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4.4 out of 5 stars
Othello (Wordsworth Classics)
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Admittedly, perhaps like most people, I have not read Shakespeare since high school, lo' those many decades ago. I've recently decided to remediate this major deficiency in my reading, and have re-read some of the classics from school, such as Hamlet (Wordsworth Classics) and Macbeth. And it is so much more a pleasure now that a "grade" is not hanging in the balance, with the principle concentration being on figuring out what the teacher wants. For "Othello," this read was for the first time, and I was impressed how many of the issues which were raised then, reverberate today.

True, Venice is no longer a major world power. But the principle geo-political concern in Othello is the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, an event which reoccurred since my high school days. The political leadership in Venice recruited Othello, a dark-skinned Muslim, to defend their interests in Cyprus, and defeat the Turks. Nature proves to be the best ally of Venice, and a Mediterranean storm sinks most of the Turkish fleet. Thus, there are no scenes of combat. The real combat is much closer to home - as it so often is - and involves those who portray themselves as your friend.

Religion, per se, is not an issue. So, there is no Christian-Muslim conflict portrayed. But skin color is very much an issue. As topical as today's headlines concerning a white woman passing for black, and being an official in a predominately black organization. Othello marries Desdemona, a white woman. The father, Brabantio, feels betrayed, in part because he did not know his daughter's plans. He plants a seed in Othello's mind, that another will nurture, and it will bear awful fruit. Brabantio says: "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see; She has deceiv'd her father, and may thee." Further, he issues an admonishment: "Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds."

The nurturer of this seed is Iago. He is the master villain and manipulator. He is a key component in almost all large organizations. He is the individual who connives to gain your trust, in order to bury the knife in your back. His motivation, in part, as he says: "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe." I consider Shakespeare's portrayal of Iago absolutely brilliant. The "dropped handkerchief" is a key tool that Iago deliberately uses to turn Othello first against his lieutenant, Cassio, and then against his wife, the actually faithful, Desdemona.

As in much of Shakespeare, there are the side currents, and the development of subsidiary themes. Certainly there is another key one, the relationship between men and women, and Emilia, wife of Iago, is the spokesperson for some remarkably modern views on the subject; in ways she is a Hedda Gabler, centuries earlier. In her own words: "'Tis not a year or two shows us a man; They are all but stomachs and we all but food; They eat us hungrily, and when they are full; They belch us." Later, Emilia delivers a classic soliloquy of the relationship of husbands and wives, in part saying: "Let husbands know Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell and have their palates both for sweet and sour, as husbands have. What is it that they do When they change us for others? Is it sport?... And have not we affections, Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?"

As in all of Shakespeare, there are numerous other worthwhile quotes, for example from Roderigo: "...for your words and performances are no kin together." And the master villain himself proclaims: "Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving; you have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser." 5-stars.
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"Othello" is sort of a companion piece to "Macbeth" -- both are about noble, upstanding men who are destroyed by their own weaknesses. But where Macbeth was ruined by ambition, Othello's destruction comes from his jealousy and gullibility. And the play is really ruled by the nastiest, cruelest, most devious villain Shakespeare ever wrote.

That villain is Iago, a high-ranking soldier who has a grudge against the noble Moorish soldier Othello, who has just eloped with the beautiful Desdemona. Using a nobleman as his pawn, Iago first turns Desdemona's father against Othello, but the new soldier defends himself agains claims of witchcraft.

But Iago's true plan is far more devious, as he disgraces Othello's lieutenant Cassion and plants Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's room. Othello finds himself confronted by a chess game of lies, deceit and suspected infidelity, and his jealousy reaches a fever pitch that can only end in death.

Yeah, the real star of this play is undoubtedly Iago. This is the most repellent mixture of absolute malicious evil and crazy-smart intellect that anyone could write -- he is the person you love to hate, even as you admire how devilishly perfect he is at playing the chessmaster who whispers poison into your ear while playing your "friend." He doesn't quite think of EVERYTHING, but he comes close enough that you would NEVER want to deal with someone like this.

But this tragedy is also underscored by the depiction of Othello, a truly noble and loyal soldier who is turned into a deranged homicidal mess. It's somehow even more disturbing to see him deteriorate than it was to see Macbeth, because this guy was on top of the world in every way -- he was smart, eloquent, a brilliant soldier and a newlywed. And look what happens to him.

And Shakespeare deftly builds up this tragedy with a subtle, interconnecting web of lies and misdirections, with the tension building slowly until something has to blow. His writing is typically powerful, generating some quotable phrases ("It is the green-ey'd monster") and lots of cynical, dark dialogue ("Who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch?").

"Othello" is a strangely fascinating tragedy, with Shakespeare absorbing us again in the tale of a good man corrupted. Definitely a good, if harrowing play.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2013
It's a great read and is easy to download but it would be brilliant if there were line numbers, although it is a free copy so you can't really complain.
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on 28 October 2012
More difficult to read the text of a play than to see a live performanance, but on close reading you start to get the hang of it. The characters take flesh and become as 'real' as your next door neighbour. You try to get in Shakespeare's mind and argue with him about why he plotted it that way. But the brilliance of Shakespeare is in the language both prose and poetry. You love or hate the characters and want to warn them and so change their fate. The notes by Michael Neill are very helpfull but do take dedication to get through. Highly recommended. This review is for the Oxford book not the kindle edition.
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on 29 September 2013
hi i am tejo. i am in foundation stage so iam 4years old. shakespear is by far my favourite author! he grips your attention like your hanging on a cliff for dear life. i think this is me third favourite shakespear book as it could never beat As You Like It.this book is full of jealousy and murder. i feel so sorry for the tragic faith of desdemona. it makes me want to be a greeat author just like him. this isn't my first review either. could you pretty please check out my review on charles dickens,tale of two cities?i would be extremelyy grateful if you could give me some feedback . thankyou!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2013
Studied this for English A Level, and found it very useful to have a copy on my Kindle.
One of the classic Shakespeare's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2014
It is what i wanted for my son for high school for his English literature class...very well done..nice and good
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on 1 August 2013
Othello is my absolute favourite of all Shakespeare's plays, it's just absolutely brilliant. It's a wonderful, but tragic play that has one of the best villians of all time. (Iago) The reason why this play remains so popular today is because the concepts of love, hate, jealousy, racism and violence are still very much relatable to today's society.
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on 25 June 2015
This is one of the all-time great plays, full of wonderful poetry, great psychology and dramatic scènes. Four hundred years before everybody else, Shakespeare gets stuck into issues of race relations, and even if his ideas aren't up to date, his eloquence is unbeatable. A must-read book.
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on 4 July 2013
Felt like a change from reading my usual thrillers/crime stories and tried this classic. I was surprised at the topical story line and how racial prejudice existed back at that time. Liked the characters and the story-line - nice tragic romance story with jealousy intertwined.
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