Othello (QPB Reader's Shakespeare)

by William Shakespeare

Other authorsPaul Bertram (Editor), Jon Roberts (Introduction)
Paperback, 1997





Quality Paperback Book Club (1997),


Othello, a Moorish general in the service of Venice, has married Desdemona, beautiful daughter of a Venetian Senator. But Iago, Othello's malignant ensign, is determined to destroy their happiness.

User reviews

LibraryThing member joririchardson
This tragic play by Shakespeare is one that I read as a child, but didn't quite understand. So last night in Barnes & Noble's, I decided to re-read it.

This is the story of a Venetian nobleman named Othello, a Moor from Northern Africa, who made his way from slavery to wealth and power. His sad story and noble character inspire Desdemona, a beautiful young woman, to fall in love with him. The two hastily marry in secret, to the disapproval of many. Othello's personal attendant, a man named Iago, is meanwhile hunting for a way to bring about his master's ruin. Iago feels that Othello promoted another man to a higher position that should have been his, and dwells on a rumor that Othello slept with his wife. For this, he actively and purposefully sets out to usher in Othello's destruction. He plants doubts in Othello's mind about his wife's faithfulness, and goes to great lengths to set up an entire story of her alleged affair.
Though Othello believes his wife to be loyal, he eventually allows the smallest doubt to creep into his mind, which Iago coaxes into certainty with his clever words and twisting of events.
Eventually, Othello decides that he must kill Desdemona and her supposed lover.

This play was, indeed, very tragic and sad. I would even go so far as to say that it is the saddest Shakespeare play I have ever read. For some reason, the idea of a perfect couple being torn apart by an outsider seemed even more horrible than the "Romeo and Juliet" plot line.

I thought at one point in the story: Poor Othello, poor Desdemona, poor Cassio! Really, all of the characters played out a very unfortunate story, and met an equally unfortunate end, all because of one scheming man.

This man is Iago, who everyone believes to be a loyal, mostly good individual, even if he does have a negative view on women, as is witnessed by his wife and Desdemona.
Iago has heard rumors that Othello slept with his wife, Emilia. He has no proof, and he never tells us where exactly he heard these rumors. In fact, he seems more interested in picturing his wife cheating than actually trying to discover if the rumors are true or not.
With this already in his mind, he takes the advancement of Cassio as the last straw. Cassio is a younger, less experienced man, who has just been promoted in the army. Iago feels that he deserves the job, and that it was wrong of Othello to forget him.
Though he never voices this like his other complaints, Iago also seems to have a racist grudge against Othello, who is black. At the time, serving under a black man would have been unusual and controversial, and Iago makes a few snide remarks in the beginning that pertain to Othello's race, mostly in the form of name-calling.
So Iago does not like Othello.
But he takes it much farther than a simple dislike toward someone. He truly hates the man, he loathes him, he obsesses day and night over how to bring about his ruin. This is not done over just a few days, and nor does Iago simply come up with one plan and go through with it.
Iago's plans are complex and extremely involved, taking enormous effort. Because his plans are so complicated and rely heavily on how others react to them, Iago's plots must adapt constantly, and require much quick-thinking.
Iago has a way with words. Simple everyday acts like greeting someone politely, laughing, walking, or making a new friend are twisted into terrible acts of wickedness by his silver tongue.
Shakespeare uses Iago's character to do what he does best: clever dialogue, which no can do quite like him, still to this day.
An example of this is the scene in which Iago tells Othello to listen to him speak to Cassio (who is supposedly cheating with Desdemona, Othello's wife). Iago asks Cassio about his whore, knowing that Cassio will assume he is referring to Bianca, who actually is a whore and can thus be accurately referred to as one. Iago also knows that Othello, listening, will assume that Iago is referring to Desdemona, who is not a whore, and thus is being insulted. Cassio speaks lightly of her, laughing, just as men normally do when speaking of their latest conquest. However, Othello takes this to mean that Cassio is shameless and thinks that cheating with his master's wife is a joke.
Scenes like this are scattered through-out the play, and if the topic at hand weren't so grave, they would be extremely funny in how witty they are.

Othello is a Moor (meaning that he is from northern Africa) who is honorable, respectful, and logical. He does not seem like a jealous man, and at first is doubtful that Iago can possibly be right about Desdemona's unfaithfulness. However, I believe that even a trusting man married to an angel would have eventually grown suspicious with Iago's tricky words leading him on.
Othello also shows himself, farther on in the story, to be very passionate, which was actually what made Desdemona attracted to him in the first place. Yet another sad little fact: The thing that made her fall in love with her husband is also what ruins their relationship. Othello becomes utterly enraged by the idea of another man touching his wife, and the thought consumes him as he does his best to dismiss it. By the time Iago is done, Othello completely believes the story he has been told, and is driven even to murder.

Cassio, yet another of Iago's victims, is another character whose life is ruined simply by Iago's word choice. One day, he is a handsome, charismatic young ladies man who has just been promoted to a prestigious new title. But the next day, he has been falsely labeled a drunkard and a brawler, is thought to be an adulterer, and has two men scheming out how to murder him.

Iago's third victim would be Desdemona, a pretty young rich girl who fell in love with Othello despite the public opinion that they were an ill match. She risks and endures her father's disownment of her just to be with Othello, only to have her romance torn apart by Iago's lies. The injustice of it all is a sense that is strongly felt through-out the play, particularly in the scenes involving Desdemona, due to her innocence.
Desdemona is completely unaware of the schemes being plotted against her, and the suspicions that her husband is needlessly drawing up about her.
She struck me as naive, angelic, and very sweet. This cherubic character only served to make the audience pity her even more.
At the end, when Othello voices his thoughts about her cheating, she remains devoted to him, a touching and heartbreaking scene.

I think that every single character in this play suffers in some way (mostly in a very large way) due to Iago.
Jealousy is a prominent theme here. Iago is jealous of almost everyone, seeing himself as deserving of whatever pleasures they may have. He uses other men's admiration of Desdemona's beauty to prod them into jealousy over Othello (who is certainly sleeping with her, since he is her husband) or of Cassio (who is allegedly sleeping with her just because Iago says so). Understanding jealousy inside and out and being an apparent expert on the subject, Iago skillfully weaves other men's jealousy into yet another way of getting what he wants.

Though the entire play is about jealousy and cheating, it appears that none of the characters actually ever cheat.
The first woman who is accused of cheating by Iago is his wife, Emilia, but this is presumably not true. No evidence to it being true is ever even hinted at.
The next is, of course, Desdemona, who is unquestionably innocent.

This is a sad play that sets off Shakespeare's style and abilities perfectly. I would recommend it highly.
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LibraryThing member Smiley
Beware you are entering heresy: Not one of Bill's best. It was a drag to finsih, Iago's actions seem out of line with motivation, no great set speeches, few memorable lines and Othello's change of heart is too rapid. That said, Shakespeare was a working playwright and it is the academy that has enshrined all his work as great. The Folger Library edition was excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Othello, a moor from Africa, is a well-loved and respected Venetian nobleman. After the beautiful Desdemona falls in love with him, the two wed in secret. Their blissful existence is thrown into chaos as Iago, Othello's personal attendant, begins to plant doubts of Desdemona’s faithfulness in Othello’s mind.

Iago is one of the most conniving and depraved characters I’ve ever read. His cold calculating nature is sociopathic. He feels that Othello has slighted him and sets his mind to destroying his life. He moves each pawn to further his plan, all the while maintaining his alleged devotion to Othello and poisoning his thoughts with rumors of jealousy. He does it in such a calm, unbothered way that it’s all the more disturbing.

The worst part of the whole things is that Othello is in the thralls of newly-wedded happiness. He and his wife Desdemona are so incredibly in love and then he acts as the tool for his own destruction. He is manipulated by someone else, but no one truly forces his hand. He allows himself to be persuaded to believe that worst about his wife and causes his own downfall by his lack of faith and trust.

I loved the character of Emilia. She’s Iago’s wife, but she’s also Desdemona’s hand maid. She asks as a conscience for the players, holding them accountable when they have committed a wrong. She stands up for her lady’s honor when others doubt it.

Othello pulls no punches when it comes to the issues it touches on. It deals with marital abuse, racism, trust, jealousy and more. It gives readers a lot to chew on and would be a great book to discuss. I’ve never seen this one performed live, but I’m sure it would be incredibly powerful.
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LibraryThing member john257hopper
I read this seminal tragedy for the first time in anticipation of seeing it next week at The Globe. I'm ashamed to say I have read comparatively little Shakespeare and this is only the sixth complete play I have read. It remains a classic exposition of values of racism, revenge, jealousy and repentance. There are comparatively few characters, which makes it easy to focus on the main four or five and really get under the skin of their motivations.… (more)
LibraryThing member crazyjerseygirl
I have read this play numerous times, and have seen it stage-acted once. Do you think it is wrong to love Iago? So what if I have a taste for the bad-boy? This is the best villian ever written and if you are a fan of genius villians and not those two-dementional types then read up. Goldfinger has noting on this guy.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
This is perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest play – featuring characters that are flawed and damaged, but which completely captivate us. Our title character – Othello, the Moor - is a highly regarded general. As the play opens he has recently eloped with the lovely Desdemona, to the consternation of her father and others who were hopeful suitors. Egged on by Iago (one of literature’s most reviled villains), they accuse Othello of somehow bewitching Desdemona, but the couple successfully convinces everyone that their love is true and pure.

Iago is a true sociopath. Rules do not apply to him, and duplicity is second nature to him. His oily manner convinces everyone that he has only their own best interests at heart while he plants seeds of doubt everywhere, ensuring that everyone becomes suspicious and disheartened. Iago uses the other characters as his pawns some sort of game he plays for his own benefit. He particularly targets Othello, recognizes the chink in his armor is his relationship with Desdemona, and manages to turn this noble general into a homicidal, emotional wreck.

I do wonder how Othello, Cassio, and Roderigo (among others) can be so easily swayed by Iago. Othello, in particular, should be able to see through this smarmy false friend. I’m completely perplexed by Emilia’s role in this tragedy. How can she abet her husband’s evil plans? Is she really so clueless?

Shakespeare writes a true psychological drama, exploring the darkest human emotion and motivation.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Othello is one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. It stands beside Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear in this regard. Each of these works has its own 'personality' and in Othello this includes the prominence of the title character's antagonist. For it almost seems that this play could have been entitled Iago. Iago demonstrates a superior mind, coldly calculating and planning his actions to achieve his end, the usurpation of Othello. In this he appears to be completely evil. Othello, on the other hand, seems clueless and is easily manipulated. His innocence plays into the hands of Iago. There is much more in this complex drama, including two interesting and intelligent women in Desdemona and Emilia. Emilia stands out as a courageous woman who has been described by some as a "proto-feminist". The conflict between Iago and Othello is stark as Iago's schemes play out. It makes this one of Shakespeare's best plays.… (more)
LibraryThing member jpsnow
It's hard to review Shakespeare in a way that's worthy. I'll simply add my observation: so basic and so base.
LibraryThing member susanbevans
I read Othello in college and really enjoyed it! Even wrote a ten page paper on the motives of Iago. I have actually never "met" a Shakespeare play that I didn't like.
LibraryThing member Nikkles
This is not my favorite Shakespeare play. I just find it so very sad. Sadder then the other tragedies. I can never get past Desdemona smothered to death. So, while this is great literature I simply cannot like it as it makes me too sad.
LibraryThing member Girl_Detective
About this edition: Honigmann’s editing is clear and helpful. Useful glosses are provided for difficult or archaic usage as well as helpful notes on understanding some of the repeated themes and phrases of the text. As with most introductions, I think it should be read after, not before, as it refers to minutely to the play that it is more helpful when the play details are fresh. I particularly like the section on the history of the play’s performance, and how actors have played the major roles.

Additionally, Honigmann lays out the evidence for some of the major questions about the play: was Iago in love with Othello, how does the play deal with the passage of time, what is the right tone for Iago, and most important to the editor: is Othello Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy? Honigmann says yes. While the text of Hamlet may excel in poetry and Lear in pathos, both are often criticized as too long in performance. In performance, Othello’s “extraordinary momentum and the audience response it generates place it, in these respects, ahead of its nearest rivals, Hamlet and King Lear.”
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LibraryThing member GirlFromIpanema
Accessible radio version of the acclaimed 2007/8 production of "Othello" (at Donmar Warehouse, London). Ewan McGregor as Iago lets you laugh out loud just to make you feel embarrassed that you even thought it was funny the next moment. I had some difficulties to "get" Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello (to be honest, I still don't entirely get it, but then there's a reason to listen to it again!).
(Radio play recorded off BBC R3; also available from Donmar Warehouse.)
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LibraryThing member 391
Iago is possibly the slimiest villain ever penned, and Othello will always hold a place in my heart as the most tragic of Shakespeare's plays. The inevitability of the conclusion, the senselessness of all the deaths...it is such a beautiful, heartbreaking play. I think it's also one of the most readable, as well - the language is heightened, but understandable to a modern day audience, and the pure passion of the words is easily parse-able.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Ha ha, Othello scared me straight. Nor strangler nor stranglee shall righteous Martin be. No sir, now it's back to neck kisses and highly popular hugs, bike rides and long baths, summer sails and D&D, and teasing out symbologies of race and social place and monstrosity and gender and face from Shakespeare plays. The motto of this play could be "It's a good life; don't get all worked up over nothing, let sleeping dogs lie, and some people are just shitheads - forget 'em."… (more)
LibraryThing member wispywillow
Not bad. Shakespeare once again shows his ability to take an age-old story and give it the Bard's Twist. However, I didn't like this story as much as Macbeth--where the magnificent Lady Macbeth helps push her husband to his crimes--nor did I like it as much as Hamlet--where the deep psychological issues rooted in Hamlet's character make him come to life in so many ways.

Othello is an interesting character, but lacking in character and nobility.
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LibraryThing member rybeewoods
My first expereince in Shakespeare. I didn't know what to expect, but in the end I really enjoyed it. I was pleasently surprised.
LibraryThing member Vinman225
Loved this play from start to finish, thanks largely in part to Iago. His near flawless scheme against his general was absolutely brilliant. Shakespeare's language, is as eloquent as it is insightful, but that's unsurprising. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good tale of betrayal.
LibraryThing member BeeQuiet
One of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Had the privilege of playing Desdemona; being in a Shakespeare play really gives you such a feel for what he's trying to convey. As is frequently noted, his messages and metaphors never seem to fade with time. Beautiful.
LibraryThing member Czrbr
Book Description: Ardnamona Publishers. Grade A.
LibraryThing member SoonerCatholic
Setting: This play reflects on the love Othello has for his wife on the island of Cyprus

Plot: Othello's jealous servant Iago schemes to come between the Moor and Desdemona and nearly succeeds.

Characters: Othello (protagonist)- a Moor, general in Venice; Desdemona- Othello's wife; Iago (antagonist)- Othello's scheming servant; Cassio- a soldier

Symbols: the handkerchief

Characteristics: a major tragedy

Response: I understood better the performance by reading the play. I also appreciated Shakespeare's clever insights into human nature through all his characters especially Iago.
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LibraryThing member HankIII
Whew!I've read this drama at least 3 times; in fact, I teach it every fall semester.I doubt my review will shed anymore life on this tragedy, so I'll go for the gist of it, and how I relate it to 16 year old I-Pod/internet/cellphone/sparknotes/cliff notes instilled with apathy and teenaged-drama inclined students:Iago is just plain wicked, amorally so; he has a real beef about Othello, a well-respected General who has passed him over for a lieutenant's position in favor of Cassio, who has very little if any military experience. Of course, such a choice flies into the face of Iago, and lights the fuse of his quest to destroy Othello.Iago employs that ol'human shortcoming of jealousy, and he does it very well. Iago knows that Othello is open, trusting, loyal, and faithful. These qualities Othello demonstrates to his friends as well as to Desdemona, his wife.From there Iago creates havoc at every turn; you would think early on after setting up Cassio in a brawl with a governor, resulting in Cassio losing his position, and Iago replaces him, that it would end all there, but noooooooooo! That's not good enough for Iago; he has to go to great lengths to manipulate all of those around him to bring Othello to a jealous pile of mush.Anyway, I think this tragedy is very revelant about Othello's racial difference among white society even by today's standards, and how instead of seeing the goodness in others we are only too inclined to not trust even if we have good qualities. Also, there are some real literary gems like "the beast with two backs" and other sexual innuendo which appeals to 16 year old hormonal instincts.Usually of course, I take the easy way out--since my students'attention spans are only geared toward the latest edition of Guitar Hero, I show the 1995 film version with Laurence Fishbourne and Kenneth Branaugh if the students find the actual study of the play or me too much.… (more)
LibraryThing member becskau
This is Shakespeare's famous play Othello. The story of Othello is well known - the fall of a famous war general through manipulation and jealousy. I think that this would be affective in the classroom because I believe it is beneficial for students to study shakespeare - both institutionally and also for larger purposes of person. I think that studying a text from shakespeare forces students to apply themselves to language in a way they may not be familiar with. I would chose Othello specifically because I think it also brings up the important role of the "other" in literature.… (more)
LibraryThing member Orix_Bluewave
This is a sad story.
Everyone in this story is very poor.
Without crying, you can't read this book.
LibraryThing member Ayling
Read this for A-Level English and really enjoyed it. I love the story of Othello - my favourite Shakespeare as of yet.Iago is one of the best villains I have ever read - I absolutely loathe him but he is so fascinating. People who can manipulate you psychologically like that, tap into people's weaknesses and use them against people - truly very fascinating.… (more)
LibraryThing member FrankJL
Perhaps Shakespeare's best romance tragedy.


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