams at mouth, and by and by, breaks out to savage madness”(IV i 61-6). Yet, it is Othello’s own insecurities which are his greatest flaw.(Berry 18) Othello prides himself on his achievements for his social status.(Slights 7) He gives no account for his position to his origin.(Slights 7) Even Desdemona’s affection for him, he believes, can only stem from his grand accomplishments.(Little 06)

In his defense against Brabantio of the use of black magic to seduce his daughter causing her, “in spite of nature, of years, of country, credit, everything, to fall in love with what she feared to look on,” (I iii 107-10) Othello proclaims, “From year to year, the battle, sieges, fortune the I have passed. Of hairbreadth scapes i’ th’ imminent deadly breach, of being taken by the insolent foe… These things to hear would Desdemona seriously incline”(I iii 144-45,50-51,5-60), (Slights 8). In this declaration Othello gives no mention of his appearance or how he romantically lures Desdemona, yet it is only his adventures which he refers to as the object of her affection.

Iago in persuading Othello of the affair between Desdemona and Cassio uses the racial distinction by pointing out to Othello “Not to affect many proposed matches, of her own clime, complexion, and degree, whereto we see in all things nature tends…Her recoiling to her better judgment, may fall to match you with her country forms, and happily repent”(III iii 5-61,66-68). Iago feeds upon the infant insecurities within Othello to invoke his rage.(Berry 1)(Little 14)

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Othello’s insecurities eventually lead to his demise. His doubt within himself causes him to doubt Desdemona and her love for him.(Berry 15) Othello uses his heritage as his scapegoat for his belief in being poor spoken and revolting, as he states, “My name, that was as fresh as Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face”(III iii 47-), (Little 08).

As Othello falls deeper into his rage he is viewed as reverting back to his native savagery.(Berry 16) Just as Brabantio accused him of black witchcraft and devilry such accusations seemed to materialize in Othello’s horrific change(Berry 17), when he reveals to Desdemona, “That handkerchief, did an Egyptian to my mother give. She was a charmer, and could almost read the thoughts of people. There’s magic in the web of it”(III iv 57-60,7). Iago continues to feed the fire commenting on Othello’s vicious actions, “I have seen the cannon when it hath blown his ranks into the air and, like the devil, from his very arm puffed his own brother”(III iv 14-45).

Othello allows himself to be engulfed by the green-eyed monster and abandons his human characteristics to reinstate his animal instincts(Slights 87), as he tells Iago he is, “a horned man a monster and a beast”(IV i 70). Othello begins to reveal his distrust in Venice and the discrimination against him as a foreigner.(Berry 1) He places his anguish against Venice onto Desdemona, “But, alas, to make me the fixed figure for the time of scorn. I took you for that cunning whore of Venice that married with Othello”(IV ii 61-6,100-01). Othello is now acting out of survival instincts. He desperately is trying to preserve his image and reputation, which he feels Desdemona has tarnished in her act of infidelity.(Slights 86) With his wrath inevitable his primal instincts are in complete control and his downfall unavoidable. From this point on Othello is blind to any truth of his wife’s innocence and only seeks justice against this discriminatory act.

Othello moves about in a trance state. His only focus now is on those he must avenge. As he is about to commit his crimes he feels no doubt or remorse. Truly the savagery believed of him is evident in full effect.(Berry 16) After smothering Desdemona to death he states, “I that am cruel am yet merciful; Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse of sun and moon”(V ii 104,18-1).

As Emilia lies on her deathbed she unveils the truth to Othello, “Moor, she was chaste. She loved thee, cruel Moor”(V ii 0), (Berry 0).

As Othello accepts the truth of her words he condemns himself to the fate believed worthy of a black man, “O cursed, cursed slave! Whip me, ye devils, roast me in sulfur”(V ii 1,1), (Slights 8). Still, as he condemns himself he is assured that his acts are not of vicious savagery, but of honor. Othello is determined to die an honorable death despite his hysterical actions.(Slights 86) “An honorable murderer, if you will; For naught I did in hate, but all in honor”(V ii 7-8). Before Othello kills himself he reveals his faults, “Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice. Then you must speak of one that loved not wisely, but too well; of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme”(V ii 0-4).

Othello, as the protagonist, falls prey to his own faults. Due to his cultural insecurities he allowed himself to be manipulated and deceived.(Little 10) As a foreigner Othello endured discrimination for his appearance.(Slights 84) Yet, in the beginning Othello’s pride eluded him of such hate against him.(Slights 8) Othello entrusted his social status upon his achievements and accomplishments. But when the possibility is presented to him that his differences could be reason for his only love to abandon him he forgets his pride. Othello gives in to the stereotype of the Venetian’s against him and becomes the villain. Lodovico states of Othello’s savagery, “O thou Othello that was once so good, Fall’n in the practice of a cursed slave”(V ii -4).

Othello’s color eludes him in the beginning of the plot as he is only focused on his ability and social status. When Brabantio addresses his cultural difference Othello eloquently subdues him with his magnificent description of his adventures, proclaiming that even he does not believe his appearance is the cause of Desdemona’s love. Othello never addresses the accusations of devilry, witchcraft, or savagery. It is only when he has lost his senses that he gives blame to the color of his skin.(Berry )(Little 08) Othello greatly emphasizes on his deeds which displays his own discomfort with himself.(Little 0)

Othello only speaks of his performance and finances, and aspires to improve his eloquence. Othello seems to attempt to avoid all approaches about his race.(Berry 1) To Othello his race appears to be a set-back.(Berry ) It is Othello himself who allows this inner disdain to prompt his destruction.

As Iago labors to inflame Othello’s jealousy he plays upon his most vulnerable flaw, his race.(Slights 86) Othello not steadfast within himself about his origin falls directly into Iago’s trap.(Berry 1) He accepts the fact that as a black man he is not good enough for Desdemona. As he initially believed that only his adventures captured her, he believed his appearance could not contain her. Othello is sure that physically Desdemona would prefer a man of her own race, which without proof allows him to believe the deceitful words of Iago.(Berry 1)

The more Othello submits to his fury the more he begins to embody the stereotype that Brabantio initially labels him.(Berry 16) He savagely slaps Desdemona, and without remorse kills her. He looses his human nature and reverts to animal instincts, as he calls himself a “horned-man, monster, and a beast”(IV i 70). It is by his own hand that Othello is dishonorable destroyed. In the end Othello is believed the villain and vicious savage, when he was only a victim of his own flaws.(Berry 18) Still, this is a common factor of Shakespeare’s protagonist, that one is flawed in some inherent way.

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