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English (Advanced) Preliminary

Module B Conflict in Literature


Elective Loyalty and Betrayal

Learning materials produced by


OTEN English Section
November 2013

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Contents

English (Advanced) Preliminary


Module B Conflict in Literature
Elective Loyalty and Betrayal

Contents

Part 1 Divided loyalties

Module and elective

Conflict in Literature

Loyalty and Betrayal

Introduction

A Horseman in the Sky

Suggested responses to activities

38

Part 2 Othello

47

Introduction

48

Studying Shakespearean drama

49

Shakespeares Othello

58

Critical study of Othello

66

Act I

66

Act II

76

Shakespeares characterisation of Iago

80

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Acts III and IV

83

Inside Othellos mind

88

Desdemonas submissiveness

96

Act V

97

Comparing the texts

105

Suggested responses to activities

111

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Part 1 Divided loyalties

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Module and elective


The modules and electives in the English (Advanced) Preliminary course
require students to explore the ways particular texts, forms, media, contexts
or aspects of language shape meaning.
These modules and electives have been developed in order to allow for:

students needs, interests and abilities

choice of approach

choice of texts for study.

Conflict in Literature
The second module you will be studying is called Conflict in Literature. In
this module you will examine how literary texts can be structured around a
central conflict or a series of conflicts. Often the conflict is between two
characters, or between a character or characters and a particular situation, or
else the conflict might be internalised within the protagonist (main
character).

Loyalty and Betrayal


The elective you will be studying within this module is called Loyalty and
betrayal. In this elective you will examine and compare how composers
address ideas relating to the themes of loyalty and betrayal in their texts.
As part of your study, you will:

investigate the social and historical contexts of texts

evaluate the importance of setting and context within the text

examine how composers structure their narratives to build to a


climax

compose a range of personal and analytical responses to the texts.

The texts which are set for study for your assignments are:

Ambrose Bierces short story A Horseman in the Sky

William Shakespeares play Othello.

You will study the two texts in relation to their particular personal, social,
historical, cultural and literary contexts, and you will identify how these
contexts have influenced the composers of the texts and the language forms
and features which they have used in the texts. You will analyse the
meanings of the texts within their specific contexts and evaluate their
effectiveness and significance, both then and now.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Prescribed texts
Ambrose Bierces short story has been printed in this learning resource.
However, you will need to locate a copy of Shakespeares play.
There are several film versions of Othello available. You might like to view
the 1995 film directed by Oliver Parker and starring Laurence Fishburne as
Othello and Kenneth Branagh as Iago, or any other version.
Othello (1995) directed by Oliver
Parker Columbia Pictures

The film can also be downloaded from iTunes or other online movie stores.

Learning Journal
As you are studying this elective you should keep making notes in your
Learning Journal. You should:

record your responses to the texts you study

comment on your understanding of new concepts and ideas

document information drawn from research

plan, organise, draft, edit and refine your responses

reflect on your own ideas and the texts you have composed, the texts
you are studying and the opinions of other people

evaluate your findings, observations and research methods in order


to monitor your own processes of responding, composing, and
learning.

Include copies of relevant sections and quotes from your texts and related
material in your journal.
The notes and reflections in your Learning Journal will assist you in
completing your assignments.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Introduction
In this part of the elective you will read a short story written by Ambrose
Bierce, a 19th Century American short story writer and satirist. Bierces
story is called A Horseman in the Sky. It describes a difficult choice faced
by its hero, a young soldier named Carter Druse, during the early days of the
American Civil War.
In studying this part, you will learn about:

the importance of context in shaping the meaning of a story

the role of the orientation in preparing the reader

how different narrative viewpoints can be integrated to achieve


particular effects

the use of description and characterisation

the use of language forms and features to create a psychological


short story.

You will learn to:

express your own personal response to a story

analyse a short story.

Activity: Dictionary definitions


Consider the following dictionary definitions:
loyal adj. 1 faithful to ones allegiance, as to the sovereign, government or state,
e.g., a loyal subject; 2 faithful to ones oath, engagement or obligations, e.g., to be
loyal to a vow; 3 faithful to any leader, party or cause, or to any person or thing
conceived as imposing obligations, e.g., a loyal friend.
betray v.t. 1 to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty;; 2 to be
unfaithful in keeping or upholding, e.g., to betray a trust; 3 to be disloyal to
9someone or something), to disappoint the hopes or expectations of ; 4 to reveal
or disclose in violation of confidence, e.g., to betray a secret; 5 to reveal
unconsciously (something one would preferably conceal); 6 to show or exhibit; 7 to
deceive or mislead; 8 to seduce and desert; 9 betray oneself, to reveal ones true
character, plans, etc.
Macquarie Dictionary

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

A Horseman in the Sky


In the story A Horseman in the Sky, the central character, a young soldier
named Carter Druse, has a terrible choice to make. He is forced into making
this decision largely because of external circumstances. Whatever choice he
makes, the consequences will be horrific.
Carters plight in the story is what is colloquially referred to as a no-win
situation.

Learning Journal
Have you ever had a difficult decision to make? What were the
circumstances or situation that forced you into this position? What were the
consequences of the choice you made?
Write your thoughts and reflections in your Learning Journal.

Social and historical context


Civil wars can give rise to particularly difficult situations because the
combatants are fighting in their own homeland and fighting against their
own people. This means that family members and friends can find
themselves in opposing armies.
Sometimes they can even find themselves directly fighting against each
other on the battlefield. This occurred in the opening battle of the American
Civil War. The commanders of the opposing sides, Beauregard, a
Confederate, and Anderson, a Unionist, had been good friends in their
training days at West Point. Imagine if you found yourself fighting against
your best friend or a brother, sister, father or mother.
Ambrose Bierce wrote A Horseman in the Sky and twenty-four other short
stories about the American Civil War in the years following the war. In
1891, they were published in the collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians.
In their entirety, they show the authors strong anti-war feelings.

Ambrose Bierce in the American Civil War


Bierce had enlisted as a volunteer right at the beginning of the war when the
new president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had called for
volunteers to fight for the unity of the country. Bierce fought from 1861
until January 1865 when he was discharged from the army and began his
writing career.
While in the army, Bierce worked his way up to first lieutenant, fighting in
many battles, including the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. He sustained a
serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. He
had had first-hand experience of the grim reality of the war and he depicted
that reality in his stories.
Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3
State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

Civil war broke out in the United States of America in March 1861. The war
between the southern and northern states lasted four years, cost more than
620,000 lives and left destruction everywhere. If you study history, you may
have learned about this war. If not, you must be wondering why a country
like the United States fought such a destructive war.

Ambrose Bierce as a young man

Activity: The causes of the American Civil War


Below is an extract from a history textbook outlining the causes of the
American Civil War.
Read the extract and then answer the questions that follow.
Before the civil war
In the mid-nineteenth century the United States was growing dramatically. The
Industrial Revolution, which brought the machine into our lives, meant the country
was soon crisscrossed by rail tracks. This allowed an increase in the production of
manufactured goods and the easier exploitation of the countrys rich resources of
timber, land, water, iron and copper. On the western coast, gold had been discovered
in California. This expansion led to growing differences between the northern and
southern parts of the young country.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

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America in this period was still extending its territories westwards. These were the
territories depicted in cowboy and Indian movies. One such new territory was
modern-day Texas. It had been won from Mexico in the Mexican War. The main
settlements of the period were, however, along the Eastern seaboard. It was these
states which would soon become embroiled in civil war. This was because, although
the northern and southern states of the country were interdependent, they were very
different.
The North
The North was more densely settled than the South with a population of about 18
million people. The countryside was hilly and rocky with dense forests. This meant
that the farms tended to be small. Because most of the population lived on the coast,
many made their livelihood as seamen, fishermen, shipbuilders and merchants. The
North became rapidly industrialised in this period and manufactured goods for
export to the South and to Europe. It soon owned four-fifths of the countrys
factories where the huge numbers of migrants flooding into the country worked.
The South
The South, by contrast, was mainly rural. Its cities were small and there were few
towns. The South was known for its plantations which tended to grow single crops
such as tobacco, rice, sugar and cotton. These plantations were large and depended
on African slaves to work them. The cotton was in particular demand in the textile
factories being set up in England and in the North. The South supplied seven-eighths
of the worlds cotton by the 1850s. The lifestyle and cultural values that the
Southerners lived by were very different from those of the Northerners.
Growing differences
The South became increasingly resentful at what it saw as the disadvantages it
suffered as a consequence of these differences. One such disadvantage was the
introduction of tariffs to protect manufactured goods. This may have helped the
North but prices went up in the South. Even today, people argue how much
protection should be given to farmers and manufacturers.
Americans of this period were very interested in politics and were strongly partisan,
supporting their causes with passion. Because the earliest settlers had fled
persecution in Europe, Americans were fervent supporters of democratic ideals. This
led to a growing number, especially in the North, questioning the moral rightness of
slavery. The intense debates in Congress about whether new states, as they joined
the Union, should be slave states, exacerbated the differences that were already
festering. This was despite the fact that not all the states who chose to stay in the
Union were slave free. The issue was as much about state rights versus the Union as
about slaves.
The slavery issue was important, however, as the South was very dependent on slave
labour as it expanded its plantations. Slaves made up one-third of the nine million
people who lived in these states. The South believed that if slavery were abolished,
its economy would collapse.
The outbreak of war
On 19 December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. On 4 March 1861,
Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president of the United States. He was
unacceptable to many in the South. He had promised to introduce high tariffs on
imports to protect manufacturers. He also intended to pass legislation that would
prevent slavery being extended to new areas of the country. On his election, several
other southern states followed South Carolinas example. Lincoln was determined

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

11

not to fire the first shots in any war but he also made it clear that he would not
accept the United States being broken up into separate countries. When the South
attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, at that time held by Union troops, civil war
had officially begun.
Below is a map that shows which states supported the Union (and opposed the
break-up of the United States), and which states supported the Southern secession.

the United States during the American Civil War (1861-1865)

How were the North and South different from each other?

How did this lead to civil war?

Use your own paper for this activity. You should practise handwriting your
responses to prepare for the HSC exams. Write approximately 100-125
words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

12

Activity: Viewing Gone with the Wind


A movie that depicts life in the South just prior to the American Civil War
and during the war itself is Gone with the Wind (1939) directed by Victor
Fleming. If you can, borrow this movie from a local video store. It will give
you a feel for Southern life and the American Civil War. If you cannot
obtain a copy of the film, you might like to read the novel it is based on,
Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell.

The film can also be downloaded from


iTunes or other online movie stores.

Activity: Reading extracts from Gone with the Wind


Below are three extracts from the novel Gone with the Wind. Read them
carefully and see what they add to your understanding of the way of life in
the South at the outbreak of the American Civil War and the preparedness of
the Southerners for war.
Use your own paper to answer both sets of questions. Sample answers are
provided at the end of this section.
Extract 1
The troop of the cavalry had been organised three months before, the very day that
Georgia seceded from the Union, and since then the recruits had been whistling for
war. The outfit was as yet unnamed, though not for want of suggestions. Everyone
had his own idea on that subject and was loath to relinquish it, just as everyone had
ideas about the colour and cut of the uniforms
The officers were elected by the members, for no one in the County had had any
military experience except a few veterans of the Mexican and Seminole wars and,
besides, the Troop would have scorned a veteran as a leader if they had not
personally liked him and trusted him Ashley Wilkes was elected captain, because
he was the best rider in the County and because his cool head was counted on to
keep some semblance of order. Raiford Calvert was made first lieutenant, because
everyone liked Raif
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 2nd Edition, 1986, p. 20.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

13

What does this extract tell you about the attitude of the Southerners
to the war?

What did you learn about their preparedness for the war?

flyer calling for recruits West Point Museum Collection, United States Military Academy

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

14

Extract 2
The heroine of the novel, Scarlett OHara, has learned some distressing news. She
wants to talk to her father, Gerald, alone.
It was time for Geralds return and, if she expected to see him alone, there was
nothing for her to do except meet him where the driveway entered the road. She
went quietly down the front steps, looking carefully over her shoulder to make sure
Mammy was not observing her from the upstairs windows. Seeing no broad black
face, turbaned in snowy white, peering disapprovingly from between fluttering
curtains, she boldly snatched up her green flowered skirts and sped toward the
driveway as fast as her small ribbon-laced slippers would carry her.
The dark cedars on either side of the gravelled drive met in an arch overhead,
turning the long avenue into a dim tunnel. As soon as she was beneath the gnarled
arms of the cedars, she knew she was safe from observation from the house and she
slowed her swift pace. She was panting, for her stays were laced too tightly to permit
much running, but she walked as rapidly as she could.
(Gone with the Wind, p. 27)
Extract 3
Scarlett is at a large social gathering at a wealthy neighbours home.
When the last forkful of pork and chicken and mutton had been eaten, Scarlett hoped
the time had come when India would rise and suggest that the ladies retire to the
house. It was two oclock and the sun was warm overhead, but India, wearied with
the three-day preparations for the barbecue, was only too glad to remain sitting
beneath the arbour, shouting remarks to a deaf old gentleman from Fayetteville.
A lazy somnolence descended on the crowd. The Negroes idled about, clearing the
long tables on which the food had been laid. The laughter and talking became less
animated and groups here and there fell silent. All were waiting for their hostess to
signal the end of the morning festivities. Palmetto fans were wagging more slowly,
and several old gentlemen were nodding from the heat and overloaded stomachs.
(Gone with the Wind, p. 108)

What did you learn about the way of life of the Southern plantation
owners and their families?

What do Extracts 2 and 3 tell you about the role of women in


Southern society?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 300-350 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

15

West Virginia
The story you are now going to read is set in the state of Virginia in the first
year of the war. It takes place in the mountainous countryside of the Cheat
River area near Grafton. The western part of Virginia was especially
vulnerable during the war. The Union (or Northern) capital, Washington,
and the Confederate (or Southern) capital, Richmond, were only a hundred
and sixty kilometres apart, with western Virginia between the two cities.
Seven of the twelve fiercest battles of the American Civil War were fought
in Virginia. Look at the map of the United States again and find the state of
Virginia. Note that the state of West Virginia was created in 1863, during
the war.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac
Rivers July 1865 James Gardner

Virginia, at the outbreak of war, joined the Confederates. Those who lived
in the western part of the state were hostile to those who lived on the coast,
however, and, when the Union troops defeated the Confederates in western
Virginia early in the war, the West Virginians organised their own state and
joined the Union.
As you will see in the story, the officers and their men were very
inexperienced just like the Southern conscripts in the extract from Gone
with the Wind. As a result of this inexperience, neither side was adequately
prepared at the beginning of the war, nor understood what would be
involved in the savage fighting that lay ahead.
The regular army of the North, for example, consisted of no more than
16,000 men. The President had to rely on volunteers joining the fight in
large numbers. In 1861 there were, however, insufficient officers, uniforms
and weapons for these volunteers. Nearly a third of the Northern armys

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

16

officers had resigned to join the South. The state militias which joined up
had never received combat training. Most of the regiments learned how to
fight while they were in the civil war itself.
The reality of war came as a tremendous shock. The inexperienced officers
found it difficult to keep discipline. One story tells of soldiers stopping to
help the casualties instead of continuing fighting. Another story tells of a
group of Confederates who broke rank in the middle of a charge to go
picking blackberries. Many soldiers collapsed because their thick woollen
uniforms and heavy gear were too much in the summer heat.
Despite these problems, the population at large had a romanticised view of
war. As regiments left for battle, they were farewelled by large, cheering
crowds, parades, bands and flag waving. People were idealistic and saw the
soldiers as romantic heroes. One father refused his daughters hand in
marriage to her suitor because he had not enlisted.
A Southern soldier wrote home: I am absent in a glorious cause and glory
in being in that cause. One young soldier who gained popular fame with the
Northerners was Johnny Clem who ran away from home to enlist at the age
of ten. He gained the nickname of the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga and
was promoted to sergeant after he shot a Confederate colonel who had
demanded his surrender with a musket which had been trimmed down to
suit his size.

The orientation
On the following page is the opening section of A Horseman in the Sky. In
the exposition or orientation (i.e., the storys introduction), the author
familiarises the reader with aspects of the storys context and setting.
As you read, you will notice that the beginning of the story is written using a
matter-of-fact tone. Bierces narrator (the character or observer recounting
the story) describes the setting in some detail. Bierce knew the area well
because he had fought in Virginia early in the war. In fact, he had
distinguished himself by rescuing a comrade under fire. He also had a keen
eye for detail. Because of his skill, he was made a topographical officer by
his commanding officer, General William Babcock Hazen, in 1863. His job
was to reconnoitre (i.e., make a survey of) the battlefield alone prior to the
battle and make maps of the area. It was a very dangerous job.
In this section, Bierce answers the questions who, where, when and what.
He also introduces a complication or problem. When you read the
orientation and first complication of a story carefully, you can also make
some predictions about how the story will unfold.
diagram showing the structure
of a narrative

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

17

Activity: Reading the orientation


Read the opening section of Ambrose Bierces story. Once you have read
the extract, write down what you have learned.
A Horseman in the Sky
by Ambrose Bierce
One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861 a soldier lay in a clump
of laurel by the side of a road in western Virginia. He lay at full length upon
his stomach, his feet resting upon the toes, his head upon the left forearm.
His extended right hand loosely grasped his rifle. But for the somewhat
methodical disposition of his limbs and a slight rhythmic movement of the
cartridge-box at the back of his belt he might have been thought to be dead.
He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly
afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime.
The clump of laurel in which the criminal lay was in the angle of a road
which after ascending southward a steep acclivity to that point turned
sharply to the west, running along the summit for perhaps one hundred
yards. There it turned southward again and went zigzagging downward
through the forest. At the salient of that second angle was a large flat rock,
jutting out northward, overlooking the deep valley from which the road
ascended. The rock capped a high cliff; a stone dropped from its outer edge
would have fallen sheer downward one thousand feet to the tops of the pines.
The angle where the soldier lay was on another spur of the same cliff. Had
he been awake he would have commanded a view, not only of the short arm
of the road and the jutting rock, but of the entire profile of the cliff below it.
It might well have made him giddy to look.
The country was wooded everywhere except at the bottom of the valley to
the northward, where there was a small natural meadow, through which
flowed a stream scarcely visible from the valleys rim. This open ground
looked hardly larger than an ordinary door-yard, but was really several acres
in extent. Its green was more vivid than that of the inclosing forest. Away
beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs similar to those upon which we are
supposed to stand in our survey of the savage scene, and through which the
road had somehow made its climb to the summit. The configuration of the
valley, indeed, was such that from this point of observation it seemed
entirely shut in, and one could but have wondered how the road which found
a way out of it had found a way into it, and whence came and whither went
the waters of the stream that parted the meadow more than a thousand feet
below.
No country is so wild and difficult but men will make it a theatre of war;
concealed in the forest at the bottom of that military rat-trap, in which half a
hundred men in possession of the exits might have starved an army to
submission, lay five regiments of Federal infantry. They had marched all the
previous day and night and were resting. At nightfall they would take to the
road again, climb to the place where their unfaithful sentinel now slept, and
descending the other slope of the ridge fall upon a camp of the enemy at
about midnight. Their hope was to surprise it, for the road led to the rear of
it. In case of failure, their position would be perilous in the extreme; and fail
they surely would should accident or vigilance apprise the enemy of the
movement.

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

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What have you learned from the opening paragraphs of the story? In your
answer, address the following questions:

Who is introduced?

Where is the action set?

When does the action take place?

What is happening?

What complication or problem is introduced?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 400-450 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Making predictions
It is often written that, in a short story, there should be no superfluous
details. Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer who helped pioneer the modern
short story, described as follows: If you describe a gun hanging on the wall
on page one, sooner or later that gun must go off.
Edgar Allan Poe, an early and influential American poet and short story
writer, known for his Tales of Mystery and Imagination, explained that in the
whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency,
direct or indirect, is not to one pre-established design. In other words, short
story writers include all of the details in their orientation for a reason.
What do you think will happen next in Ambrose Bierces story?
In making your predictions, you should consider all of the details that Bierce
has included in the storys orientation. Ask yourself the following questions:
Why does the author describes the scene in such detail? For example, why does
he say that the soldier is behind a laurel bush? Does it matter that, from his
vantage point, he has a clear view of his surroundings? Is it relevant that it is a
sunny day? Why does he mention the second protruding rock? Why does he
write that the road is hidden in the trees? Why does he note that it is a sheer
drop to the bottom of the cliff? Why does he mention that an open meadow is
visible from the summit? Why does he make reference to the stream?
Consider also why he includes details such as:

the fact that the soldiers had been marching for a day and night

that the regiments were camped in the meadow at the northern end of
the valley

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

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that the enemy army was camped on the other side of the ridge

that the sentry was asleep and that the punishment for falling asleep
was death.

Learning Journal
Write your predictions about what will happen in the story in your Learning
Journal.
When you have finished reading the story, you will be able to review your
predictions and see why such details were included in the orientation by the
author, and how they were used. The more able you are to note the details
given in the opening of a story, the more insight you will gain into its meaning.

Definitions
It is now time to read Ambrose Bierces story A Horseman in the Sky.
Definitions of some of the uncommon words from the story are provided
below. You should keep a dictionary handy to check the meanings of any
other words that are unfamiliar to you.
acclivity
accoutrements
Apocalypse

apprise
cameo

caparison
carbine
configuration
inclosing
laurel
leonine
obliquely
pommel
salient
sinuous
swooning
verge
vigilance
whence
whither

an upward slope or ascent


the equipment of a soldier, except for the arms and clothing
the revelation made to St John on the island of Patmos and
recorded in the Book of Revelations; now refers to any
revelation of a grand or violent event
to advise, inform, give notice of
engraving in relief on gem or stone with differently coloured
layers of the stone often used to produce a background of
one colour and a design of another, e.g., cameo brooches
covering, usually ornamental, that is laid over the saddle or
harness of a horse
a short firearm used by the cavalry
how the parts are organised to form the whole
archaic (no longer in ordinary use) spelling of the word
enclosing
plant with glossy dark-green leaves like a bay-tree
lion-like
indirect, slanting
the protuberant part at the front and top of a saddle
the part of the angle that projects outwards
winding with many curves like the movement of a snake
fainting
the edge
watchfulness
from where
to where

Learning Resource 6492EA Elective 2: Loyalty and Betrayal, Edition 3


State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities, January 2014

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Activity: Reading the story


You are now going to read the complete story of A Horseman in the Sky.
Read the orientation again to refamiliarise yourself with the setting.
When you have completed reading the story, you will be asked to make a
personal response.

A Horseman in the Sky


by Ambrose Bierce
I
One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861 a soldier lay in a clump of
laurel by the side of a road in western Virginia. He lay at full length upon his
stomach, his feet resting upon the toes, his head upon the left forearm. His
extended right hand loosely grasped his rifle. But for the somewhat methodical
disposition of his limbs and a slight rhythmic movement of the cartridge-box at
the back of his belt he might have been thought to be dead. He was asleep at his
post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly afterward, death being the
just and legal penalty of his crime.
The clump of laurel in which the criminal lay was in the angle of a road which
after ascending southward a steep acclivity to that point turned sharply to the
west, running along the summit for perhaps one hundred yards. There it turned
southward again and went zigzagging downward through the forest. At the salient
of that second angle was a large flat rock, jutting out northward, overlooking the
deep valley from which the road ascended. The rock capped a high cliff; a stone
dropped from its outer edge would have fallen sheer downward one thousand feet
to the tops of the pines. The angle where the soldier lay was on another spur of
the same cliff. Had he been awake he would have commanded a view, not only of
the short arm of the road and the jutting rock, but of the entire profile of the cliff
below it. It might well have made him giddy to look.
The country was wooded everywhere except at the bottom of the valley to the
northward, where there was a small natural meadow, through which flowed a
stream scarcely visible from the valleys rim. This open ground looked hardly
larger than an ordinary door-yard, but was really several acres in extent. Its green
was more vivid than that of the inclosing forest. Away beyond it rose a line of
giant cliffs similar to those upon which we are supposed to stand in our survey of
the savage scene, and through which the road had somehow made its climb to the
summit. The configuration of the valley, indeed, was such that from this point of
observation it seemed entirely shut in, and one could but have wondered how the
road which found a way out of it had found a way into it, and whence came and
whither went the waters of the stream that parted the meadow more than a
thousand feet below.
No country is so wild and difficult but men will make it a theatre of war;
concealed in the forest at the bottom of that military rat-trap, in which half a
hundred men in possession of the exits might have starved an army to
submission, lay five regiments of Federal infantry. They had marched all the
previous day and night and were resting. At nightfall they would take to the road
again, climb to the place where their unfaithful sentinel now slept, and
descending the other slope of the ridge fall upon a camp of the enemy at about

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midnight. Their hope was to surprise it, for the road led to the rear of it. In case of
failure, their position would be perilous in the extreme; and fail they surely would
should accident or vigilance apprise the enemy of the movement.
II
The sleeping sentinel in the clump of laurel was a young Virginian named Carter
Druse. He was the son of wealthy parents, an only child, and had known such
ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and taste were able to command in
the mountain country of western Virginia. His home was but a few miles from
where he now lay. One morning he had risen from the breakfast-table and said,
quietly but gravely: Father, a Union regiment has arrived at Grafton. I am going
to join it.
The father lifted his leonine head, looked at the son a moment in silence, and
replied: Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you conceive to be your
duty. Virginia, to which you are a traitor, must get on without you. Should we
both live to the end of the war, we will speak further of the matter. Your mother,
as the physician has informed you, is in a most critical condition; at the best she
cannot be with us longer than a few weeks, but that time is precious. It would be
better not to disturb her.
So Carter Druse, bowing reverently to his father, who returned the salute with a
stately courtesy that masked a breaking heart, left the home of his childhood to go
soldiering. By conscience and courage, by deeds of devotion and daring, he soon
commended himself to his fellows and his officers; and it was to these qualities
and to some knowledge of the country that he owed his selection for his present
perilous duty at the extreme outpost. Nevertheless, fatigue had been stronger than
resolution and he had fallen asleep. What good or bad angel came in a dream to
rouse him from his state of crime, who shall say? Without a movement, without a
sound, in the profound silence and the languor of the late afternoon, some
invisible messenger of fate touched with unsealing finger the eyes of his
consciousness whispering into the ear of his spirit the mysterious awakening
word which no human lips ever have spoken, no human memory ever has
recalled. He quietly raised his forehead from his arm and looked between the
masking stems of the laurels, instinctively closing his right hand about the stock
of his rifle.
His first feeling was a keen artistic delight. On a colossal pedestal, the cliff,
motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and sharply outlined against
the sky, was an equestrian statue of impressive dignity. The figure of the man
sat the figure of the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian
god carved in the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. The gray
costume harmonized with its aerial background; the metal of accoutrement and
caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the animals skin had no
points of high light. A carbine strikingly foreshortened lay across the pommel of
the saddle, kept in place by the right hand grasping it at the grip; the left hand,
holding the bridle rein, was invisible. In silhouette against the sky the profile of
the horse was cut with the sharpness of a cameo; it looked across the heights of
air to the confronting cliffs beyond. The face of the rider, turned slightly away,
showed only an outline of temple and beard; he was looking downward to the
bottom of the valley. Magnified by its lift against the sky and by the soldiers
testifying sense of the formidableness of a near enemy the group appeared of
heroic, almost colossal, size.
For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the
end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that
eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an

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inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the
horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the
verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to
the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against
his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the
piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horsemans
breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse.
At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his
concealed foeman seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his
brave, compassionate heart.
Is it then so terrible to kill an enemy in war an enemy who has surprised a
secret vital to the safety of ones self and comrades an enemy more formidable
for his knowledge than all his army for its numbers? Carter Druse grew pale; he
shook in every limb, turned faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as
black figures, rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky.
His hand fell away from his weapon, his head slowly dropped until his face rested
on the leaves in which he lay. This courageous gentleman and hardy soldier was
near swooning from intensity of emotion.
It was not for long; in another moment his face was raised from earth, his hand
resumed their places on the rifle, his forefinger sought the trigger; mind, heart,
and eyes were clear, conscience and reason sound. He could not hope to capture
that enemy; to alarm him would but send him dashing to his camp with his fatal
news. The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from ambush
without warning, without a moments spiritual preparation, with never so much
as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his account. But no there is a hope;
he may have discovered nothing perhaps he is but admiring the sublimity of the
landscape. If permitted, he may tum and ride carelessly away in the direction
whence he came. Surely it will be possible to judge at the instant of his
withdrawing whether he knows. It may well be that his fixity of attention Druse
turned his head and looked through the deeps of air downward, as from the
surface to the bottom of a translucent sea. He saw creeping across the green
meadow a sinuous line of figures of men and horses some foolish commander
was permitting the soldiers of his escort to water their beasts in the open, in plain
view from a dozen summits!
Druse withdrew his eyes from the valley and fixed them again upon the group of
man and horse in the sky, and again it was through the sights of his rifle. But this
time his aim was at the horse. In his memory, as if they were a divine mandate,
rang the words of his father at their parting: Whatever may occur, do what you
conceive to be your duty. He was calm now. His teeth were firmly but not rigidly
closed; his nerves were as tranquil as a sleeping babes not a tremor affected
any muscle of his body; his breathing, until suspended in the act of taking aim,
was regular and slow. Duty had conquered; the spirit had said to the body:
Peace, be still. He fired.
III
An officer of the Federal force, who in a spirit of adventure or in quest of
knowledge had left the hidden bivouac in the valley, and with aimless feet had
made his way to the lower edge of a small open space near the foot of the cliff,
was considering what he had to gain by pushing his exploration further. At a
distance of a quarter-mile before him, but apparently at a stones throw, rose from
its fringe of pines the gigantic face of rock, towering to so great a height above
him that it made him giddy to look up to where its edge cut a sharp, rugged line
against the sky. It presented a clean, vertical profile against a background of blue

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sky to a point half the way down, and of distant hills, hardly less blue, thence to
the tops of the trees at its base. Lifting his eyes to the dizzy altitude of its summit
the officer saw an astonishing sight - a man on horseback riding down into the
valley through the air!
Straight upright sat the rider, in military fashion, with a firm seat in the saddle, a
strong clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from too impetuous a plunge.
From his bare head his long hair streamed upward, waving like a plume. His
hands were concealed in the cloud of the horses lifted mane. The animals body
was as level as if every hoof-stroke encountered the resistant earth. Its motions
were those of a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked they ceased, with all
the legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of alighting from a leap. But this
was a flight!
Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in the sky
half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new Apocalypse, the officer was
overcome by the intensity of his emotions; his legs failed him and he fell. Almost
at the same instant he heard a crashing sound in the trees a sound that died
without an echo and all was still.
The officer rose to his feet, trembling. The familiar sensation of an abraded shin
recalled his dazed faculties. Pulling himself together he ran rapidly obliquely
away from the cliff to a point distant from its foot; thereabout he expected to find
his man; and thereabout he naturally failed. In the fleeting instant of his vision his
imagination had been so wrought upon by the apparent grace and ease and
intention of the marvellous performance that it did not occur to him that the line
of march of aerial cavalry is directly downward, and that he could find the objects
of his search at the very foot of the cliff. A half-hour later he returned to camp.
This officer was a wise man; he knew better than to tell an incredible truth. He
said nothing of what he had seen. But when the commander asked him if in his
scout he had learned anything of advantage to the expedition he answered:
Yes, sir; there is no road leading down into this valley from the southward.
The commander, knowing better, smiled.
IV
After firing his shot, Private Carter Druse reloaded his rifle and resumed his
watch. Ten minutes had hardly passed when a Federal sergeant crept cautiously to
him on hands and knees. Druse neither turned his head nor looked at him, but lay
without motion or sign of recognition.
Did you fire? the sergeant whispered.
Yes.
At what?
A horse. It was standing on yonder rock pretty far out. You see it is no longer
there. It went over the cliff.
The mans face was white, but he showed no other sign of emotion. Having
answered, he turned away his eyes and said no more. The sergeant did not
understand.
See here, Druse, he said, after a moments silence, its no use making a
mystery. I order you to report. Was there anybody on the horse?
Yes.
Well?
My father.
The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. Good God! he said.

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Activity: Summarising the story


Did you understand the story? If not, read it again.
In about half a page, write a synopsis (or summary) of the events of the
story.

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 100-150 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your summary with the one
provided in the Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Writing a personal response


You are now going to write a personal response or, if you prefer, tape your
response onto a cassette, CD or computer audio file. A personal response is
your opportunity to explore your own ideas, feelings and opinions about the
story before you study it or read a teacher or critics ideas. Before you write,
you may find it helpful to discuss your response with another student. You
might like to post your response on the OTEN English wiki for this subject.
Although you will be expected to communicate your understanding of the
story as a whole, you can focus on any aspects of the story that particularly
interest you. You may choose, for example, to spend most of your time
writing about such aspects as the:

characters

plot

themes

use of setting

the decision made by Carter Druse

story-telling techniques used by Ambrose Bierce

the link between the details given in the orientation and their use in
the unfolding of the plot and in the preparation of the reader for the
resolution or conclusion

the significance of the historical or social context

or a combination of these.

Remember that, as a reader, you bring your own experiences and viewpoint
to the meaning of the story. You may comment on how your own

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experiences and opinions affected how you responded to and interpreted the
characters, relationships and events described in the story. For example, you
might be affected by the nature of your own relationship with your father. If
you have no father, this may also affect how you read the story. What are
your feelings about war? Did this affect your response in any way?
However you respond, remember that you are not retelling the story. You
only refer to the text in order to support or clarify your:

ideas

opinions

feelings.

One way of starting your response could be:


A Horseman in the Sky tells the story of <

>. In the

story, Ambrose Bierce is showing how <

>. I enjoyed /

did not enjoy reading the story because <

>. It was

interesting to see how the author prepared the reader for the storys
climax by <

> in the orientation.

Activity: Two examples of a personal response


If you are still uncertain about how to write a personal response, read the
following two examples. They are two different personal responses to the
third extract you read from Margaret Mitchells novel Gone with the Wind
when you were looking at the social and historical context of the American
Civil War earlier in this learning resource.

Personal response 1
I enjoyed the way Margaret Mitchell captures the laziness of a warm
afternoon after a large meal. The scene reminded me of Christmas
Day after we have eaten the traditional huge feast at lunch. Mitchell
emphasises how large the banquet is by listing the meats the guests
have eaten pork, chicken and mutton and by mentioning that India
has spent three days preparing the meal. I immediately imagined long
tables laden with food.
Mitchell captures the warmth of the afternoon in a number of ways.
She notes that it is two oclock on a sunny afternoon. She describes
the guests slowly becoming drowsier as the food and heat overcome
them. The laughter and talk subside, the fans move more slowly and
some of the old men fall asleep. The phrase lazy somnolence and the
verb idled which are used to describe the Negroes clearing the
table add to the sense of laziness and sleepiness.

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Personal response 2
Extract 3 really captures for me the inequality of Southern society in
the late 19th Century. You can see how wealthy the hostess and
presumably her guests are. The guests have three meats to choose
from and the meal took three days to prepare. Negroes, who are no
doubt slaves, clear up after them while they laze around in the warm
afternoon.
The women are also treated as inferior to the men. It would appear
that the ladies will move indoors while the men stay outside in the
shade of the arbour. India seems to have been fully responsible for
seeing to the preparation of the feast. This suggests that domestic
chores are the womans responsibility. I must admit I would not like
to be a woman in those days.

Learning Journal
It is now time to write or record a personal response to the short story A
Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce.
In your response, explore your ideas, opinions and feelings about the story.
Support your ideas, opinions and feelings by using examples and, if
necessary, quotes from the story. However, remember that you should not
summarise the story.

Looking more closely at the story


You are now going to analyse the story in more detail. You will consider
how Bierce has developed the conflict that is central to the plot.
Before you begin, review your summary of the plot to remind yourself of
the sequence of events. You have already analysed Section 1. You might
also find it useful to look over your observations and notes on the opening
before continuing with the following activities.

The flashback scene


When you looked closely at Section 1 of the story, you noticed how the
storys narrator labelled the sleeping sentry as a criminal. In Section 2, the
tone of the story changes. Although the narrator continues, for the most part,
to describe the events of the story as if he is looking on from the outside, he
is more sympathetic towards the sleeping soldier, whose name we now learn
is Carter Druse.
In this section, the narrator uses a flashback to an incident that occurred in
Carter Druses home on the morning that he left to enlist in the Union arm
in order to acquaint us with the characters background.

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Activity: Developing Carter Druses character


Reread the opening paragraphs of Section 2 of the story and note what you
learn about Carter Druse and his relationship with his family, then answer
the questions that follow.
As you analyse this section of the story, take into account what you have
learned about Southern values and attitudes.
The sleeping sentinel in the clump of laurel was a young Virginian named
Carter Druse. He was the son of wealthy parents, an only child, and had
known such ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and taste were
able to command in the mountain country of western Virginia. His home was
but a few miles from where he now lay. One morning he had risen from the
breakfast-table and said, quietly but gravely: Father, a Union regiment has
arrived at Grafton. I am going to join it.
The father lifted his leonine head, looked at the son a moment in silence, and
replied: Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you conceive to be
your duty. Virginia, to which you are a traitor, must get on without you.
Should we both live to the end of the war, we will speak further of the
matter. Your mother, as the physician has informed you, is in a most critical
condition; at the best she cannot be with us longer than a few weeks, but that
time is precious. It would be better not to disturb her.
So Carter Druse, bowing reverently to his father, who returned the salute
with a stately courtesy that masked a breaking heart, left the home of his
childhood to go soldiering.

What do you learn about Carter Druse?

What do you learn about the relationship between Druse and his
father?

Why does Druses news distress his father?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 400-450 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Building sympathy for the protagonist


After this flashback scene, the story returns to the present. Recall how, in
Section 1 of the story, the narrator labelled Carter Druse a criminal. He
now gives us a different picture of the storys protagonist (i.e., the main
character or hero).

Activity: Carter Druse as a soldier


In the first part of Section 2 you have seen how dignified and courteous the
young man was when he farewelled his father. You now learn of his
qualities as a soldier.
Answer the following questions.
1

What are the qualities that Druse exhibits as a soldier? How does
Bierce highlight those qualities by the way he describes them?

Bierce mentions twice that the sentry is standing duty near his
childhood home. Why is this important in the story?

How does Bierce arouse the readers sympathy for Carter Druse?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 250-300 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

The narrative viewpoint


The changes in the narrative viewpoint in the story are important. Bierce
employs an omniscient narrator (an all-knowing observer) to describe
the events and actions. This narrator is able to move from one place to
another place and report what is happening from different perspectives, and
also to jump back in time to describe earlier events that have a bearing on
the current situation. Bierce also uses dialogue to present the points of views
of different characters in the story.
Bierces narrator also has insights into the thoughts and feelings of the
characters and, generally speaking, he reports the events, behaviours and
emotions in an objective manner. For example, the narrator describes the
sentry asleep at his post, and outlines what the just and legal penalty would
be for such an offence if discovered:

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He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly
afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime.

The narrator gives no opinion about the right or wrong of the matter, he
merely reports what the official penalty would be.
However, at some moments in the story, the narrator does insert a comment
or opinion about what is happening. For example, in the first section the
narrator observes that No country is so wild and difficult but men will
make it a theatre of war. There is an element of cynicism in this statement
which reflects Ambrose Bierces critical attitude towards war and the men
who instigate them.
In the second section, as the story reaches its climax, the narration changes
and directly engages Druses thoughts, as if Druse is speaking his thoughts
out loud. In this way, the story is able to emphasise the inner conflict and
emotional turmoil that Carter Druse is experiencing as he decides whether
or not to shoot his father. Because the author gives the reader an insight into
Druses actual thoughts and reactions, we know how much effort it took him
to recognise that he had no choice. As a point of honour, he had to do his
duty as a soldier. The lives of the troops depended on him.
Just as the reader is presented with different views and perspectives
regarding Carter Druse, we observe Druses father and his death from
different vantage points also.

Activity: The horsemans character and appearance


Create a table in which you provide descriptions and examples of the
horsemans character and appearance. In Column 1, write the adjectives you
would use to describe the fathers character and the way he appears at
different moments in the story. In Column 2, give quotes and/or examples to
support your view.
Adjectives

Examples / quotes

gentlemanly

Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you


conceive to be your duty. Druses father remains courteous
and formal even when his heart is breaking.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Activity: Heroic language


Did you notice that Druses father is described in heroic terms? This is
especially apparent when Druse first wakes up and sees his father and, again,
when the officer sees him falling.
Read the paragraph where Druse wakes and sees his father on the horse.
How does Bierce use language to convey Druses sense of the horsemans
heroic stature?
His first feeling was a keen artistic delight. On a colossal pedestal, the cliff,
motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and sharply outlined
against the sky, was an equestrian statue of impressive dignity. The figure
of the man sat the figure of the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the
repose of a Grecian god carved in the marble which limits the suggestion of
activity. The gray costume harmonized with its aerial background; the metal
of accoutrement and caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the
animals skin had no points of high light. A carbine strikingly foreshortened
lay across the pommel of the saddle, kept in place by the right hand grasping
it at the grip; the left hand, holding the bridle rein, was invisible. In
silhouette against the sky the profile of the horse was cut with the sharpness
of a cameo; it looked across the heights of air to the confronting cliffs
beyond. The face of the rider, turned slightly away, showed only an outline
of temple and beard; he was looking downward to the bottom of the valley.
Magnified by its lift against the sky and by the soldiers testifying sense of
the formidableness of a near enemy the group appeared of heroic, almost
colossal, size.

Notice how Druse compares the


sight of the horseman to an ancient
Greek statue. He actually makes
the comparison directly. The
narrator, filtering Druses
perceptions, refers to an
equestrian statue of impressive
dignity and says the horseman sat
with the repose of a Grecian god
carved in the marble which limits
the suggestion of activity. The
noun god emphasises the
impression of the riders heroic
qualities. This is reinforced by the
mans upright posture. Throughout
the passage the horse and man are
described in terms of a work of art.
For example, the cliff is compared
to a pedestal and the horse seen
in profile is compared to a
cameo.
The whole scene is described in
larger-than-life terms. The cliff is

drawing of a Confederate cavalry officer

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colossal. The horse in profile appears to look out across a sky described as
heights of air. The soldier and his horse viewed together are described
with the adjectives heroic and colossal and the verb magnified.
Now reread the scene where the officer sees the horseman and his horse
falling to their deaths. Notice how this scene also bestows on Druses father
heroic stature.
Straight upright sat the rider, in military fashion, with a firm seat in the
saddle, a strong clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from too impetuous
a plunge. From his bare head his long hair streamed upward, waving like a
plume. His hands were concealed in the cloud of the horses lifted mane. The
animals body was as level as if every hoof-stroke encountered the resistant
earth. Its motions were those of a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked
they ceased, with all the legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of
alighting from a leap. But this was a flight!
Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in the sky
half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new Apocalypse, the
officer was overcome by the intensity of his emotions; his legs failed him
and he fell. Almost at the same instant he heard a crashing sound in the trees
a sound that died without an echo and all was still.

On the lines below, describe how Bierce uses language to convey a sense of
the horsemans heroic stature in this passage.

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 250-300 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

The reality
What, in fact, is the reality?
Far from being an ancient Greek statue or an Apocalyptic apparition, the
horseman is an enemy soldier and Druses father. The young sentry is faced
with a terrible moral dilemma. He must choose to murder his father or
betray his fellow soldiers. Despite the officers illusion, when Druse shoots
the horse, it and its rider plunge to their deaths at the bottom of the cliff.
Recall Druses first intuition when he wakes to see the horse and rider:
For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to
the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that
eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been
an inglorious part.

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Ambrose Bierce had just finished fighting in an extremely bloody war in


which American had fought against American. He had no illusions about the
horrors of the battlefield. It is possible that, in this story, Bierce was trying
to convey the notion that this civil war marked the end of an era. Druses
father, a Southern gentleman, represents the past, a heroic past marked by a
strong sense of honour and courage, and the sort of exploits and attitudes
celebrated in ancient Greek legends and many tales of past wars. The defeat
of the South not only meant the end of these old values; it also meant the
end of Americas romanticised view of war.
Reread the following extract from earlier in the unit.
The reality of war came as a tremendous shock. The inexperienced
officers found it difficult to keep discipline. One story tells of soldiers
stopping to help the casualties instead of continuing fighting. Another
story tells of a group of Confederates who broke rank in the middle of
a charge to go picking blackberries. Many soldiers collapsed because
their heavy, woollen uniforms and heavy gear were too much in the
summer heat.
Despite these problems, the population at large had a romanticised
view of war. As regiments left for battle, they were farewelled by
large, cheering crowds, parades, bands and flag waving. People were
idealistic and saw the soldiers as romantic heroes. One father refused
his daughters hand in marriage to her suitor because he had not
enlisted.
One Southern soldier wrote home: I am absent in a glorious cause
and glory in being in that cause.
Although Bierce means the reader to admire the horsemans courage in the
face of death and to recognise Druses sense of honour, he also debunks the
romantic view of war held by his countrymen at the outbreak of the conflict.
He appears to be trying to convey to his reader the horror and tragedy of war
and the terrible choices that those who fight in war confront.
Just as Carter Druses sensations are momentary and half-defined, the
narrator makes it clear also that the officers heroic impression of the flying
horseman is an illusion:
In the fleeting instant of his vision his imagination had been so wrought
upon by the apparent grace and ease and intention of the marvellous
performance that it did not occur to him that the line of march of aerial
cavalry is directly downward, and that he could find the objects of his search
at the very foot of the cliff.

Bierces purpose is to show the terrible futility and waste of war. The
juxtaposition of these half-defined and fleeting images of heroism with
the reality of Carter Druses awful decision serves to emphasise this
message.

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The psychological short story


As you studied how Bierce uses narrative viewpoint in A Horseman in the
Sky, you might have noticed that he pays careful attention to the
delineation of his characters and their responses in the face of crisis. In fact,
he was a pioneer in his psychological treatment of character. Once he
wakes, Carter Druses sensations and perceptions are filtered directly
through the omniscient narrator.
Bierce was also an innovator in other aspects of story-telling. For example,
he was one of the first writers to use the flashback technique, which is now a
staple of modern novels, movies and television programs.
You will now consider how Bierce contributed to the development of the
modern short story and, in particular, the modern psychological short story.

Bierces role in the development of the short story


Bierce wrote twenty-five short stories about the American Civil War. These
stories are important for two reasons. Firstly they anticipate the modern
short story in technique. Bierce began to shorten the short story. He chose
his words carefully, generally writing in a clear, concise way. The opening
of perhaps his most famous short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek
Bridge, illustrates how effectively he could, in thirty-eight words, place his
reader in the centre of the action. He writes simply and directly, placing the
words in their most natural order. The effect is dramatic.
A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into
the swift water twenty feet below. The mans hands were behind his back,
the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.

Notice how the first sentence of A Horseman in the Sky similarly puts the
reader directly into the action. Remember, also, how much impact there is in
the final spare dialogue of the story when you learn who the horseman is.
This contrasts markedly with the wordiness of many of Bierces
contemporaries.
Secondly, these stories are also forerunners of the 20th Century
psychological short story. In exploring the psychology of the individual at a
sudden point of crisis in his life, Bierce was far ahead of the writers of his
day.
As a soldier, he had confronted the darker side of human experience:
anguish, despair and death. He learned that, at the moment of crisis, human
beings stand alone and must rely on themselves. As they struggle to deal
with their moment of anguish, not only is their personality revealed but also
their character. It is at these moments that they face their innermost being
and learn who they truly are and what it means to be alive. In A Horseman
in the Sky, Carter Druse faces his personal crisis.
Those few minutes change Druse irrevocably and reveal to him the values
he holds and the nature of his inner character.

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Activity: Druses inner conflict


Druses personal crisis begins at the moment that the horseman turns his
head. The rider appears to look directly into the hidden soldiers heart.
Although the reader does not know the nature of the choice the soldier has to
make at this moment, Carter Druse does. He has recognised his father.
You are now going to examine how the author depicts the moment of moral
choice and its consequences. Answer the following questions.
1

How does Bierce capture the drama of the moment of crisis?

The author does not reveal the identity of the horseman at this point
of the story. He nevertheless prepares the reader for the ending. How
does the narrator prepare the reader for the choice that Druse must
make?

Even without knowing the identity of the horseman, you learn what a
terrible choice it is that Druse has to make. What makes the act so
terrible?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 800-1000 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

The storys resolution


You have already analysed the horsemans fall. The spare language which
Bierce uses in the resolution contrasts with the poetic language used to
describe the fall.
In fact, the storys conclusion is notable for its understatement. Where
Bierce used descriptive writing in the previous section, he now mainly relies
on dialogue. A nearby sergeant arrives ten minutes after the incident. He has
heard the shot. Druse answers his questions in terse, laconic statements.
Bierce depicts the intensity of Druses emotions at the end of the story by
the brevity of his responses and his failure to explain fully what has
happened until he is forced to. This shows how hard he is finding it to
speak. He is deliberately matter-of-fact and emotionless in his replies. His
body language also reveals his feelings. It is as if he is in shock.
He remains with his back to the sergeant and only turns to look at him when
he has to reply. He quickly turns away again. His face is white.

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He only explains fully when he is forced to and then it is in two words: My


father.
The officer moves away and then exclaims: Good God!

Activity: The effect of the final section


What do you think is the meaning of this final sentence? How effective is
the storys resolution in conveying the horror of the situation?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 200-250 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

wounded soldiers being tended in the field after the Battle of Chancellorsville
near Fredericksburg, Virginia, 2 May 1863 taken from
Pictures of Civil War, Library of Congress

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Cornelian dilemma
In literature, a no-win situation is sometimes called a Cornelian dilemma
(choix cornlien). It refers to a situation where a composer places a
character into a predicament where he or she must make a choice between
two courses of action either of which will produce a negative outcome. This
decision typically involves the protagonist experiencing an inner conflict
which forces him to choose between love or friendship on the one hand, and
honour or duty on the other.
The Cornelian dilemma is named after the French playwright Pierre
Corneille. In Corneilles play Le Cid (1636), based on the legend of the
medieval Castilian warrior El Cid, the protagonist, Rodrigue, is torn
between two desires: that of being worthy of his girlfriend Chimnes love
and that of avenging his father, who has been wronged by Chimnes father.
Rodrigue can either seek revenge and lose the love of his beloved, or
renounce revenge and lose his honour.

Learning Journal
What was Ambrose Bierces purpose in writing the short story A Horseman
in the Sky? In what ways has he constructed a Cornelian dilemma or nowin situation for his protagonist? What is Bierces attitude to war?
Write your thoughts and reflections in your Learning Journal.

Assignment 4
Now turn to your Assessment Guide and complete Assignment 4 Task 1.
Then return to this learning resource to continue studying the elective.

Reflecting on what you have learned


It is now time to update your Learning Journal. Read over your responses to
the activities and the notes you have made and summarise the main things
you have learned about:

the importance of context in shaping the meaning of a story

the role of the orientation in preparing the reader

how different narrative viewpoints can be integrated to achieve


particular effects

the use of description and characterisation

the use of language forms and features to create a psychological


short story

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expressing your own personal response to a story

analysing a short story.

If you had any problems working through Part 1 please call the English
section at OTEN on (02) 9715 8617 or 1300 369 598. Write down your
difficulties in your Learning Journal before you contact your teacher.

Suggested responses to activities


The causes of the American Civil War
1

The North was more heavily populated than the South and had been
industrialised. As a result of industrialisation, the number of
factories grew, leading to the urbanisation of the population. The
South, by contrast, was mainly rural and, because of its smaller
population, depended on slaves to work on its large plantations.

The South felt increasingly disadvantaged by the political decisions


made by Northerners. For example, tariffs were introduced to protect
manufactured goods. Northern politicians also tried to limit the
spread of slavery. When Abraham Lincoln was elected as President
on a platform of increased tariffs for manufactured goods and
preventing slavery in new states, the South broke away. [back]

Reading extracts from Gone with the Wind


1

The recruits appear to treat the war as some sort of social event.
They can barely wait for it to start and they are more concerned
about what their troop will be named and what their uniforms will
look like than the prospect of fighting on the battlefield. They are
obviously unprepared for the reality of the war.

The troop has only been formed three months previously and there
are few experienced officers. Some of the main criteria for picking a
leader appear to be the ability to ride a horse or the soldiers
popularity.

The wealthier plantation owners appear to enjoy a luxurious and


sociable way of life. The second extract describes the heroine
running down a long driveway an avenue flanked by large trees.
You can imagine a large house at the top of it.
The third extract describes a barbecue. The meal took three days to
prepare and the many guests have feasted on three types of meat and
have been waited on by black slaves. It is hinted that the event is
planned to last the whole day. Scarletts thoughts about the ladies
retiring suggest the social codes are fairly formal and well
understood. This impression is reinforced by the way the other

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guests also appear to be waiting for the hostess to signal the end of
the mornings activities.
4

Women seem to lead restricted lives. Scarlett finds running hard


because she is tightly corseted underneath her dress. Her footwear,
ribbon-laced slippers, seems quite inappropriate for outdoor
activities. Furthermore, she is aware that her Mammy, a black slave
who looks after her, would not approve of her going out to the road
alone to meet Gerald, who is her father.
At the barbecue, Scarlett makes it clear that it is traditional for the
ladies to go inside and leave the men who will presumably talk about
important issues like the upcoming war. In fact, in a typical Southern
home, the father was the patriarch (ruler) of the home and his
authority extended to all members of the household, including his
wife and children. [back]

Reading the orientation


We quickly learn that the story takes place on a sunny autumn afternoon in
1861. High mountains enclose a valley which is thickly forested with pines
except for a half-hidden meadow on its northern side. A stream flows
through this meadow. On one side of the valley, the mountain rises in a
perpendicular cliff, a thousand feet high (about 330 metres). A road, which
is scarcely visible because of the trees, leads from the base up the
mountainside. At the summit, where the road turns to follow the line of the
cliff briefly, is a flat, protruding rock overlooking the countryside around it.
The main character of the story, a soldier, is asleep behind a laurel bush on
another rocky spur on the cliff face. A little further on, the road turns south
again, away from the cliff. Here another rock looks out over the landscape.
Notice how the author puts you, the reader, in the picture too (Away
beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs similar to those upon which we are
supposed to stand in our survey of the savage scene ).
Just as you, the reader, are asked to observe the scene in which the story is
taking place, the narrator of the story comments on the sleeping soldier as if
he too is an observer witnessing what happens. He explains that, if caught,
the young man would be condemned to death for his dereliction of duty:
He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly
afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime.

Without excusing the soldier, the narrator does mention that the troops had
been marching for an entire day and night. This is a long time to march
continuously. Recall how the officers, early in the war, were very
inexperienced. Furthermore, it is a sunny afternoon and the warmth would
no doubt make it more difficult for the lone sentry to stay awake.
In this opening section, Bierce also introduces the reader to what is
happening. Five regiments of the Federal or Union army (in other words, the
army representing the Northern states and those who wish to prevent the

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partition of the
country) are hidden in
the meadow below, as
they rest before
mounting an attack on
a nearby camp of
Confederate soldiers
(i.e., the Southern
army).
The complication in
this opening section is
that the sentry whose
a Union cavalry column on the march
job it is to protect the
regiments from discovery, or warn them of an imminent threat, is asleep,
thus exposing them to danger. [back]

Summarising the story


Carter Druse, a soldier in the Union army, falls asleep on sentry duty. When
he wakes up, he sees an enemy horseman nearby looking down at the valley
where five Union regiments are hidden. The horseman looks around and
Druse realises it is his father (although the reader does not know this until
the very end of the story).
Druse is in a dilemma about whether to shoot the horseman or not. He then
sees some of his troops nearby watering their horses in full view. He realises
that his comrades are in danger and so he shoots his fathers horse. The
horse and rider plummet to their deaths at the bottom of the steep cliff.
An officer who is exploring the valley sees the fall and believes he has seen
a flying horseman. However, he keeps quiet about the incident.
Druse is relieved from sentry duty and reports briefly to the astonished
sergeant. [back]

Developing Carter Druses character


1

The narrator explains that Carter Druse is the only son of wealthy
parents. He lives with his father and mother in the mountainous
region of western Virginia close to where the events described in the
first section of the story are taking place. Although he lives in a
country area he had led a life of ease, enjoying cultural pursuits and
a high standard of living.

In the flashback scene, it is clear that Carter Druse belongs to an


upper class Southern family by the way he and his father address
each other. They communicate with one another in a formal and
courteous way, typical of gentlemen of that time and place. The
father calls his son Sir while the son bows reverently to his father.
The father returns the bow with a stately courtesy. What is unusual is
the way the father and son are being quite so formal in the privacy of

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their own home, even though you would expect more formality than
in a modem home where the father is usually less clearly head of the
household. This degree of formality is because of the news Druse
has given his father.
3

The father is distressed by his sons news because Druse is planning


to join the Union army, while his father supports the Confederates.
He clearly believes that all Virginians should support the South and
that his son is a traitor to join the Northern forces. Although the son
addresses his father with respect, calling him Father when he tells
him he is going to join the nearby Union regiment, he does not,
however, ask for his fathers permission. Throughout the scene,
Druse and his father treat each other as gentlemen and equals.
Note that the father believes that his son is a traitor. He has to
postpone dealing with the situation because his wife is dying but he
promises that they will deal with the issue when the son returns. By
speaking to his son in this way, he does, however, distance himself
emotionally. Despite this, you can see the fathers caring in the
advice he gives Druse and in the narrators comment that his
courtesy hid a breaking heart. Carter Druses regard for his father
is captured in the adverb reverently, describing the way he bows to
his father.
The father advises his son that, whatever may occur, he should do
what he considers to be his duty. This advice becomes relevant when
Druse has to decide whether to kill his father. As he raises his rifle to
shoot his fathers horse and so condemn his father to die, he
remembers his fathers words and they give him the strength to
shoot. This was his duty as a member of the Union forces which
were under threat of discovery by the elder Druse. [back]

Carter Druse as a soldier


1

Carter is courageous, conscientious, daring and devoted to duty.


Ambrose Bierce highlights these qualities by using alliteration and
by balancing each quality with its partner, linking them with and.
For example, conscience and courage are linked. Similarly, the
narrator links deeds of devotion and daring. It is because of these
qualities and because the regiments are in his home country that
Druse has been picked for sentry duty.

Druse is not the only one who knows the area well. His father does
too. If Druse lets him leave untouched he can not only reveal the
whereabouts of the enemy troops but he can also lead the
Confederates into the valley to ambush the Union troops.

At this point of the story the reader has become much more
sympathetic towards the main character. We have found out more
about Carters family background, and the difficulties of his present
duty have been emphasised. After reading Section 1, we know that
Druse has been forced to march for over thirty hours without rest

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before being posted on sentry duty in enemy territory alone on a


warm autumn afternoon. In the second section, unlike the first
section where Druses dereliction of duty is referred to as a crime
punishable by death, here the narrator simply reflects on how
fatigue had been stronger than resolution and he had fallen asleep.
You may also remember that the officers of this period were very
inexperienced. This is reflected in the long march and the way Druse
was assigned to duty on his own after such a march. Poor judgment
is also crucial in the story when an officer allows his troops to water
their horses in the open meadow in full view of the surrounding
mountains. [back]

The horsemans character and appearance


Adjectives

Examples / quotes

gentlemanly

Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you


conceive to be your duty. Druses father remains courteous
and formal even when his heart is breaking.

proud

Despite the fact he is falling to his death, the father remains


upright in the saddle: Straight upright sat the rider, in
military fashion, with a firm seat in the saddle, a strong
clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from too impetuous
a plunge.

patriarchal

Druse and his father are formal to each other. Druse


addresses his father as Father and the father calls his son
Sir. The father also protects his wife from knowledge of
what he perceives as their sons treachery.

noble, morally upright

He tells Druse to do his duty even though the father does not
agree with his decision: Well, go, sir, and whatever may
occur do what you conceive to be your duty.

stoical (i.e., showing great


self-control in adversity)

He does not show his grief to his son: He returns his sons
salute with a stately courtesy that masked a breaking heart.

courageous

He never loses his self-control when he is plunging to his


death. He focuses on controlling his horse.

patriotic

He supports the Confederates and regards his son as a traitor


for joining the Unionists. He plans to speak of it at the end
of the war.

[back]

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Heroic language
In Section 3 of the story, the scene shifts to the valley below where Carter
Druse is stationed. The narrator recounts the horsemans death through the
eyes of a Confederate officer who is exploring the valley. The officer
perceives the horseman and his horse in heroic terms, just as Carter Druse
had. It is as if the horse is Pegasus, the famous flying horse of Greek legend,
and, indeed, the officer imagines himself to be receiving a vision or
revelation from God similar to that seen by St John of Patmos describing the
end of the world, recounted in the Bibles Book of Revelations.
To the officer, the horseman appears to be in command of his steed as he
falls from the top of the perpendicular cliff. When his son first saw him
paused on the protruding rock, the elder Druse sat erect in the saddle.
Even as he falls to certain death, he is still sitting straight on his horse in
military fashion, holding the rein firmly to guide the horse. The horse is
described as if it is actively galloping through the sky. Its body remains
level and its hooves appear to be resisting the air. Even as the horse sees the
ground approach, the officer sees its feet throw forward as if it is
consciously alighting.
The rider is portrayed in almost Biblical terms, like the men in religious
paintings of earlier centuries. Bierce describes his loose hair as streaming
behind him. He compares the flying hair to a plume, a large ornamental
feather or bunch of feathers traditionally attached to helmets. [back]

Druses inner conflict


1

From the moment that Druse wakes and sees the horseman, time
seems to slow down. It is in this way that the storys timeframe
reflects psychological time. People experience time speeding up
when they are totally involved in an activity. In situations of duress,
such as in an accident, time seems to slow down dramatically as
each moment impacted on the individuals mind.
As Druse looks at the face of the enemy, the narrator increases the
tension by building the sentence to a climax. Using the rhetorical
technique of anaphora, each phrase repeats the pattern of the
preceding phrase, the last phrase being longer than the others. The
horseman seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his
brave, compassionate heart.

The narrator continues to describe the soldiers extreme emotion in


precise detail, gradually shifting the narration directly into the
characters thoughts. The degree of detail itself helps to slow the
momentum of the action.
The narrator poses a rhetorical question which is relevant to Druses
situation, his reaction and hesitation once he has spotted the enemy
soldier: Is it then so terrible to kill an enemy in war ...? He then
describes Druse nearly fainting from the intensity of his feelings. To

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prevent the reader seeing the young man as a coward, the narrator
uses a series of adjectives that reiterates Druses qualities as both a
person and a soldier; the young man is brave, compassionate,
courageous, hardy.
The narrator then describes the young man recovering his senses. He
is direct and concise as he lists Druses actions and attitude:
in another moment his face was raised from earth, his hand
resumed their places on the rifle, his forefinger sought the trigger;
mind, heart, and eyes were clear, conscience and reason sound.

The narrator shows that Druse is still tormented by emotional


conflict, however, as he hopes that maybe the enemy has not seen
the regiments below:
The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from
ambush without warning, without a moments spiritual preparation,
with never so much as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his
account. But no there is a hope; he may have discovered nothing

Notice how the narration switches to the present tense suddenly as it


enters directly into Druses thoughts, his fanciful hope that the
horseman is merely admiring the landscape.
Just as quickly, however, Druses hopes are dashed. His thoughts are
interrupted in mid-sentence:
It may well be that his fixity of attention Druse turned his head and
looked through the deeps of air downward, as from the surface to the
bottom of a translucent sea.

He realises that he must act, and the narration returns to an exterior


vantage point
There is almost a dreamlike quality to the description as Druse looks
below to the valley, hoping that the rider may have seen nothing.
Bierce slows time again at this point in the story. The moment of
decision is lengthened because of the simile Bierce uses to describe
Carter Druses sensations. He compares the air to the ocean, which is
denser than air. He describes how Druse feels as if he is looking
through the deeps of the air downward, as from the surface to the
bottom of a translucent sea. The sentry appears to be lost in a dream
before he is shocked back to reality by the sight of the soldiers
below.
As Druse watches the line of troops watering their horses in the
meadow in full view, he knows he has to shoot. At this point he
makes an important decision. Druse shoots the horse.
Once Druse knows he has to act, the prose again becomes direct. The
author shows the young man remembering his fathers parting
words.
3

The reader does not realise the terrible irony of the moment until the
closing dialogue of the story. The author now lists the soldiers

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bodily reactions in detail. The tone is matter-of-fact. This contrasts


with the heightened prose Bierce used when he described Druses
distress when the horseman first looked towards him:
He was calm now. His teeth were firmly but not rigidly closed; his
nerves were as tranquil as a sleeping babes not a tremor affected
any muscle of his body; his breathing, until suspended in the act of
taking aim, was regular and slow. Duty had conquered; the spirit had
said to the body: Peace, be still. He fired.

It is clear that, until this moment of certainty, Carter Druse is torn


apart by the emotional conflict he is feeling. As he deliberates on
whether to shoot or not, he is very aware of what a terrible choice he
has to make. At this point in the story, the reader is unaware that he
is particularly distressed because he has to choose duty over his
fathers life. The narrator, however, reminds the reader that, if Druse
shoots without warning, his victim will die without time to make his
peace with God.
In hindsight, as the reader, we realise that the apparently courageous
and conscientious young soldier is so distressed because it is his
father he has to kill and that he is condemning him to die without
time for spiritual preparation. We are prepared for this knowledge,
however, by the extent of Druses distress which seems excessive
until you realise the truth, and by his remembering his fathers
words. Druse shoots the horse instead of killing his father directly.
This gives his father time before he dies. His father is able to meet
his death in a dignified manner and say his final prayers.
As his memory of his fathers words remind him, he has to do his
duty. If he does not act, he will bring disgrace upon himself and will
either be killed along with his fellow soldiers, or else he will be tried
as a traitor. If he allows his father to escape, he condemns five
regiments of his own side to be trapped in the mountains and
slaughtered by the enemy.
As a loyal soldier, he cannot let that happen. Ironically, he would
dishonour his family name if he did not shoot his father. He has to
act as he did. [back]

The effect of the final section


The officers shock reminds us of the horror of the decision Druse has been
forced to make. It takes a moment for the officer to realise the full impact of
the choice Druse has had to make. Like the officer, the reader feels a sense
of deep shock when we read Druses words. We recall how intense his
emotions were when he first realised the choice he had to make, the mental
anguish as he tried to find a way out of having to act and the inevitability he
felt as he saw the troops lead their horses across the meadow in full view.
Druses father showed his strength and courage as he rode to his death
through the air. His son showed the same strength and courage in choosing

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honour and duty and the lives of his fellow soldiers over his love and respect
for his father.
The first version of the story is different from this version. In the first
version, the son is driven mad by the decision he has taken to kill his father.
In 1901, however, Ambrose Bierces sixteen year old son, Day, was killed
in a shooting match after an argument over a girl. Bierce learned you can
survive tragedy and stay sane. He changed the outcome of the story. [back]

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Part 2 Othello

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Introduction
In this part of the elective you will study William Shakespeares play
Othello. You will learn about the social and historical context of the play.
You will also consider the theatre of Shakespeares time and the language
used in his plays.
You will learn about:

the theatre of Shakespeares time

the language used in Shakespeares plays

the social and historical context of Othello

how contemporary audiences responded to the themes and ideas in


the play

how the context of the responder influences the ways texts are
perceived.

You will learn to:

read with understanding the text of a Shakespearean play

organise and paraphrase information drawn from research

write a synopsis of events

respond personally to the text by drawing on your own


understandings and experiences

identify and describe how different social, historical and cultural


contexts affect the readers response to a text

view Othello from the perspective of a Jacobean playgoer

undertake a close analysis of the text

draw conclusions about the actions and motivations of the characters


in the play.

You will complete your study of the elective by analysing Ambrose Bierces
short story A Horseman in the Sky and William Shakespeares play
Othello within their particular social, historical and cultural contexts. You
will explore how the texts represent different values and attitudes by writing
an extended response essay in which you compare the way the themes of
loyalty and betrayal are represented in each text.

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Studying Shakespearean drama


Drama refers to fictional texts which are performed. The term derives from
ancient Greek words meaning action and to do.
Dramas are presented in various media most commonly these are theatre,
radio, film and television. Dramatic performances are often combined with
music and dance: the dialogue in operas is sung throughout; ballet tells its
story through music and dance; musicals include both spoken dialogue and
songs; and some theatrical and cinematic dramas use musical
accompaniment (soundtracks, theme music, etc.)
There are many approaches to the creation of plays and drama for the stage.
The usual purpose of drama is to entertain through story-telling. However,
drama is sometimes also used in education, as a type of therapy, as a catalyst
for social change, as a spectacle or event in itself, and for religious purposes.

Learning Journal
Write down some examples of dramas that you have viewed or listened to
recently. For example, you might watch particular television shows, such as
soap operas or crime dramas, or you might have seen a movie or a play or
listened to a recording of a script.
What aspects of the performance appealed to you? For example, did you
enjoy the plot, the dialogue, the acting, the special effects, the scenery?
What elements are required to make a drama successful?
Write your thoughts and reflections in your Learning Journal.

The theatre
Theatre is the art of writing and performing plays. In order to produce a
play, both a theatre company (the people involved in the production) and a
theatre venue (the actual building and auditorium where the performance is
staged) are required. The word theatre derives from an ancient Greek term
meaning seeing place.
In Shakespeares time, public theatres were generally round or octagonal in
shape, and could hold approximately 800 spectators standing in the yard in
the open air around the stage and 1500 more seated in three roofed galleries.
The stage was elevated and jutted out from a wall into the centre of the yard.
It was partly roofed, and there would be two or more levels to represent
different scenes.

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Activity: The Globe Theatre


Look at the photos below. What do they tell you about the theatres of
Shakespeares time?

the New Globe Theatre built in London in 1997

artists impression of the stage of Shakespeares Globe Theatre

Shakespeares original Globe Theatre was an open-air theatre. It was built in


the shape of an octagon. The stage projected out into the auditorium (this
type of stage is known as a thrust stage). The poorer classes paid a penny
and stood in this central area, or pit, to watch the performance. The
wealthier patrons sat on wooden benches in the covered galleries around the
outside of the auditorium or, in some theatres, on the edge of the stage.
The stage had an inner area that could be used for interior scenes when
needed. There were also landings where scenes such as the famous balcony
scene in Romeo and Juliet were staged and where the musicians played.
Imagine how tiring it would be standing for two hours to watch a play. To
make matters more difficult for the actors, the plays were staged in daylight
so they could not rely on lighting to draw the audiences attention to the
stage. No wonder Shakespeares plays are full of action, drama and comedy.
Today we live in an age where words have become less important and the
visual image is central. Psychologists and linguists draw attention to the
importance of body language in interpreting another persons feelings and
attitudes. It is the era of film and this has influenced theatrical productions
as well. The sets of stage plays usually establish the time, place and tone of
the action and are often used symbolically to represent the plays themes.

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By contrast, Shakespeares stage was open and largely without sets. As a


result, the audience relied on the language to visualise the setting and to
understand the meaning of the play. Elizabethans revelled in language and
clever wordplay, and they enjoyed the rich texture of sound and imagery
used in Shakespeares plays.
Despite the difference of the language from modern English, Shakespeares
plays are very popular with modern audiences. Most of the plays have been
made into films and many productions of his plays are staged each year.
Shakespeare was an actor and part-owner of the theatre where he worked.
He wrote his plays to be performed. Once you see one of his plays, you will
find the action makes clear what is happening and gradually your ear will
become accustomed to the language. When you are reading his plays aloud,
look for what the character is trying to say. Focus on the important words.
These words will carry the stresses. If you do this, you will usually read the
lines with meaning and with their appropriate emotion and meaning.

Biography of William Shakespeare


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet and playwright. He
is widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language and as the
worlds foremost dramatist.
Shakespeare wrote approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a
a variety of other poems. Already
famous in his lifetime, his
reputation increased significantly
after his death, and his works
have been admired and acclaimed
by writers and thinkers through
the centuries. He is often referred
to as Englands national poet, and
sometimes the Bard of Avon,
or, more simply, The Bard.
Shakespeare produced most of his
works between 1586 and 1612,
although the precise dates and
chronology of many of the plays
attributed to him are uncertain.
He is one of the few playwrights
to have excelled in both tragedy
and comedy, and his plays
combine rough humour and
popular appeal with subtle characterisations and elevated poetry.

The language of Shakespeares plays


If you have not studied one of Shakespeares plays before, you will notice
that the language seems very different from the English spoken today. There

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are a few reasons for this. Remember that Shakespeare probably wrote
Othello in 1602 or 1603. That is over four hundred years ago. Language
changes with time.
As well as the unfamiliar vocabulary, two of the major differences in
Shakespeares dialogue are the longer sentences used and the fact that the
register of the language is much more formal than the language we use
nowadays.

Blank verse
Another reason that Shakespeares language seems different from modern
English is that his plays are written in a combination of blank verse and
prose. Plays and movie scripts today are almost always written in prose, the
form of language used when we speak conversationally.
Blank verse is unrhymed verse and employs the rhythm patterns of speech.
The standard metre used in blank verse is iambic pentameter. In other
words, each line consists of ten syllables to the line. These syllables are
arranged in five feet (or pairs of syllables). Each foot consists of an
unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
The following line is an example of iambic pentameter. The strong stresses
are marked by a sloping straight line above the syllable. The unstressed
syllables are marked by the U or cup shape. Marking the metre or rhythm
pattern of a line in this way is called scansion.
U

U /

Your son-in-law is far more fair than black. (I iii 286)

Note how the line begins with an unstressed syllable and is followed by a
stressed syllable. This pattern continues until the end of the line.
Notice how the spoken sentence sounds quite natural. Shakespeare used
blank verse in his plays to emulate the rhythms of everyday speech.
Although Shakespeare wants to capture the sound of ordinary speech, he
also wants to draw the audiences attention to the important words in the
line. To emphasise the key ideas, he places his words so these key ideas
carry the stress in the line. For example, in the line quoted above, he stresses
the contrast between fair and black, which is an important theme in the
play. In this instance, the Duke is reassuring Brabantio that Othello is fair
in virtue, even though his skin might be black.
Along with this, the regular rhythms and rhymes of verse make the lines
easier to remember.

Activity: Memorising Shakespearean dialogue


Read the following extract in which a group of actors talk about memorising
Shakespearean dialogue. They compare learning verse lines with prose lines.
Alan Howard: It helps us to learn the lines. Verse is usually easier to learn
than prose.

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Jane Lapotaire: It makes a pattern on the page which is easier for the mind to
retain than prose.
Lisa Harrow: Yes, it helps to give us our phrasing.
David Suchet: Its also full of acting hints if you know how to look for them.
Ian McKellen: And because the verse is a more economical way than prose
of saying something, its more likely to be concise and more particular and
exact. At the same time, because verse has a rhythm and a flow, its perhaps
more attractive to listen to and helps the actor to keep the audiences
attention.
taken from John Barton, Playing Shakespeare (1984), pp. 25-26

Before Shakespeare, playwrights used a range of verse forms and line


lengths. Some plays were even written in rhyming couplets where every
second line rhymed with the line before. This is the scheme used in some
nursery rhymes, and Shakespeare often uses a rhyming couplet to end
characters soliloquies or at the end of scenes. Note the rhyming couplets
used by Brabantio at the end of Act I scene ii and by Iago to end Act I scene
iii. However, when used for an entire play, the strict pattern of this verse
form was often unsuited to the tone or emotion of the scene.
One of Shakespeares major achievements was to extend the flexibility of
blank verse. If you learn music, you will be aware of the concept of
counterpoint. Shakespeare played with the metre or pattern of the line in a
similar manner. He varied the placement of stresses and the number of
syllables in a line to create the emotion or tone he was seeking.
Shakespeare used prose as well as blank verse. In fact, just over 28% of his
script is written in prose. Ironically, although the verse often sounds very
naturalistic, the prose sometimes uses heightened or rhetorical speech
(language designed to persuade or impress) incorporating techniques such as
balanced sentences, rhetorical questions, exclamations and other rhetorical
effects for emphasis.
Note the following example from Act I scene iii:
It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man!
Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies!

Notice how the two phrases in the first sentence are balanced, the rhythm of
the lines, and the effects of the rhetorical question and exclamations.
It is interesting to think about why Shakespeare sometimes chooses to use
prose or verse within a particular scene. Generally speaking, noble
characters speak in verse while commoners speak using prose. However,
this rule is sometimes varied for particular purposes.
One example of when Shakespeare uses prose and verse unexpectedly
occurs in Act IV of Othello. In the play, Othello, who is both a nobleman by
birth and a general, usually speaks in verse. Othello is also an idealist and a
romantic (i.e., someone who views life according to set ideals, often
unrealistically.) Othellos use of language which is very heightened conveys
these attributes.
By contrast, Iago is not of noble birth. He is cynical and speaks ironically
much of the time, and so generally he uses prose.
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Activity: Prose and verse


In the following passage, Othello speaks in prose and Iago uses verse. Can
you see why? Write your thoughts on the lines following the extract.
OTHELLO: Lie with her? Lie on her?We say lie on her when they belie her.
Lie with her! Zounds, thats fulsome!Handkerchief
confessionshandkerchief! To confess and be hanged for his
labourfirst to be hanged, and then to confess! I tremble at it.
Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion
without some instruction. It is not words that shakes me thus.
Pish!Noses, ears, and lips. Ist possible?Confess?
Handkerchief?O devil!
Falls in a trance.
IAGO:
Work on.
My medcine, works! Thus credulous fools are caught,
And many worthy and chaste dames even thus,
All guiltless, meet reproach. (IV i 35-45)

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 50-75 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

The influence of Shakespeares language


Shakespeares works have been translated into every major living language,
and his plays are continually performed all over the world. Shakespeare is
the most quoted writer in the history of the English-speaking world and his
plays have produced many sayings and neologisms (new words) that have
passed into everyday usage in English and other languages.
For example, Shakespeare took an old proverb, alls well that ends well,
and used it as the title of one of his plays (1603-4). Since then the quotation
has become a popular saying meaning that a happy outcome makes up for
any hardship or unpleasantness that may have gone before. Titles of other of
Shakespeares plays, such as The Comedy of Errors (1594), Measure for
Measure (1604) and Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9), have also come to
be well-known phrases, or idioms, in the English language.
Other familiar sayings which were originated or popularised by Shakespeare
include:

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neither rhyme nor reason The Comedy of Errors (1594) and As You
Like It (1599) III ii 384

the game is up Cymbeline (1609-10) III iii 107

it was Greek to me Julius Caesar (1599) I ii 284

a dish fit for the gods Julius Caesar (1599) II i 173

though this be madness, yet there is method int (i.e., method in his
madness) Hamlet (1601) II ii 207

shuffled off this mortal coil Hamlet (1601) III i 69

the lady doth protest too much, methinks Hamlet (1601) III ii 219

eaten me out of house and home Henry IV Part II (1597) II i 75

as dead as a doornail Henry VI Part II (1592) IV ix 39

foul play Loves Labours Lost (1594) V ii 748

th milk of human kindness Macbeth (1606) I v 16

a sorry sight Macbeth (1606) II ii 18

a charmed life Macbeth (1606) V x 12

the course of true love never did run smooth A Midsummer Nights
Dream (1594-5) I i 134

truth will come to light truth will out The Merchant of Venice
(1596-8) II ii 74

love is blind The Merchant of Venice (1596-8) II vi 36

all that glisters is not gold The Merchant of Venice (1596-8) II vii
65

pound of flesh The Merchant of Venice (1596-8) IV i 98

jealousy the green-eyed monster Othello (1602-4) III iii 169

a foregone conclusion Othello (1602-4) III iii 433

more fool you The Taming of the Shrew (1592) V ii 134

a sea-change The Tempest (1611) I ii 403

If music be the food of love, play on Twelfth Night (1601) I i 1

out of the jaws of death Twelfth Night (1611) III iv 352

good riddance Troilus and Cressida (1602) II i 121

Activity: Quotable quotes


See if you can identify the meaning or significance of each of the
Shakespearean quotations on the following page.

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Quote

Meaning

My salad days,
When I was green in judgement, cold in blood,
To say as I said then.
Antony and Cleopatra (1606-7) I v 72

salad days a time of youth and


inexperience, remembered with
fondness

All the worlds a stage,


And all the men and women merely players
As You Like It (1599) II vii 139
Not a mouse stirring.
Hamlet (1601) I i 8
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit
Hamlet (1601) II ii 91
I must be cruel only to be kind.
Hamlet (1601) III iv 162
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Henry IV Part II (1597) III i 31
Beware the ides of March.
Julius Caesar (1599) I ii 20
What! All my pretty chickens and their dam,
At one fell swoop?
Macbeth (1606) IV iii 219
Why then, the worlds mine oyster, which I with
sword will open.
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) II ii 2
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at
Othello (1602-4) I i 64
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
Richard III (1591) V vii 7
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
The Tempest (1611) II ii 42
He that dies pays all debts.
The Tempest (1611) III ii 143
We have seen better days.
Timon of Athens (1607) IV ii 27
be not afraid of greatness: some are born
great, some achieve greatness, and some have
greatness thrust upon em
Twelfth Night (1601) II v 139
he was more than over-shoes in love.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1592-3) I i 24

Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Aristotles definition of tragedy


As you saw in the Area of Study on Heroism, the Greek philosopher
Aristotle in his influential work on Poetics defined tragedy as the imitation
of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself
(i.e., having a beginning, middle and end).
According to Aristotle, there are six elements necessary for dramatic
theatre: Plot, Character, Language, Idea, Music and Spectacle. The key
elements of the Plot are the Peripeties (the changes of the state of things to
the opposite, as a result of the probable or necessary sequence of events),
Discoveries (the changes from ignorance to knowledge) and Suffering (an
action of a destructive kind). The most satsifying form of Tragedy is when
the Plot is complex, imitating actions arousing horror, fear and pity, and
when the heros fortune changes from happiness to misery because of some
tragic error on his own part. The deed of horror is to be perpetrated within
the family, either consciously and knowingly, unknowingly or unknowingly
but with timely discovery. The characters must be good, appropriate, real,
consistent, or consistently inconsistent.

Dramatic structure
As well as the chronology of the action, plays are usually presented in a
certain format, with a particular number of acts and scenes. Usually the end
of an act indicates a break where the audience can get up and walk around.
Some plays, especially those of the first part of the 20th Century, have three
acts each consisting of one scene, and employ elaborate fixed scenery. Other
more modern plays have lots of scenes with little scenery, and with breaks
(or intermission) where the director decides.
Shakespeares plays had little scenery with lots of scenes but seem to have
been presented in a format of five acts. The acts sometimes vary slightly
according to the version of the text being used by the editor.
Critics and academics have identified a particular structure in the sequence
of a Shakespearean play, as follows:
Act I

The opening scenes of any play are important because they contain the
exposition or explanation of what the play is about. They also contain the
initial incident that will trigger off the action of the play.

complications (sometimes called crises)

physical movement on stage that will make play exciting to audience

rising action

Act III

climax or turning point of the action

Act IV

falling rather than formerly rising action

feeling of inevitability as we observe resolution of plot

resolution and denouement

Act II

Act V

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diagram representing the structure of a Shakespearean play


(note the similarity with the structure of a narrative)

Shakespeares Othello
In Shakespeares Othello, you will read about a noble and admired warrior
whose overwhelming pride and jealousy leave him open to treachery and
eventually cause him to destroy all of the things that matter most in his life.
You will consider how he became so angry and jealous that it affected the
decisions he made.
The text of the play referred to here is the Cambridge edition, edited by Jane
Coles (Cambridge University Press, 1992). If you are using a different
edition of the play, you will find that most of the line references are within
one or two lines of the references given in this learning resource.
You can purchase CDs or download the recording of a recent stage
production of Othello from the Internet. The play was staged in London
from November 2007 to February 2008 and starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as
Othello (a performance which won him the Olivier Award as best actor),
Ewan McGregor as Iago and Kelly Reilly as Desdemona. See the website at:
http://www.learnoutloud.com/Audio-Books/Literature/Drama/Othello/28781

History of the play


Othello was first performed by Shakespeares acting troupe, the Kings
Men, at court in front of the new monarch, James I, on 1 November 1604.
Queen Elizabeth I had died without an heir in the previous year and with her
death came the end of the Elizabethan era, a period of wealth, expansion and
optimism in England. The Jacobean era, as this next period of English
history was labelled, saw increasing civil unrest. This unrest culminated in
the Civil War in England when the monarchy was overthrown and Charles I,
the king who succeeded James I, was beheaded.
Although Shakespeares company came quickly under the patronage of the
new king, at this time the playwright began to write plays that reflected a
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more cynical and pessimistic view of human affairs and society. Some of
that cynicism and pessimism can be seen in Othello.
Othello is one of Shakespeares most popular plays. It was frequently
performed in Shakespeares own day and was one of the first plays staged
when theatres were reopened after the monarchy was restored. This
popularity has continued up to the present day. Perhaps this is because
passionate love, pride and jealousy are universal and timeless emotions that
everybody can relate to.

Viewing the play


Because Othello is a play, it was written to be performed. Try and view the
play before you begin your critical study of the text.
If you arent able to attend a theatrical production of Othello, there are many
film versions of the play. One of the most recent of these is the Laurence
Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh version released in 1995. Other film
versions are the 1965 film with Laurence Olivier as Othello and Maggie
Smith as Desdemona, the 1981 BBC production starring Anthony Hopkins
as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago, the 1981 production staged as it would
have been performed in the 16th Century with William Marshall playing
Othello, the 2001 made-for-television adaptation starring Keeley Hawes and
Eamonn Walker, and a 2006 Indian film adaption entitled Omkara.
You should be able to obtain at least one of these movie versions of Othello
through a video or DVD shop, iTunes or another online video store.
You should view any of the suggested videos. The BBC production is the
most faithful to the original text but the Kenneth Branagh version makes
better use of the possibilities of film.
As you are viewing or listening to the play, you should read along with your
playscript to get a better feel for Shakespeares language.

The plays settings


Before you watch or listen to the play, read the following notes on the
settings. They tell you about Venice and Cyprus in the period.

Venice
Act I is set in the city of Venice in the early 16th Century. Although the
playscript provides all the information that you need in order to interpret the
action, by completing the following activities you will learn a little more
about the setting, and the social, historical and cultural context of the play.
These activities will give you a greater understanding of the events and
additional insight into the characters of Othello, Iago and Desdemona, their
relationships, and their status in the society.

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Activity: Venetian landmarks


Look at the photos below. What do they tell you about Venice?

St Marks Square in Venice from the Grand Canal

Piazza San Marco (St Marks Square)

the Grand Canal

Venice is a city in the north of Italy. It is built on a series of lagoon islands.


Visitors to the old city in Venice either walk everywhere or travel by water
on the canals.
The canal in the photograph is the Grand Canal. Did you notice the
gondolier in the front of the picture? Gondolas, as well as water buses,
commercial barges, and other boats, move up and down the canals just like
traffic on major roads in another city.
There are piazzas scattered throughout the city of Venice. Like the one in
the photo, they lack greenery. There is hardly any grass in the old city.
The magnificent buildings in Venice are reminders of the city-states days
of power. In the 15th and 16th Centuries the Republic of Venice ruled over
an empire. It had colonised many other places in the Mediterranean region
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and had extensive trading routes there. Cyprus was a strategic possession
because it protected Venices trade routes between the East and West.
Now look at the map below. What does it tell you about Venetian empire?

Crete

Cyprus

The significance of Venice for Shakespeares audience


Some of Shakespeares audience may have travelled to this Italian city-state
but probably, for most, it was an exotic place that they had heard of but not
visited. For those who were more familiar with the city, its culture, its
politics and its recent history, the events of the play would have gained extra
meaning. Even the ordinary Elizabethan, however, probably held definite
views about Venice, just as in modern times the public in one nation will
hold opinions about other countries from what they hear and read in the
media and from what other people say.
The English admired Venice in many ways. Like England, it was a Christian
state which depended on its navy to protect its trade and its security. Venice
had the Great Council which the English saw as being like their own
Parliament. It was widely believed that Venice gave its citizens freedom,
justice and order.
Although the English admired Venice, they also held negative attitudes
towards the city-state. Firstly, although Venice was Christian, it was
Catholic. England was Protestant and was prejudiced about Venices popish
ways. Also, Venice was a sophisticated city and the English viewed its
merchants and professionals as being so greedy that they would sell

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anything to make a profit. Worse still, Venice encouraged prostitution as an


outlet for its young men. This was because, to protect the purity of the
nobilitys bloodline, the upper class was very strict with its daughters.
Shakespeare makes use of both views of Venice in his play.

Cyprus
The setting for the rest of the play is the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
In Act II, the action of Othello moves to a military encampment on Cyprus.
There is a symbolic element in this geographical movement away from the
civilised city and safe heart of the empire to a remote military outpost which
is much closer to the forces of raw nature and the threat of invasion by
Venices barbarian enemies.
By the time that the play was first staged, the Ottoman Empire controlled
most of Eastern Europe and a third of the known world. Cyprus, the island
that the Venetians are so eager to retain against the Ottoman Turks in the
play, was eventually conquered by the invaders in 1571. Knowledgeable
members of the audience would have realised the implicit political
ramifications of the loss of a great general at this time in Venices history.
Although Othellos tragedy is apparently a private one, the loss of a military
leader of his calibre would have important consequences.
The Turks against whom the Venetians are defending the island in the play
were greatly feared, especially as they were Muslims while the Europeans
were Christians. Because of this, many tales circulated concerning their
cruelty in war. One writer speaks of how, after the battle of St Elmo on
Malta in 1565, they cut the hearts out of their opponents chests while they
were still breathing and then decapitated them.
The defender of the city of Famagusta where Othello is thought to be set had
his ears and nose cut off by the new ruler and was beaten to death.
Throughout the centuries, popular and historical accounts of wars have
demonised the enemy by recounting tales of the atrocities committed. For
example, most Australians are familiar with the accounts of German and
Japanese atrocities committed during World War II. However, the stories of
the cruelty and brutality perpetrated by our own forces and allies are not
portrayed in the same way, or else they are not revealed for a long time.

Shakespeares source for the play


Othello himself is an imaginary character, derived from a tale in Giraldi
Cintios Gli Hecatommithi (1565), a collection of one hundred stories
printed in Italy in the 16th Century. Cinthios tale may have been based on
an actual incident that occurred in Venice in about 1508 but there is some
debate as to whether the historical person on whom Cintio based his own
brutish Moor is a Venetian, Cristoforo Moro, governor of Cyprus, or an
Italian soldier, Francesco da Sessa, who served the Venetians in Cyprus and
was nicknamed Il Mora because of his dark complexion. In Cinthios story,
Desdemona is the only named character, with the other characters identified

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only as the Moor (Othello), the squadron leader (Cassio), the ensign
(Iago) and the ensigns wife (Emilia). The moral of Cinthios tale (which
he placed in the mouth of Desdemona) is that European women are unwise
to marry the temperamental males from other cultures.

Activity: Cyprus
Look at the photos below. What do they tell you about Cyprus?

Othellos Tower and part of the city walls at Famagusta

ancient theatre at Limassol

Venetian fort at New Paphos

Now look at the map of the Mediterranean area and the extent of the
Ottoman Empire during the 16th Century on the following page.
Can you tell from the map why the Venetians and the Turks saw Cyprus as
strategically important?

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The strategic importance of Cyprus


As the third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus is a maritime nation.
It sits in a strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea as a gateway between
the East and the West. It is close to Turkey as well as to Egypt, Lebanon and
Syria.
Venice in the 16th Century was an important commercial centre and colonial
power. It had a vast overseas trading network and saw Cyprus as being of
crucial importance in maintaining its trading position in the East against the
advance of the expanding Ottoman Empire. Cyprus was the last outpost of
Western Christianity in the Islamic East.
Cyprus traces its history to 6,800 BC. The name Cyprus derives from the
Latin word for copper which was found early in the islands history. Many
invaders ruled over Cyprus over the centuries, including the Greeks,
Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans and British. It was under
continuous foreign rule for 3,500 years.
The photo of the amphitheatre tells you of the ancient civilisation that
flourished in Cyprus while the Venetian fort, citadel (Othellos Tower)
and the Famagusta city walls illustrate the warlike history of the island.
The Venetians built the wall around the city of Famagusta in the 16th
Century. It had only three gates leading into the city. The city became a
wealthy port under the Venetians.

Activity: Venice and the Ottoman Empire


Read the information below about the conflict between Venice and the
Ottoman Turks, and then answer the questions which follow.

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Historical account of the origin of the Turkish-Cypriot people


The Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim I (1512-20) conquered the Mameluk
Empire centred in Egypt. At this time, Venice controlled Cyprus but, in recognition
of the sovereignty of the Mameluks, they paid an annual tribute to their sultan. After
the Ottoman conquest, Venice paid the tribute directly to the new rulers.
Venice increasingly antagonised the Ottomans, however, by building fortifications
and allowing piracy in the seas surrounding Cyprus and in the eastern
Mediterranean. The new sultan, Suleyman 1, began military preparations aimed at
removing the Venetians from the island. War never eventuated under his rule but his
successor, Selim 2, continued to protest about the attacks on his shipping. He also
demanded that Venice give full control of the island to the Turks. Venice ignored the
protests and demands so Selim 2 decided to act. After a series of battles, most
notably at Nicosia, Famagusta and Lepanto, the Ottomans defeated the Venetians. In
1571, Cyprus came directly under the control of the Turks. Venice was forced to pay
a heavy war indemnity and to renounce all claims to the island.

What does the article tell you about Cyprus and the conflict that is described
in the play? From whose perspective is this account of the conflict reported?
How does this affect the way the situation and events are represented?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 100-125 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Activity: Viewing Othello


Now that you have some background to the play, it is time to read and view
(or listen to) Othello.
To begin, you should read, view or listen to the whole play according to
your personal preferences and familiarity with Shakespearean drama, and
then record your first response to the play.
Once you have read or viewed the whole play, create a plot diagram of the
story. Show the movement of events towards the climax. You should:

make a list of the main events of the story in order

decide which event is the climax

decide which event is the denouement or resolution.

Then write or record your personal response to the play. Because this is a
first response, you are not expected to analyse the play in detail yet.

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In your response, discuss your ideas, opinions and feelings. You may choose
to write about any aspect of the play but remember to include comments on
the themes of loyalty and betrayal.
If you need to, review the instructions on writing a personal response in the
previous part of this learning resource. Remember to support your views by
referring to examples from the play (you do not need to use quotations) and
avoid retelling the story.

Critical study of Othello


You will now undertake a close analysis of each act of Shakespeares
Othello. As you read the text you should view the corresponding scenes in a
movie version or listen to them in a recording of the play.

Act I
Imagine the following scene. The flag has gone up on Shakespeares Globe
Theatre to signal to Londoners that a performance of his play Othello is
about to begin. The theatre has quickly filled up. Noblemen and women are
crowded in the three tiers of covered galleries around the perimeter of the
auditorium. They talk eagerly to one other about the latest London gossip or
crane their necks to see who else has arrived. In the pit which is open to the
sky, commoners jostle one another as they try to find a spot near the stage.
Vendors wander around the crowd selling oranges.
Two actors walk onto the stage, one dressed in the wealthier clothing of a
member of the upper class. They too are already deep in the midst of
conversation.
The audience turns to watch the actors. The play has begun. As Iago pours
out his grievances to Roderigo, the audience becomes aware that some dark
conspiracy is afoot.

Activity: Iago begins his intrigue


In the opening of the scene, Roderigo is upset with Iago. He is complaining
that Iago, to whom he has been giving money, will not be honest with him.
Iago reassures Roderigo of his good faith and shares with him the reasons
behind his hatred of the Moor (i.e., Othello).
Read I i 8-66 again and then answer the following questions.
1

What is Iagos grievance against Othello?

How does Iago describe Othello?

What does Iago tell Roderigo about Michael Cassio?

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Iago reveals to Roderigo how he plans to serve Othello. What


imagery does he use to describe the two different types of servant?
What type of servant does Iago intend to become from now on?

Iago and Roderigos negative attitude towards Othello can be seen in


the way they refer to him. They never speak of him as Othello. List
the names they use to refer to him. What do these names and epithets
reveal about their attitude towards Othello?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 800-900 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Building suspense
By opening his play in the middle of a conversation between two characters,
Shakespeare has immediately created intrigue and suspense. The audience
does not learn until later in the scene what Roderigo is talking about in the
opening lines. The audience does realise, however, that Iago intends to
create mischief. He has already made a decision to be disloyal to his general
and the newly-appointed lieutenant, even though he owes allegiance to both
of them. Furthermore, the audiences first impression of both Othello and
Cassio comes through the eyes of their enemy. Think about the dramatic
effect that would have for the audience.

Activity: The exposition


Read and view or listen to the rest of Act I. Make a note of the main events
that occur in the act in your Learning Journal. Use the notes at the bottom of
each page to help when you have difficulty with the language. As you read,
you will learn:

why Roderigo is so upset

how Iago intends to revenge himself on Othello and Cassio

why Othello is so important to the city of Venice.

You will also meet Othello and Desdemona, Desdemonas enraged father,
Brabantio, and the Duke and senators of Venice.
After you have finished reading Act I, answer the following questions:
1

How does Iago show his immediate willingness to act against


Othello?

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What is Brabantios reaction to the news about the elopement?

How do the senators respond to Brabantios complaint?

Why do they respond in this way?

How does Act I end?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 450-500 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Learning Journal
In any play, the first few scenes are crucial in introducing the audience to:

the setting

the mood or atmosphere

the characters and the conflict/s between them

the issues involved.

What exposition or explanation do the first three scenes of Othello provide


to the reader or audience in regard to setting, atmosphere, characters,
conflict and issues? Support your views by providing quotes and examples
from the text.
Write a brief paragraph about each aspect in your Learning Journal.

Analysing and responding to Act I


You will now look more closely at Act I. You will consider how the three
main characters Iago, Othello and Desdemona are represented by
Shakespeare. You will focus in more detail on how the setting and context
of the play would have influenced the audiences response to the storyline
and what happens to each of the characters.

Activity: Othello
In Act I scene i, the audience first learns about Othello from his secret
enemy, Iago. However, when Othello appears in company with Iago in scene
ii, our view of the general is instantly modified by the way he behaves and
speaks.

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In what ways does Othello contradict the first impression created by Iago by
his actions and speech in scenes ii and iii?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 250-300 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Desdemona
We also meet Desdemona for the first time in Act I scene iii.
In Act I scene ii, Brabantio had referred to his daughter as a maid so tender,
fair, and happy (I ii 66). He claimed that Desdemona, who has rejected the
courtship of all the most eligible bachelors of Venice (including Roderigo),
would never have willingly accepted Othello as her husband. In his
description, Brabantio creates an image of an innocent, inexperienced girl.
In a similar way as Othello, when we meet her in scene iii, Desdemona is
quite different from the initial portrait of his daughter provided by
Brabantio.
When she enters the scene, Desdemona quickly reveals herself as an
independent and confident young woman. She is polite and respectful
towards her father, acknowledging what she owes him, but she also outlines
her duty to her new husband.
Othello has already spoken of how fascinated Desdemona was by his stories
when he entertained her father and his guests. He indicates that she took the
lead in the courtship:
She thanked me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her. (I iii 162-165)

Desdemona asks the Duke for permission to accompany Othello to Cyprus,


making it clear that she wishes to share his life in its entirety. She is aware
that she has flouted filial loyalty (the obedience of a child to the father) and
insists that she did not take such a step to sit waiting for her lover at home.

Learning Journal
Write down your impressions of Othello and his new bride. Support your
views by referring to quotes and examples from the text.

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Responding imaginatively to Act I


You have already written a personal and an analytical response to the first
act of Othello. The following activities provide you with an opportunity to
respond creatively to the plays opening scenes. The activities will also
enable you to check and refine your understanding of Act I.

Activity: Staging the opening scene


The opening scene is set at night in the narrow streets of Venice. It is an
ideal setting for conspiracy, one that the modern film versions of Othello
exploit effectively.
As you reflect on the setting of the first scene, complete the following tasks:
1

Describe how the director staged the opening scene in the film
version you watched. Comment on how successively you felt the
director exploited the setting. Remember to give the directors name.

Describe how you would stage the opening scene. Remember to


decide if you are filming the scene or directing it in a theatre. If it is
in a theatre, you will need to decide what sort of stage you are using.
You might like to draw or paint the opening scene as you imagine it.

You will find it useful to review the background information on Venice in


this learning resource to help you to complete these tasks.

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 350-400 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Explaining the background to the play


You have considered why Iago wishes to seek revenge on Othello and
Cassio, and the controversial choice Othello and Desdemona have made by
ignoring the conventions of Venetian society and eloping. Desdemona is
also going against convention by following her husband to war. All of these
choices combine to affect the outcome of the play. To understand fully the
implications of these choices, you need to know more about how the
contemporary audience would have responded to the key issues.
You have learnt about the Republic of Venice at the time of the action of the
play. Venice was a politically powerful Italian city-state with an empire of
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its own. It depended on maintaining trade routes in the Mediterranean which


was why Cyprus was so important. The growing strength of the Ottoman
Empire was a threat to Venices power and position.
On the adjacent page is a set of research points which outline some of the
attitudes to race in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. The information in the
points will give you a more complete understanding of how a contemporary
of Shakespeares might have responded to the character of Othello and his
role in the play. The points are presented in a random order.
First you are going to organise the points and then you will use them to
compose a paragraph for the program notes for a theatrical production of the
play. Your program notes will briefly explain background information on
racial attitudes in the 16th Century that the audience will find useful for
understanding Othello more fully.

Activity: Model program notes


Before you prepare your own program notes, read the following extract from
the program notes for a performance of Shakespeares The Taming of the
Shrew by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Marital Economy
Among the prosperous classes in the Renaissance, marriage was a complicated
commercial transaction, the marriage contract a complex legal document precisely
specifying the lands, goods and property which each partner brought to the marriage,
and their subsequent rights to the capital and income accumulated by the merger
the marriage effected. Marriage involved the movement of property, and wedding
ritual dramatised the transfers which took place.
Though women had rights in property, the trading of goods at marriage was not
symmetrical. The brides parents provided the trousseau and the dowry, which were
transferred to the administration of the groom. The parents of the groom responded
with a settlement, which, however, did not pass directly to the woman or to her
family.
written by Lisa Jardine for the program for the 1992 Royal Shakespeare Company
production of The Taming of the Shrew

Use these paragraphs as a model for the program notes you will write for
Othello.

Activity: Writing program notes on attitudes to race


Read the research points below about attitudes to race in the 16th and early
17th Centuries. Rearrange the points into a more logical order, and then use
them to write a set of program notes on the topic for a production of Othello.
You should write 1-2 paragraphs.

Research points

Portugal began to explore and exploit African territories in the 15th


Century.

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There was a growing awareness of racial difference among


Europeans, though they were not as prejudiced as in 19th Century.

Europeans saw Moors and East and West Indians as inferior in both
culture and race.

Europeans did not always distinguish between Moors who were of


Arab-Berber descent and Africans.

Moor became a term used to designate people not like us.

Elizabethans were fascinated by travellers tales of exotic places and


people.

Elizabethans equated blackness as a colour with negation, dirt, sin,


death, nakedness, savagery, forbidden sex, heathenism and the
occult, slavery and general depravity.

Shakespeares contemporaries associated dark-skinned peoples with


lust and sexuality.

Writers of the 18th and 19th Centuries recalled the Old Testament
story of Ham (or Cham), Noahs son, who angered his father. Noah
pronounced a curse on Hams son, Canaan, to be a servant of
servants. These writers advanced the theory that black Africans
were the sons of Ham and were therefore cursed, physically
blackened by their sins. The connection was used as a justification
of slavery by the elite classes in Europe and America.

In the late 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth became concerned at the


number of blacks living in England and tried to expel them. The
authorities felt that they were depriving the locals of jobs.

Slavery was not yet institutionalised. Othello had originally been


taken as a slave as a prisoner of war; however, there was no stigma
attached to this.

Many plays of the period featured blackamoor characters who were


usually portrayed as individuals of doubtful moral integrity.

Critics disagree as to whether Shakespeare was accepting or


rejecting the current stereotype in his portrayal of Othello.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Attitudes towards women and the military


In the following exercise, you will read research points on attitudes to
women and the military in the 16th and early 17th Centuries and you will
then compose a set of program notes on each topic.
This information will give you and the audience a fuller understanding of
how a contemporary of Shakespeare might have understood the play.
Remember to:

select the most important points

organise your points into a logical order

present your notes under two separate headings

write 1-2 paragraphs on each topic

use good sentences and paragraphs.

Activity: Program notes on women and the military


Read the following research points on 16th and early 17th Century European
attitudes to women and the military. Then compose a set of program notes
on both topics.
Write the notes in your Learning Journal. You should write 1-2 paragraphs
on each topic.

Women

Elizabethans saw the family as a microcosm (a world in miniature)


of the state. His wife and children were a husbands loyal and
obedient subjects. Thus the family was seen as a miniature version of
the state. In reverse, the phrase city fathers reflects the link in
peoples minds between the state and the family.

Elizabethans feared what they perceived as the feminine


characteristics of passion, sexual appetite and unruliness.

There was a preoccupation with cuckoldry (a man being betrayed by


his wifes adultery with another man) at the time. People believed
that a mans honour was dependent on his wifes chastity and
fidelity.

Society stressed the importance of daughters being submissive and


subservient to their fathers and wives being submissive and
subservient to their husbands. There was an emphasis on female
chastity, and female tact and discretion.

Jealousy was a major preoccupation in literature of Shakespeares


time.

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The Republic of Venice was a patriarchal state. Patriarchy is a


system of government headed by men.

The Venetian aristocracy kept its bloodline pure by rigidly


controlling the marriage alliances of their offspring.

Because the daughters of the Venetian aristocracy were closely


controlled by their fathers, the state encouraged prostitution. This
was because men were seen as unable to control their sexual
appetites.

The military

Both the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic religion had spread widely
in the 16th Century. Many Europeans feared that Christian European
civilisation was in jeopardy.

In the Medieval period European armies consisted of knights


(noblemen) and peasants called up from the fields to fight.

Knights were associated with a code of chivalry. Chivalry was a


courtly tradition of the Middle Ages with a strict code for religious,
moral and social behaviour. The ideal knight was meant to exhibit
courage, honour, courtesy (particularly towards women), justice and
readiness to help the weak (which would also include women).
Women, in the chivalric tradition of literature, were idealised. As
idealisation requires that the woman be placed on a pedestal, these
women were unattainable in other words, they were not wives.

The Renaissance was a period of transition between medieval armies


and the modern professional standing army. Treatises (formal
scientific works) were written on the science of warfare.

States feared the power of the new professional armies. They


disbanded armies at the end of each war. Armed soldiers often joined
wandering mercenary bands.

Mercenaries are soldiers who are hired to fight in foreign armies.

Venice hired mercenaries for its professional standing army. These


foreigners were called condottiere (strangers).

Venetian law required that a foreign captain be hired to lead the


armed forces in times of national crisis.

Non-Venetian generals were vital to the city-states security.


However, these men were not fully accepted in Venetian society.

Soldiers were viewed as separate from the rest of society. They were
depicted as aggressive, adventurous, virile and skilled in military
matters.

Shakespeare broke from the tradition of his period by describing


Othello in noble, heroic terms. However, some critics question
whether he really did reject the prevailing stereotypes.

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Activity: Considering the context


Now that you have learned more about the attitudes and beliefs of
Shakespeares contemporaries, reassess the events of Act I, particularly the
actions and motivations of Iago, Othello and Desdemona, and contemporary
attitudes to race, women and the military.
What new insights have you gained?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 600-700 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Activity: Writing a synopsis of Act I


Below is a synopsis (plot summary) of Act I. Some of the key words are
missing. See if you can fill in the gaps.
Act I of Othello is set in <
Othellos <

>, plotting against his general with a foolish

young <
has <

>. The play opens with Iago,

>, Roderigo. Roderigo is upset as he feels that Iago


> with him. As the act progresses, it becomes clear that

Othello, a <

> who the Venetian state has <

to lead its forces, has <

>

> with Desdemona, the daughter of a

local nobleman, Brabantio. Iago persuades Roderigo, who has been paying
Iago to help him win Desdemonas hand, to arouse Brabantio from his sleep
and tell him of the <

>. Brabantio is <

convinced that Othello has <


seeks <
night council of <
ultimately <

> and

> his daughter. He instantly

> from the <

> which is sitting in a late

>. However, Othello and Desdemona are


> by the Duke and the <

>. They

realise that they need their general to lead the defence of their military

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outpost on <

> against the <

that he must leave <

>. Othello is told

> for <

> and Desdemona

is permitted to accompany her husband. Othello entrusts <

>

as a chaperone to accompany his new wife to the island. Iago is pleased. He


has <

> Roderigo that he may still <

>

Desdemona, who he claims will soon <

> of Othello. Iago

also ensures that Roderigos money will continue to <

> his

own lifestyle. Iago has now determined to plot against Othello and his new
<

>, Cassio, both of whom he <

>. It is

uncertain whether Iagos hatred is caused by Othello <


for the position of <
<

> him

> or because he suspects Othello of

> his wife. What is clear by the end of the act is that Iago is

determined to <

> his generals happiness.

You might like to copy or print out the CLOZE passage above to fill in the
blanks.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Act II
In Act II, Iago begins to set his plot in motion. After you have read and
viewed or listened to Act II again, complete the following synopsis.

Activity: Act II synopsis


Complete the synopsis of Act II below by filling in the gaps.
In Act II the action moves to the military outpost on <
wild storm <
threat of war is <
followed by <
wife, Emilia. To <
safely and the <
his <
gladly <

> the <

>. A

> fleet. As a result, the

>. Cassio is first to reach the island, closely


>, <

> and <


>s relief, <

>s
> also arrives

> are reunited. Othello expresses the depth of


> for his new <

>, claiming he would

> any storm if it brought the <

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76

feels at <

> her. Meanwhile, Iago wastes no time in beginning

to orchestrate his <

>. His first target is <

He cleverly plays on Cassios <

>.

> for <

> and

> young lieutenants desire to please everyone. Iago

the <

persuades Cassio that he will offend <


Othello has replaced on <
does not <

>, the governor who


>, and his fellow Cypriots if he

> a drink with them. Previously, Iago has

convinced <

> that Desdemona favours Cassio, and that he is

a far more <

> object for her <

Roderigo to pick a <

> with his supposed <

when he goes to check the <

>

> Cassio who, in his

>, has injured <

able to <

>

>. Iago is <

with the result of his plot. Othello <


drunken <

>. He tells

>, and Iago is easily

> Cassio to approach Desdemona to <

>

on his behalf. Iago outlines how he will use Desdemonas <

>

to arouse Othellos <

>. He will convince the <

>

that Desdemona is <

> for Cassio because she is having an

<

> with him.

You might like to copy or print out the CLOZE passage above to fill in the
blanks.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Character relationships at the opening of Act II


Iago lays the groundwork for his revenge at the end of Act I. He convinces
Roderigo to help him in his scheming and to provide him with money. He
also reveals Othellos elopement with Desdemona to Desdemonas father,
Brabantio, which causes Brabantio to reject his daughter.
Despite this, at the start of Act II, the main characters are largely unaffected
by Iagos interference in their lives.

Activity: Character relationships


Use the diagram on the following page to otuline the relationships between
Iago and the other characters at the beginning of Act II.

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You might like to copy or print out the diagram above to complete the
activity.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Why does Iago plot against Othello?


Iago has captured the imagination of writers throughout the centuries as the
archetype (i.e., original example) of human evil. Some critics feel Iago is so
evil and his powers are so great that Othello cannot even be held
accountable for his actions after having succumbed to his manipulations.
It is certainly important to consider why Iago wishes to destroy the
happiness of his general. By the end of Act II, he has given a few reasons
for his actions. However, at times he does not even seem to believe them all
himself.
It seems incredible that Iago should have no clear-cut justification for his
actions considering that they have such far-reaching consequences.
In the following exercise you will look at a series of motives which might
have inspired Iago to plot against Othello and Cassio. You will rank them
according to how important you think each one is. You will also give
reasons for your opinions.

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Activity: Iagos motives


Below is a series of reasons that might have motivated Iago to plot against
Othello. Rank the reasons in the order of their importance by numbering
each one.
Iago claims that Othello may have seduced Emilia.
He believes that only a fool serves his master faithfully. A servant
should look after his own advantage.
He is angry that Cassio has been appointed lieutenant.
He believes Cassio has seduced Emilia.
He is racially prejudiced against Othello.
He is jealous of Othello and Cassio.
He is intrinsically evil and does not need a motive to hurt others.
He uses everyone to serve his own needs.

Learning Journal
Copy the reasons in the order you have ranked them into your Learning
Journal.
Underneath each reason, explain why you have chosen that particular
ranking. Find quotes to support your explanation.

Why does Othello trust Iago?


As well as considering why Iago plots against Othello, you also need to
consider why Othello placed so much trust in what Iago tells him. How
could Iago persuade Othello that his new bride was unfaithful? After all,
Desdemona is the woman whom Othello describes as follows in Act IV:
A fine woman, a fair woman, a sweet woman O, the world hath not a
sweeter creature! She might lie by an emperors side and command him
tasks. I do but say what she is. So delicate with her needle. An admirable
musician. O, she will sing the savageness out of a bear! Of so high and
plenteous wit and invention And then, of so gentle a condition (IV i
169-182)

Shakespeare prepares the audience in two main ways to accept Othellos


vulnerability to Iagos accusations against Desdemona. He shows how much
trust those who know Iago place in him. He also shows how easily the
ensign is able to deceive everyone he encounters.

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Activity: Honest Iago


Think about Iagos reputation. How many times in Act II is he referred to as
honest?
Write down the quotes and where they are taken from on the lines below.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Frank Finlay as Iago and Laurence Olivier as Othello in the 1965 film

Shakespeares characterisation of Iago


As we saw in Act I, Shakespeare employs a type of dramatic irony in his
portrayal of the three main characters in the play. The true personality of
each character as revealed by their actions, speech and behaviour is quite
different from what other of the characters say they are like.

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The references to Iagos honesty continue in Act III. For example, Cassio
observes of Iago that I never knew / A Florentine more kind and honest
(III i 38) and Desdemona remarks of Iago to Iagos wife, Emilia: O, thats
an honest fellow. (III ii 5)

Iagos persuasiveness
Shakespeare also takes care to show just how persuasive Iago is. The viewer
first sees Iagos persuasive powers in Act I when he convinces Roderigo to
wake Brabantio and tell him that his only daughter, Desdemona, has eloped
with Othello. Iago then persuades Roderigo to follow the war party to
Cyprus so he may win Desdemonas heart.
Iago makes very little attempt to hide his contempt for Roderigo or the fact
that he is extorting money from the young nobleman for his own gain. As a
result, the audience feels little respect for Roderigo. He seems stupid and
easily tricked.

Activity: Iago and Roderigo


Read the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridges notes on the plays
opening and the relationship between Iago and Roderigo taken from his
Comments on Othello:
The admirable preparation, so characteristic of Shakespeare, in the introduction of
Roderigo, as the dupe on whom Iago first exercises his art, and in so doing display
his own character. Roderigo is already fitted and predisposed [to be a dupe] by his
own passions without any fixed principle or strength of character (the want of
character and power of passion like wind loudest in an empty house form his
character) but yet not without the moral notions and sympathies with honour
which his rank and connections had hung upon him. The very first three lines
happily state the nature and foundation of the friendship the purse as well as the
contrast of Roderigos intemperance of mind with Iagos coolness, the coolness of a
preconceiving experimenter. The mere language of protestation in
If ever I did dream
Of such a matter, abhor me.
which, fixing the associative link that determines Roderigos continuation of
complaint
Thou toldst me
Thou didst hold him in thy hate.
elicits a true feeling of Iagos the dread of contempt habitual to those, who
encourage in themselves and have their keenest pleasure in the expression of
contempt for others His high self-opinion and how a wicked man employs his
real feelings as well as assumes those most alien from his own, as instruments of
his purpose.
IAGO:

Virtue? a fig! Tis in ourselves, that we are thus, or thus.

Iagos passionless character, all will in intellect; therefore a bold partisan here of a
truth, but yet of a truth converted into a falsehood by absence of all the
modifications by the frail nature of man. And the last sentiment
our raging motions, our carnal stings or unbitted lusts, whereof I
take this, that you call love to be a sect or scion.

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There lies the Iagoism of how many! And the repetition of Go, make money! a
pride in it, of an anticipated dupe, stronger than the love of lucre.
IAGO:
Go to, farewell, put money enough in your purse:
Thus do I ever make my fool m purse.
The triumph! Again, put money, after the effect has been fully produced. The last
speech [Iagos soliloquy], the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity how awful!
In itself fiendish; while yet he was allowed to bear the divine image too fiendish for
his own steady view. A being next to devil, only not quite devil and this
Shakespeare has attempted executed without disgust, without scandal!
Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature Volume 2, pp. 314-5

Consider Coleridges assessment of Iagos personality and behaviour in the


play as the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity.
Write your thoughts and reflections in your Learning Journal.

Activity: Iago and Cassio


While there is a certain aptness in Iagos contemptuous and deceitful
treatment of Roderigo, it is a different matter when Iago tricks Cassio. Why
would a newly-appointed lieutenant, who must have sufficiently impressed
his superiors with his abilities to be promoted to such an important position,
give in to peer pressure so easily? Cassio knows he has a weak head for
drink. He also knows that he is on guard duty (probably on the city walls of
Famagusta that you saw previously). Yet he quickly accedes to Iagos claim
that he will insult Montano and the other Cypriots if he does not join them in
celebrating.
Why is Cassio so easily tricked by Iago?
Iagos plot against Cassio and Cassios subsequent dismissal are important
in the story of Othello for two reasons. What are they?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 300-350 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Learning Journal
Can you remember a time when you gave in to peer pressure? Many people
recall experiences in their youth when they drank too much alcohol at parties
or on a night out because they wanted to be like their friends or other young
people. Advertisements often play on the perception that people want to

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keep up with the Joneses; in other words, they want have what everyone
else has so their social status will be the same.

Think back to a time when you gave into peer pressure or when you
observed a friend doing so.

Write about the incident.

Note why you think you or your friend was susceptible to the peer
pressure at the time.

Record your or your friends feelings at the time and afterwards.

Think about what insight this gives into the reasons why Cassio gave in to
Iagos persuasion.
Write your thoughts and reflections in your Learning Journal.

Acts III and IV


In Act III, Iago loses no time in capitalising on the machinations he has
engineered in Act II. He immediately begins to undermine Othellos trust in
the honesty and fidelity of his young wife.
You are now going to consider the methods Iago uses to convince his
general that Desdemona is being unfaithful. You will also consider why
Othello is driven to the desperate extreme of deciding to kill his wife.
After you have read and viewed or listened to Acts III and IV again,
complete the following synopsis.

Activity: Act III and IV synopsis


Complete the synopsis of Acts III and IV below by filling in the gaps in the
sentences below.
Iago now targets <

>. Cassio approaches <

> as

Iago has suggested. Iago wastes no time in suggesting to Othello that there is
something <

> about the former lieutenant talking to his wife.

Iago is cautious at first, making no direct <

>. Once he has

planted the seeds of doubt, however, Iago becomes increasingly explicit and
<
and <

> in his use of language, and he arouses Othellos outrage


>. Iago then directly <

> to Othello as

his confidence and influence over his general grow. He claims to have heard
Cassio talking in his sleep about his <
Iago vividly describes the <

> with Desdemona.


> scene to Desdemonas

distraught husband. Iago then <

> a scene with Cassio where

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he leads Othello to believe that the woman Cassio is describing in


disparaging terms is in fact <

> when, in reality, Cassio and

Iago are talking about <

> who is in love with Cassio.

Circumstances also seem to assist the ensigns intrigue. Desdemona


accidentally drops the <

> which was Othellos first gift to

her. Emilia, Iagos wife and Desdemonas <

>, finds it and

gives it to her husband. Iago then leaves it in <

>s room, and

Cassio gives it to his lover, Bianca, to copy the <


this incident to <

>. Iago uses

> Othello that he has seen direct proof of

Desdemonas <

> after he sees Bianca angrily return the

handkerchief to Cassio. By the end of Act IV, Othello has decided that
Cassio must definitely <

>. Iago also <

> him

to murder Desdemona. He even suggests the method: <


Lodovico and <

>, Desdemonas uncle, arrive from Venice

with orders for <

> to take over command of Cyprus and for

Othello to return to <


to <

>.

>. They have arrived too late, however,

> the success of Iagos <

Emilia <

>. Even though

> her mistresss <

>, Othello is no

longer prepared to listen. He accuses Desdemona of <

> and

will not believe her <

>. Desdemona is <

>.

When Othello later <

> her to wait for him in bed and dismiss


> him despite Emilias misgivings.

her handmaid, she <

Desdemona lies waiting for Othello on their <

> sheets.

Roderigo, unlike Othello, continues to <

>. He plans to

confront Desdemona and will give up his <


the <

> if she returns

> that he believes Iago has given her on his behalf. Iago

now moves swiftly. He <

> Roderigo that he has one last

chance. If he wishes Othello and Desdemona to stay in Cyprus and not go to


<

>, he must kill <

>. Iago <

>

to support Roderigo.

You might like to copy or print out the CLOZE passage above to fill in the
blanks.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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The stages in Iagos persuasion of Othello


Below is a list of some of the devices that Iago uses to persuade Othello of
Desdemonas infidelity. You are going to arrange them in their
chronological order. Notice how Iago starts by using suggestion and
innuendo. Then, as Othello falls increasingly under his power, he turns to
outright lies and deception.

Activity: How Iago manipulates Othello


Rearrange the following events in the order they occur in the play to show
the escalation of Iagos deception of Othello:

Iago persuades Cassio to ask Desdemona to intercede on his behalf.

Iago suggests that Othello should strangle Desdemona.

When Desdemona accidentally drops the handkerchief Othello gave


her, Emilia retrieves it and gives it to Iago. He drops it in Cassios
room.

Iago warns Othello to beware of jealousy and pretends to be relieved


when Othello claims that he is not easily made jealous.

When Othello asks for visual proof, Iago becomes crude and asks if
he wishes to see Desdemona making love to Cassio.

Iago tells Othello to observe Desdemona and Cassio together.

Iago hints that there is something worrying in the fact that Cassio
acted as an intermediary in Othellos courtship of Desdemona.

Iago tells Othello that he saw Cassio wipe his beard with the
handkerchief that Othello gave Desdemona.

Iago advises Othello to wait a while before he reinstates Cassio so he


may observe Desdemonas response.

When Othello sees Bianca return the handkerchief to Cassio, Othello


believes he has seen proof of Desdemonas guilt. Iago uses this to
persuade Othello again that Desdemona must die.

Othello shows signs of doubt. Iago reinforces the doubt by saying


that he thinks Desdemona is honest.

Iago reminds Othello about the handkerchief and suggests he has


heard Cassio boast that he has lain with Desdemona. Othello has an
epileptic fit.

Iago tells how Venetian women often deceive their husbands. He


reminds Othello how Desdemona deceived her father.

Iago agrees to have Cassio killed but asks that Desdemona be spared.
As he planned, Othello immediately decides his wife must die too.

Othello and Iago make a vow to avenge Othello. Othello demands


that Iago see that Cassio is dead within three days.

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Iago suggests that it is unnatural that Desdemona should fall in love


with someone so unlike herself.

Iago sets the scene for the ocular proof. He talks to Cassio about
his lover, Bianca. He leads the watching Othello to believe that he
has seen proof of his wifes guilt.

Iago suggests to Othello that Cassio looks guilty as he leaves


Desdemona.

Iago tells of hearing Cassio talk in his sleep of his love affair with
Desdemona.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Activity: Othellos decision to murder Desdemona


Othello is persuaded by Iago that his wife is having an affair with Cassio.
This leads him to decide that both Cassio and Desdemona must die.
1

Why does Othello believe Iago rather than Emilia, who is constantly
in his wifes company, or Desdemona, who had been willing to
marry Othello even though it meant rebelling against her own family
and the customs of her culture?

The fact that the characters are isolated on Cyprus also makes it
easier for Iago to deceive Othello. Why is this the case?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 300-350 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Peggy Ashcroft and Paul Robeson in Othello in London, 1930 Robeson was the first African-American
actor to play Othello on the English stage

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Inside Othellos mind


You are now going to imagine that you are an actor who has been given the
part of Othello in an upcoming production. You are going to keep an actors
journal in which you analyse Othellos changing state of mind as he
becomes overwhelmed with the doubts that lead him to make the terrible
decision to murder his wife, Desdemona.
In your journal, you will closely analyse and comment on the language
Othello uses and examine how it reveals his state of inner turmoil and why
he decides to murder his wife. You will also think about how you would
portray Othello as his mind degenerates.

Activity: The difficulty of playing Othello


Before you complete your journal entries, read the following review which
discusses different approaches to portraying the character of Othello on
stage and in film, and the difficulties of the role for actors and directors.
Othello
Oliver Parkers sexual thriller suffers from the presence of Shakespeares racial
sensibilities and the absence of his poetry.
by Alan A. Stone
Iago launches the first act of Shakespeares Othello by shouting into the stillness of
the Venetian night, The old black ram is tupping your white ewe. With that
Negrophobic alarm, Shakespeares most cunning and mysterious villain rouses
Brabantio, the father of Desdemona, and exposes the raw nerve of White racism the
archetypal fear of the sexually triumphant Black man. Laurence Fishburne is the first
actor I have ever seen bring to the role of Othello the smouldering sexual vibrations
that keep this nerve pulsating.
Fishburne is certainly far from the best actor to have played the part: Laurence Olivier
filmed his own stage version; Orson Welles constructed a flawed but brilliant film;
James Earl Jones toured on stage in the part. And all these actors gave heroic
dimension to Othello: Olivier gave him effrontery, Welles fury, Jones dignity.
Fishburne now gives him sexuality. Though he may not read the lines as well as his
predecessors, his visual presence on the screen is stunning. Exactly as director and
screenwriter Oliver Parker intended, Fishburnes Othello is heightened so that he is at
least cinematically equal to the Iago of Kenneth Branagh arguably the Englishspeaking worlds greatest living actor. On stage, without the artifices of the magic
lantern, without close-ups of Fishburnes face, and with all of Othellos poetry to be
spoken, this production would have been a disaster. But Parker reconceived
Shakespeares as a sexual thriller, and knew in his first feature film how the
camera could help.
Filmmakers have a bag of tricks unique to their medium, which audiences now take
for granted, but which were once astonishing. Biographers report that Wittgenstein
insisted on sitting in the front row at movies because he wanted to be overwhelmed by
their images. Sartre shared his childhood movie-going passion with his young

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widowed mother. As he explained in his autobiographical Words, it was their fantasyland escape from an austere reality. Later he would analyze the medium to
demonstrate how much more mind control over the audience the movie has compared
to the stage play. In the theatre the stage set is fixed in time and place; members of the
audience are free to look wherever they choose. They need not attend to the actor who
is speaking, but can focus on a piece of furniture, a minor actor, or the spotlighting of
the stage. In the darkened movie house, a member of the audience can only close his
eyes or submit and follow the moving images on the screen. The actors are larger than
life, and a director can force the entire audience to watch a single face on the screen
waiting to be kissed. The separate members of the audience are constituted as an
anonymous collectivity of voyeurs peeping through the cameras keyhole. The
director who commands the camera thus has more power over the audience than any
actor, and the cameras compelling visual images have more impact than the actors
words.
But Shakespeare is primarily about words; an actors challenge is to speak the poetry,
capture the deeper meaning, and sustain the dramatic intensity. One might therefore
expect the film versions of his plays to be disastrous. Not so. There have been many
marvelous films of Shakespeare plays. Olivier and Branagh both did Henry V in
versions that rival each other but surpass any stage production. The same can be said
of Zefferelis Romeo and Juliet, Mankiewiczs Julius Caesar, and Peter Brooks
magnificent King Lear. Director Oliver Parkers film falls far below this standard, but
then Shakespeares Othello is a peculiarly challenging text.
Fifty years ago, Paul Robeson played Othello on Broadway to wildly enthusiastic
audiences. But Othello has become a notoriously difficult stage play to perform and it
can be painful, even distasteful, to watch. It is the only Shakespeare play about which
many thoughtful people have said that they prefer Verdis operatic version. The
problem in every modern performance is that Othello is so unreflective, Desdemona
so helpless, and Iago so mysteriously evil that the painfulness of the storyline is
unmitigated: There is no one with whom the audience can identify and empathize.
Unthinking jealousy compounded by racism is a better formula for the stylistics of an
opera than an engrossing theatrical performance.
Comparison with The Merchant of Venice is instructive. Both plays are set in Venice,
the great maritime city-state of Marco Polo and Andrea Doria, an empire of its time,
which imported ethnic and racial diversity along with commercial goods; this made
the Rialto a natural setting for tales of racism and anti-Semitism. But as in
Shakespeares other plays that invoke racial and ethnic stereotypes, these Venetian
plays reveal the cultural biases that confine even Shakespeares genius. Jessica,
Shylocks daughter, is saved by stealing some of her fathers fortune and running off
with a Christian spendthrift. And, although audiences remember Portia for her line
about mercy, she strips Shylock of every single penny and his religious identity as
well, forcing him to convert to Christianity on pain of death, much as the Inquisitors
of the Church did to his brethren. Although Shylock has his great speech ( does a
Jew not have feelings ), Shakespeare wastes little sympathy on him. The audience
was meant to be amused by the judgment meted out to this vengeful Jew.
Although Othello has been assigned nobility and great poetry, he is one of
Shakespeares most unreflective characters. Unlike Shylock, who reflects on his status
as a Jew and is bitterly aware of his degraded position as such, Othello never
questions his Blackness or reflects on his precarious position in a world of White men.
Othello acts, overreacts, has epileptic seizures, suffers terribly, but does not reflect.
Taking Iagos bait of jealousy without caution or consideration, he flashes into
violence against his innocent bride. Bradley, the famous Shakespeare scholar, says
that Othellos mind, for all its poetry, is very simple. He is not observant. His nature

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tends outward. He is quite free from introspection, and is not given to reflection.
Emotion excites his imagination, but it confuses and dulls his intellect. (It is no
answer to say that Othello is a warrior; after all, Macbeth is a much bloodier warrior,
and he reflects on his situation.)
Recognizing Othello as different in this way is not the same as understanding why
Shakespeare conceived the Moor as so simple and unreflective. Reading the Venetian
plays, however, one might well conclude that though Shakespeare understood almost
as much about anti-Semitism and racism as we do today, his knowledge about Jews
and Blacks was narrowly circumscribed by stereotype.
Thus the difficulties for 20th Century audiences. Thus, too, the standard tactic of the
directors seeking to reach them: give the roles of Shylock and Othello to actors of
enormous talent and star power in the hope that the actor will transform the character
and give it grandeur. Laurence Olivier did this with both roles brilliantly but it was a
theatrical trick, not a solution to the fundamental problem of the stereotyped
protagonists.
Oliver Parker had a different idea. Cognizant of Othellos empty unreflectiveness, he
filled the void with sex and violence, all of it realized through Fishburnes visual
presence made all the more stunning because someone had the ingenious idea of
tattooing the side of his shaved head, making him unforgettably iconic.
Fishburne will be remembered as the wife-battering Ike Turner of Tina Turners
autobiographical Whats Love Got To Do With It? The film had a great impact in
England and Fishburnes performance earned him the role of Othello. Parker was
looking for a Black actor who would give Othello an Ike-Turner-edge of sexual
intimidation and violence. The idea was to make the erotic relationship between
Othello and Desdemona the emotional fulcrum of the play. Parkers experience
playing Iago in repertory had convinced him that for modern audiences the play had
become unbalanced and the relationship between Othello and Desdemona had lost its
dramatic energy. Othello was supposed to be Shakespeares most psychological play,
a drama of private passions, but the diabolical evil of Iago and his hatred for the noble
Othello was more intriguing to modern audiences than the almost platonic love
relationship between the noble Moor and his childlike Desdemona.
Fishburnes physicality and his stilted American speaking of the lines make him the
embodiment of the alien other summoned from the racists nightmare of
miscegenation. The casting for all of the other parts is bold, creative, and in line with
this premise. Desdemona, in particular, is not the blond-haired ingenue we have come
to expect in traditional productions. The sensual, dark-haired Swiss actress, Irene
Jacob, has been given the role. And although Shakespeares Othello says she loved
me for the pains I have suffered, this Desdemona, speaking in heavily accented
English, conveys the full measure of erotic chemistry that can precipitate a sudden
elopement.
This is not Shakespeares Desdemona, who asks Emilia, her maid and Iagos wife,
whether women are ever sexually unfaithful to their husbands. Desdemona cannot
believe the truthful answer; that is the measure of her virginal naivete. Parker has
sacrificed all these innocent lines. Irene Jacobs heavily accented reading labors over
her few lines; like Fishburne, she earned her part because of her erotic screen
presence. Critics who object to this heavy-handed vulgarization of Shakespeares play
must concede that in the 20th Century, when ten-year-old children are sexually
sophisticated, Shakespeares Desdemona would be something of a joke.
An ambitious director might have bitten the bullet and cast a very young girl as
Desdemona. But adding discrepancies in age to racial difference would have provoked
even greater outrage than Irene Jacobs fleshy and sensuous Desdemona. She is an

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erotic match for Fishburne on the screen and Othello does not have to be crazed to
imagine her making love to another man especially after Parker inserts a scene in
which Othello watches Desdemona dance with Cassio, with a spark of sensual
pleasure in her eye. All of this makes Othellos jealousy more believable.
Though Parker sacrifices the complexity of the play and most of its greatness to make
it coherent for modern sensibilities, Branaghs Iago somehow survives, and with new
dimensions. Othello and Iago in Shakespeares play are in a certain sense more
intimate than the Moor and his bride. An orthodox Freudian reading of the play uses
this intimacy to resolve the mystery of Iagos evil nature into his repressed
homosexual attraction to the vibrantly sexual and brutal Moor. And in the film the
body language between Fishburne and Branagh implies dominance-submission,
sadism-masochism.
Fishburne may not accept the Freudian reading, but an improvised scene demonstrates
his psychological understanding of the relationship. In a show of brute strength he
holds the scheming Iagos head underwater until the man almost drowns. According
to Freudian formulas, the subordinate Iago first feels sexual jealousy because he has
projected his own repressed passive and masochistic desires onto his wife Emilia; his
first soliloquy of revenge tells the audience that Othello has done my service in
Emilias bed. In his own paranoid mind a victim of sexual betrayal, Iago has the
blueprint of the idea to make Othello believe he has suffered the same fate.
The Freudian interpretation, as usual, overstates the case, but the play certainly
suggests this motive for revenge. Iago reiterates the charge in his second soliloquy.
Furthermore, when Emilia realizes what Iago has done, she immediately attributes it
to his unjustified belief that she had betrayed him with Othello. The attribution comes
so quickly that Iago must have accused her of betrayal. And Fishburnes Othello
would seem to justify such beliefs. He is the kind of man Iago would take pleasure in
hating.
Several stage actors have played this Freudian Iago, most notably Christopher
Plummer. His Othello (James Earl Jones) stabs him in the groin at the end of the play
to punctuate this reading. Branaghs Freudian gesture is less obvious. In his conniving
interchanges with Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello, his Iago sometimes assumes a
seductive feminine demeanour, wooing them with yielding words and promises. There
is a particularly striking scene after Othellos arrival in Cyprus where the celebration
of the Turkish fleets destruction has become a drunken orgy. In a cart rocking above
them the camera reveals, without being overly graphic, that a couple is having
intercourse while below a gleeful Iago embraces Roderigo and deviously sets him on
to further machinations.
But if Branaghs performance suggests repressed homosexuality, he is too great an
actor to let Freud dominate Shakespeare. His mercurial Iago has not one great motive
but rather several, all suggested in Shakespeares text. He has served Othello faithfully
for many years in campaigns of war only to have Othello appoint Cassio, an untested
soldier, over him at least so he claims. Thus Iago has been doubly wronged by the
Moor; resentment and envy abet sexual jealousy. So Cassio is a perfect target against
whom Iago will foment Othellos jealous rage. Furthermore, the play gives us reason
to believe or suspect that Cassio is from the ranks of Italian gentlemen while Iago is a
self-made man. Such parvenus fare poorly in Shakespeares plays; they are
overreaching and flawed in character, and even when they are wronged they end
badly. Iago, one of these, is not just a vengeful malefactor, but a con-man and a thief
as he manipulates Roderigo, Desdemonas embittered suitor, to sell all he has and put
money in thy purse, most of which ends up in Iagos pocket.

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Branaghs Iago is also caught up in the momentum of his own improvisations, as in


his evil deeds he mirrors the inexplicable creative genius of his creator. Iago, like
Hamlet, is one of Shakespeares many imaginary selves this one can imagine
unimaginable evils. When Othello finally grasps the full extent of Iagos malevolence,
the Moor demands an explanation but Iago, in a fitting show of intransigence, takes a
vow of silence. And Othello understands that this is as it should be. Iago is a perfect
villain who will not give us the satisfaction of fully knowing his reasons he offers
neither confession nor contrition. Evil can have no complete explanation. Branagh,
who did one of this centurys greatest Hamlets on stage, has now given us a superb
Iago on film.
But Branaghs triumph may have defeated Parkers film. His Iago is everything but
what this film needed a blood and guts racist. Parker describes Branaghs
performance as down-to-earth rather than diabolical but he did not come down to
the prosaic level required by the screenplay. One cannot escape the feeling that the
guileful Kenneth Branagh knows where all the great actors before him have gone and
now charts his own course. Parkers frequent close-ups of Fishburnes glowering dark
eyes keep Branaghs Iago from stealing the whole show. But Iago can be found in
Shakespeares play; Parker created Jacobs Desdemona and Fishburnes Othello.
Parker thought out very carefully every detail of his screenplay and if Shakespeare
purists disapprove, as surely they must, it is not because Parker fails to understand the
beauty of Shakespeares poetry or the tragedy of Othello. Fully realizing
Shakespeares genius, Parker and Branagh aim to bring more people into his temple.
Branagh certainly knows how to do traditional Shakespeare but he also realizes that a
production that will pack the largest theatre in London does not translate into the
medium of film and will not pack the movie houses. And he realizes, too, that British
actors with the training and skill to read Shakespeares lines may have neither strong
screen presence nor box office drawing power. Moreover, his theory is that the
problem cannot just be laid on the shoulders of the film-going audience. An outsider
from Belfast, he believes that some of the blame belongs to narcissistic English
Shakespeare traditionalists.
He tried to break the English mold in his film version of Much Ado About Nothing by
including American movie stars. But try as they might, Denzel Washington and the
other Hollywood actors simply could not master Shakespeares language.
Shakespeares comic scenes in the play are based on a lunatic but ingenious sequence
of malapropisms which carry the opposite meaning of the speakers intention. The
humor was entirely lost in Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves American translation,
even if one knew the arcane lines being spoken. Nonetheless, the high-spirited
musical-comedy feeling of the film did succeed in attracting a new audience to one of
Shakespeares less well-known comedies, and grossed almost $50 million at the box
office. Branagh is now doing a four-hour film Hamlet with a most unlikely array of
Hollywood actors. It will either be a disaster, or a miracle.
Parkers Othello succeeds better than Much Ado About Nothing in integrating its
diverse and non-Shakespearean actors, but at great cost. The film opened in the
aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial, and some of the films backers must have been
thanking their lucky stars expecting to cash in on the American craze. But if the
television drama fascinated the public, Oliver Parkers did not. Othello is not a bad
film, and it is cinematically beautiful, but it has failed to find a new audience for
Shakespeare and is very far from an enlightening interpretation of one of his most
difficult plays. If Shakespeares own Othello was the Elizabethan stereotype of an
African savage, Parkers version is the modern stereotype of the inner-city Black.
Parkers Othello has no fall from innocence, no defining tragic moment, and
Fishburne offers no more than his physical presence. Parker hoped that sexual passion

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would bring emotional coherence to a play that has puzzled Shakespeare critics for
two centuries. But he addresses the racial problem by eliminating Othellos grandeur
and Desdemonas innocence a solution that required him to sacrifice most of their
poetry and the miracle of their love.
Othello by most accounts was the tragedy written after Hamlet, when Shakespeare
was at the height of his powers. But unlike Hamlet with its Ghost, Macbeth with its
witches, or Richard III with its bloody scheme of royal succession, Othello is an unShakespeare-like tragedy without supernatural forces or great political-historical
significance. And is there any other noble hero in the Shakespeare canon who hits his
wife in public, treats her like a whore, and kills her with his own hands?
Shakespeares script prepares us to be shocked by that public blow the tragedys
defining moment. The old warrior Othello loves Desdemona because she pities him,
not because she excites him. And the Moor gives assurances in every respect that he
will be gentle with his innocent bride. Othello is the very antithesis of Iagos
Negrophobic black ram. Far from Fishburnes incendiary Othello, Shakespeares
Moor assures us that the days of his hot-blooded youthful excesses are finished. He
can conduct the war against the Turks without being distracted by his new bride.
Frank Kermode compares Othello and Desdemona in the first act of the play to Adam
and Eve before the fall. Be that as it may, when Othello strikes Desdemona the
audience sees the beast in man revealed, and that savage beast is a Black man.
Shakespeares Othello speaks sublime poetry but he confirms Elizabethan stereotypes
of race.
But the failure of Parkers film is less severe when measured against the Olivier and
Welles films. Pauline Kael might now prefer to expunge her rhapsodic review of the
Olivier production from her collected works. She opined that no Black actor, not even
Paul Robeson, could bring to the role of Othello what Olivier had. But an Othello in
black (or brown) face is an affront to contemporary sensibilities. And the brilliant
Olivier production, as Kael herself admits, isnt even much of a movie. Branagh
described it as a narcissistic English interpretation of Shakespeare. Orson Welles is
not English, but in black face he is today as out of place as Olivier, and his Othello is
more notable for its exotic cinematic style than its substance. The failure of all three
films suggests that Shakespeares play may have no contemporary cinematic solution.
And this is because it was written for an audience that could accept racist stereotypes
as truisms without acknowledging their own racism.
I mentioned earlier that many people prefer Verdis opera to Shakespeares play.
Shakespeares poetry, surely, is at least the equivalent of Verdis music. The most
useful insight into Shakespeares Othello emphasizing the poetry comes from
Bradleys lectures. Though he acknowledges all of the plays difficulties the pain
and dismay produced in the audience by the sudden explosion of savagery that comes
from the noble Moor he makes brilliant excuses for Shakespeares racist stereotype.
He quotes with approval Swinburnes line that we pity Othello even more than we
pity Desdemona. He acknowledges that no rationalization satisfactorily explains this
unsettling tragedy and that the many troubling issues it raises cannot be decided by
argument. More simply, I would say, no solution will make the racism of
Shakespeare and his audiences disappear.
But Bradleys consoling insight is that Othello may be Shakespeares greatest poet
and if we read the play and its poetry with all our force we will feel these objections
less. Parkers Othello does not and cannot provide us that consolation. Unfortunately,
with all its technical powers over mind, the medium of film has found no way to
heighten, or even to convey, poetrys magical powers.
taken from the April/May 1996 issue of the Boston Review

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Activity: Othellos soliloquy


Now read Othellos soliloquy from Act III and then write your first journal
entry.
Critics have noted that this is Othellos one true soliloquy in the play, the
only time when the audience is given a deep insight into the generals
innermost and most personal thoughts.
The soliloquy represents the dramatic and psychological turning point of the
play. Up until now, Othello in his speech and actions has been a sturdy and
virtuous nobleman, a brave warrior and a devoted husband. The rhetorical
leaps and imagery which Othello uses in this outpouring of doubt and soul
searching reveal his deepest anxieties, fears and vanities, both as a private
individual and as a public figure and leader of men. From this point on in the
play we witness the disintegration of Othellos personality and the
acceleration of his murderous intent.
This fellows of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings. If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings,
Id whistle her off, and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune. Haply for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years yet thats not much
Shes gone. I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage
That we can call these delicate creatures ours
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapour of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others uses. Yet tis the plague to great ones;
Prerogatived are they less than the base.
Tis destiny unshunnable, like death.
Even then this forked plague is fated to us
When we do quicken. Look where she comes.
Enter Desdemona and Emilia.
If she be false, heaven mocked itself!
Ill not believet. (III iii 260-282)

Now complete your first journal entry. Use the notes in your copy of the
play to help you interpret the speech.

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Remember, in your entry, to discuss how Othello is feeling. Give examples


of the kind of language he uses that reveal these feelings. How would you
communicate his feelings to the audience? Remember that you can use your
voice (expression, tone, pitch and pace), your body language (facial
expressions, gestures and body stance), the stage (how you move around the
acting space) and any props that you like.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, compare your journal entry with the
example provided in the Suggested responses to activities at the end of this
section.
Did you agree with the interpretation given there? If not, think about why
you disagree and write down your ideas and evidence from the text in your
Learning Journal.

Learning Journal
Write four entries in an actors journal kept by the actor who is going to play
Othello in an upcoming performance.
Select four extracts from Acts III and IV that show Othellos changing state
of mind and which reveal why he ultimately makes the decision to strangle
Desdemona. One of your entries can be the one you have just completed on
Othellos soliloquy.

Analyse each extract. Discuss how the language reflects Othellos


changing emotions and state of mind. Remember to provide
examples and quotes.

Consider how the extract adds to your understanding of why Othello


is driven to the point of murdering his wife.

Discuss how you, as the actor, would portray Othello in each scene
to show the emotions he is feeling and the degeneration of his mind
and character.

When you write each journal entry, remember to include the act, scene and
line numbers you are referring to.

Assignment 4
Now turn to your Assessment Guide and complete Assignment 4 Task 2.
Then return to this learning resource to continue studying the elective.

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Desdemonas submissiveness
You have considered why Iago decided to plot against his general and how
he executed his revenge against both Othello and Cassio. You have also
looked at the choices Othello and Cassio made as a result of Iagos devious
manipulations.
Now you will investigate Desdemonas response to the situation, and her
behaviour when Othello turns against her in Acts III and IV.
Audiences and readers have often expressed frustration that Desdemona is
so submissive to Othello in Act IV. They compare her behaviour then to her
spirited defence of her actions before her father and the senators in Act I.
In the following exercise, you will imagine that you have the opportunity to
speak to Desdemona directly and ask her why she did not defend herself
more strongly in Act IV.

Activity: Why does Desdemona change?


Before you compose your interview with Desdemona, write down why you
think she behaved as she did in the play.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.
You should now prepare your interview with Desdemona investigating why
she became so submissive towards her husband in Acts III and IV. You
might like to record it as a dialogue. You can ask someone else to read
Desdemonas part or read the part yourself, using a different voice.
Remember to include your own views as well as Desdemonas.

Assignment 5
Now turn to your Assessment Guide and complete Assignment 5 Task 1.

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Act V
In Act V, the audience witnesses the fatal consequences of Iagos plotting as
the play rapidly moves towards its tragic climax. After you have read and
viewed or listened to Act V again, complete the following synopsis.

Activity: Act V synopsis


Complete the synopsis of Act V below by filling in the gaps.
Act V opens with the attack on <
pierce Cassios <

>. Roderigos sword fails to

> but, in the following confusion, Iago

successfully murders <

>. He also attacks Cassio but only

wounds him in the <

>. Lodovico and Gratiano belatedly

come to the aid of <

> when they feel sure they are not in

danger themselves. <

>s attack on Cassio achieves its

purpose, however. Othello, passing nearby, hears Cassios desperate cries of


<

> and believes that Iago has <

> his honour

as planned. He then vows to go and kill <

> immediately.

Desdemona pleads for her life but Othello remains <

>.

Although he is torn by the sight of her <


her insistence that she is <
affair with <

>, he remains deaf to


> of betraying him by having an

>. Othello <

> her. Emilia calls

from outside the door to tell of the attack on <

> and Cassio.

She discovers her mistress dead. Her cries bring <


and <

>, Gratiano

>. An incredulous Emilia learns that her it was her

huband, Iago, who incited Othello to <

> Desdemona. She

reveals too late that she found the <

> and gave it to Iago.

Iago murders his wife to silence her. His efforts to <


himself are in vain, however, as Roderigo had <
pocket that reveal the ensigns <
attack Iago, he is <

condemned to <

> in his

>. When Othello tries to


>. He has another <

however, which he uses to kill <


<

>

>,

>. He is left to speak his own

>. Cassio is left in charge of <

> and Iago is

>.

Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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The denouement
The denouement of a narrative is the final unravelling of the storyline; it
usually occurs in the final scene in a play where the plot is resolved.
Once the tragic climax of Othello has taken place Othellos murder of his
beloved wife the denouement of the play follows on quickly. By the end
of the Act V:

Iago has murdered Roderigo and Emilia

Othello has murdered Desdemona and killed himself

Iago has been captured and condemned to torture

Cassio has been appointed governor of Cyprus.

With Cassios appointment it would appear that the rule of law has been
restored once more to the island outpost. Those members of the audience
who were familiar with recent Venetian history, however, would have
known that Cyprus was lost soon after to the Turks. Some critics suggest
that the audience is meant to see Othellos private tragedy as having public
consequences after all. Venice had lost its great general.
Certainly, in many of his plays, Shakespeare explores the consequences for
the nation of the fall of great men.
Critics also draw attention to the concern of Lodovico at the end of the play
that Othellos fortune be seized by Desdemonas uncle, Gratiano. They
contrast this mercenary
concern with the call to a
new beginning which
concludes other of
Shakespeares tragedies,
such as in Hamlet. In
Hamlet, the new ruler
Fortinbras calls for the
people to hear Hamlets
story so the nation may
have a new beginning. He
also praises Hamlet,
stating he would have
proved most noble if he
had become king.
In Othello, it is left to the
character to speak his own
eulogy.

Laurence Fishburne as Othello

Critics also draw attention to the fact that the real villain of the play is Iago,
a Venetian. It is he who is labelled a slave (V ii 328) by Lodovico not
the Turks, and not the outsider, Othello, despite his guilt in murdering an
innocent woman.

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Staying true to their characters


You will now consider the extent to which the characters actions at the end
of the play reflect their characters.

Othello
Othello is emotionally torn apart by his decision to kill Desdemona. He
looks at her as she lies sleeping and is almost overwhelmed by her beauty.
He is also painfully aware that, once she is dead, she cannot be brought back
to life.
Yet Othello also remains true to character. He hates doubt so he reminds
himself of Desdemonas assumed guilt. Having taken on the role of her
judge, he sees himself as her just executioner. From the beginning, he has
believed in his own abilities and he has shown himself to be an idealist and
a romantic. Seeing himself as carrying out justice fits the perception he has
of himself.
When he kills himself at the end of the play, Othello is similarly carrying
out his ideal of the honourable act. He realises that he is guilty of a horrible
crime but he also remains a great warrior. He stabs himself to death rather
than die dishonourably.

Iago
By contrast to Othello, Iago acts dishonourably to the bitter end, as would
be expected. He kills Roderigo surreptitiously when he believes no-one is
looking and stabs Cassio in the leg. His aim is to protect himself in the first
case and to complete his revenge in the latter case.
When Emilia reveals his deceit, he also kills her to protect himself. He
possibly also reacts in fury to the fact that his wife dares to betray him. Once
his treachery is revealed, he then refuses to speak. At no time does he show
remorse for what he has done.

Desdemona
Desdemona acts selflessly throughout the final scenes which also seems in
keeping with her character. She tells Emilia that she has killed herself to
protect the husband she still loves. Ironically, Desdemona dies without
learning of Iagos treachery.

Emilia
Emilia is perhaps the only character who seems to behave in an
uncharacteristic fashion. When she speaks of love in Act IV to Desdemona,
she seems to share her husbands cynical view of the world. She says she
would be prepared to cuckold her husband if it meant gaining the whole
world. After all, she explains, men have only themselves to blame if their
wives are false as they treat their wives poorly and women share the sexual
appetites and weaknesses of their spouses.

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In Act V, however, when she is faced with the truth of Iagos villainy,
Emilia reveals how she was also deceived by her husbands behaviour. Her
ignorance of Iagos true character explains why she gave him the
handkerchief. It had never occurred to her that he would use it for such
terrible ends. She reveals her loyalty and love for her mistress as well.

The significance of Othellos tragedy


Just before he bids a final farewell to his murdered wife, Othello reflects on
the consequences of his actions and the personal cost it has brought him:
Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medcinable gum. (V ii 339-344)

He also tries to explain his actions to Lodovico when the Venetian asks him
why he has reverted to the behaviour of a slave. He tells him that he may
call him
An honourable murderer, if you will;
For naught I did in hate, but all in honour. (V ii 291-2)

How well does Othello understand himself? Does his analysis of why he
strangled Desdemona and what it meant to him adequately explain his
actions?
In the following activity, you will consider the factors that led to Othellos
decision to murder Desdemona and what that decision meant to him.

Activity: The notion of honour


How does Othellos final speech in the play explain his actions and the
importance to him of maintaining his honour?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 200-250 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answer with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Values in conflict
Despite the characters adherence to a code of honour, the play Othello
shows a world where the old moral values are being challenged by the new.
In the first act, Brabantio responds cynically to the pragmatic political
approach adopted by the Duke and the senators in exonerating Othello,
observing ironically that, as long as you smile, the Turk cannot really rob
the Venetians of Cyprus (I iii 208-213).
Brabantio recognises that the Duke is prepared to overlook the lovers
flouting the rights of the father because he needs Othello for the defence of
Cyprus. This decision challenges the family and civic values underpinning
Venetian society, sacrificing cultural tradition for political advantage.
The Dukes decision accords with the political philosophies outlined by the
Italian statesman, Niccol Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a political writer
who published a political treatise in 1527 called The Prince. In the treatise,
Machiavelli analyses leadership in a pragmatic, or realistic, way. This
pragmatism contrasts with the idealistic approach to politics where the
ruling classes hold to a set of principles that define the values of the society.
The Europeans were greatly shocked by Machiavellis work and, somewhat
unfairly, his name quickly became linked with adjectives like cunning,
scheming and unscrupulous. Thus might Iago be called a Machiavellian
villain: he acts purely for his own desires and gains.
There were many other significant changes which occurred during
Shakespeares lifetime. Throughout the latter part of the 16th Century, old
traditions were constantly under challenge and replaced by new cultural
values. These changes often caused conflict as the old values were
vigorously defended by more conservative members of society.
The final ascendancy of Protestantism over Catholicism as the state religion
in England under Queen Elizabeth I and the demise of the old rigid feudal
system led to a new emphasis on the individual and individual achievement.
Previously, society was strictly organised according to a hierarchical order.
The individual was subservient (or subordinate) to both the state and church.
By the 1560s, the Elizabethans had lost faith in the dependability of religion
which they had seen used for political ends since 1532 by a succession of
rulers. With the increasing choice of religions came other individual
choices. In London, even women had increased freedom, for example, being
able to engage in litigation on their own behalf.
The middle class became increasingly powerful as trade expanded in Europe
and spread to Africa, the Americas and the East. The population of England
increased by 35% under Elizabeth 1. Yet economically there were
difficulties. In the 1590s, inflation, war taxation (there had been an increase
of military activity in Europe during the period), harvest failure and a
depression in Europe led to an economic collapse in England.
When James 1 ascended the throne in 1603, he was less interested in the
details of government than Elizabeth and corruption soon became a major
problem.
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As well, society reeled under a succession of plagues, such as the bubonic


plague which was spread by rats. There were major plagues in 1582, 15923, 1597, 1603 and, after Othello was first staged, in 1606-10.
These plagues doubled the death rate in London.
The increased interest in exploration and changing attitudes to the military
are other changes which are relevant to Othello. Othello is black and the
play exploits the stereotypes of race of the period. Othello himself, although
a thoroughly professional soldier in the contemporary sense, subscribed to
the medieval chivalric code of honour.
The state of confusion during this period as the old and new value systems
in conflict with each other led to a very culturally productive period in
English history as the society strove to define itself. Othello clearly shows
the clash between the new and old ways of thinking.
the Russian actor and theatre
practitioner Constantin Stanislavski as
Othello in 1896

Activity: The warrior and honour


Now read the poem To Lucasta, going to the Wars below. The poem was
written by the English poet Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) and is from the
same period that Shakespeares play is set.
Once you have read the poem, answer the questions that follow.

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To Lucasta, going to the Wars


by Richard Lovelace
Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

How does Lovelace personify war in the poem?

Why does the persona (speaker) in the poem choose going to war
over staying with his loved one?

In what ways does the persona describe his lover as being the ideal
woman?

Use your own paper for this activity. Write approximately 100-150 words.
Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Activity: The clash of old and new values


What are some of the ways in which Othello illustrates the clash between
old and new ways of thinking?
Complete the following table.
Old values

New values

Brabantio believes he should choose a


suitable husband for his daughter.

Desdemona is unrepentant about eloping


with Othello.

Brabantio appeals to the senate to uphold


his patriarchal rights.

Military camps were not considered a


suitable place for women.

The leaders in military campaigns were


drawn from amongst the nobility of the state
at war.
The knights of medieval times subscribed to
the chivalric code of honour.

Military matters are now seen as a science


or art. Cassio is appointed in part because of
his theoretical knowledge of warfare.
Desdemona is loyal and obedient to her
husband and believes all women will be
faithful to their spouses.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

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Comparing the texts


Do you remember how the short story A Horseman in the Sky also depicts
a society where the old values are being challenged?
Reread the following extract:
Ambrose Bierce had just finished fighting in an extremely bloody war in
which American had fought against American. He had no illusions about the
horrors of the battlefield. It is possible that, in this story, Bierce was trying to
convey the notion that this civil war marked the end of an era. Druses
father, a Southern gentleman, represents the past, a heroic past marked by a
strong sense of honour and courage, and the sort of exploits and attitudes
celebrated in ancient Greek legends and many tales of past wars. The defeat
of the South not only meant the end of these old values; it also meant the end
of Americas romanticised view of war.

For your final assignment on this elective, you are going to write a
comparison essay in which you explore how the actions and behaviours of
the central characters in both Othello and A Horseman in the Sky are
affected by the changing value systems of the worlds depicted in the text.

Topic
Both Othello and A Horseman in the Sky depict societies where the
beliefs and values which guide those societies are changing, and
where characters come into conflict with one another and with their
societies as a result.
Do you agree? Explain how the loyalties of the main characters in both
texts are affected by the changing beliefs and values of their societies.
Write approximately 1000 words.

Planning your essay


Before you begin writing your essay, revise the following steps you need to
take to plan what you will say.
Use your own paper to plan your essay.
1 What does the question mean?
The first step in writing an essay is to decide what the question is asking.

Write down or print the question and read it carefully.

Underline or highlight the key words.

Then, write down what you think the question is asking you to do in
your own words.

How many parts are there in the question?

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2 Brainstorm
Print out the mind map below or draw a mind map of your own to
brainstorm your ideas. Remember that you can add extra boxes.

Breakdown of the patriarchal


society Druse joins the
Northern army / Desdemona
elopes with Othello
Both Othello and A Horseman in the Sky
depict societies where the beliefs and values
which guide those societies are changing, and
where characters come into conflict with one
another and with their societies as a result.
Do you agree? Explain how the loyalties of
the main characters in both texts are affected
by the changing beliefs and values of their
societies.

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3 Organising your ideas


Now that you have thought about what you can write in your essay, you
need to select a thesis statement (i.e., a line of argument). Follow the steps
below:

decide what your thesis statement will be

select the points you will use to support your thesis

arrange the points in the most logical order

think about how you will elaborate on each point

select appropriate examples and quotes from each text.

When you develop your thesis statement, note that you are being asked to
write a comparison. There are a variety of positions you could choose to
take. For example, you may believe that the characters are totally influenced
by the old values or you may believe that they are completely influenced by
the changing world they find themselves in. On the other hand, you may
decide that they are affected both by the old and the new even though one is
more important. You might even decide that one character acts according to
the old values while another is influenced by the new ones.
Below are three possible ways you could begin your essay, depending on
the point of view you plan to take. Read each thesis. Think about the
position taken in each one. It may take one of the following positions:

Othello and/or Druse are acting according to the old value system.

Othello and/or Druses loyalties reflect the new values.

At least one character is influenced to some degree by both sets of


values.

i) In Othello and A Horseman in the Sky, the authors depict societies


in which the value systems are changing. Despite these changes,
however, the loyalties of the main characters, Othello and Carter
Druse, are based on the traditional codes of honour that they have
been raised to respect.
ii) The loyalties of Carter Druse in A Horseman in the Sky and
Othello in Othello are affected by the changing values of their
societies. Although they appear to be acting according to traditional
codes of honour, they have, in fact, compromised those codes by the
decisions they make.
iii) In both Othello and A Horseman in the Sky, the authors depict
societies in which the value systems are changing. Although Othello
and Carter Druse, the main characters, subscribe to the traditional
codes of honour and attempt to act honourably, events beyond their
control create conflicts and affect their loyalties and behaviours.

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4 Discussing the texts


In your essay, you should give equal weight to both texts. There are two
ways to organise your discussion.

The first method you can use is to develop a series of points and
refer to both texts in your elaboration of each point.

The second method you can use is to divide your discussion into two
parts. You will then discuss the first text in the first half of the essay
and the second text in the second half. If you use this method, link
the two texts to the central line of argument in your opening thesis or
introduction and in your final recommendation or conclusion.

5 Using linking words


When you move from one point to the next, you link the points to each other
and to the central line of argument by using linking words and phrases. You
are probably already familiar with linking words and phrases like firstly,
secondly, similarly, also, in conclusion and therefore.
The first two examples show the writer is starting a new point. The next two
indicate that the new point will support the previous point. The last two
show that the author is writing the concluding paragraph of the essay and is
drawing a conclusion or making a recommendation about the question.
You may also want to present both supporting and opposing points or
examples in your essay; for example, to contrast your two texts or the
behaviours of characters within the texts. You will need to use linking
words and phrases that indicate that you are introducing a contrasting point
or a point that modifies your line of argument. Examples of these types of
linking words and phrases are however, despite this, nevertheless, in
contrast, although and yet.

Activity: Comparing the two texts


Now fill in the following table comparing and contrasting aspects of the two
texts.
A Horseman in the Sky

Othello

The story is set during a civil war. It is set in


the 19th Century in the United States

The story is set during a foreign war. It is


set in the 16th Century in Venice and
Cyprus.

The story is set during a civil war.

The story is set during a foreign war.

The protagonist (main character, or hero)


kills his father.

The protagonist kills his wife.

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The story opens with a description of the


valley and mountains where the action
occurs.

Use your own paper for this activity.


Once you have completed the activity, check your answers with the
Suggested responses to activities at the end of this section.

Writing your essay plan


Use the following table to write your essay plan. Try to develop four or five
main points.
Introduction or
thesis

First point in
argument

Elaboration
(discussion,
examples,
quotes, etc.)

Second point
in argument

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Elaboration
(discussion,
examples,
quotes, etc.)

Third point in
argument

Elaboration
(discussion,
examples,
quotes, etc.)

Fourth point in
argument

Elaboration
(discussion,
examples,
quotes, etc.)

Fifth point in
argument

Elaboration
(discussion,
examples,
quotes, etc.)

Conclusion

It is now time to write your essay. As you write, you may make changes to
your plan. Revising your plan will help you to keep to the topic and ensure
that your ideas are structured logically.

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Assignment 5
Now turn to your Assessment Guide and complete Assignment 5 Task 2.

Reflecting on what you have learned


It is now time to update your Learning Journal. Read over your responses to
the activities and the notes you have made and summarise the main things
you have learned about:

the theatre of Shakespeares time

the language used in Shakespeares plays

the social and historical context of Othello

the actions and motivations of the characters

how contemporary audiences responded to the themes and ideas in


the play

how the context of the responder influences the ways texts are
perceived.

respond personally, analytically and imaginatively to the text by


drawing on your own understandings and experiences

writing an extended comparative response.

If you had any problems working through Part 2 please call the English
section at OTEN on (02) 9715 8617 or 1300 369 598. Write down your
difficulties in your Learning Journal before you contact your teacher.

Suggested responses to activities


Prose and verse
Othello is overwhelmed by his belief that Desdemona has been unfaithful.
As he becomes increasingly confused and distressed, his speech reflects his
emotional disorientation. The normally noble and articulate Othello speaks
in broken, disjointed prose.
Meanwhile, Iago feels triumphant and is aware of the power he now exerts
over his erstwhile superior. This is reflected in his use of verse. [back]

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Quotable quotes
Quote

Meaning

My salad days,
When I was green in judgement, cold in blood,
To say as I said then.
Antony and Cleopatra (1606-7) I v 72

salad days a time of youth and


inexperience, remembered with
fondness

All the worlds a stage,


And all the men and women merely players
As You Like It (1599) II vii 139

our lives are predetermined, as if


everything that we will do and say has
been written down in a playscript

Not a mouse stirring.

absolute stillness and quiet


Hamlet (1601) I i 8

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit


Hamlet (1601) II ii 91

a remark or comment is most clever


when it is stated briefly

I must be cruel only to be kind.


Hamlet (1601) III iv 162

it is necessary to do something hurtful


in the short time for long term benefit

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.


Henry IV Part II (1597) III i 31

a person with great responsibility, such


as a king, has constant worries

Beware the ides of March.


Julius Caesar (1599) I ii 20

be careful of an ill-fated day

What! All my pretty chickens and their dam,


At one fell swoop?
Macbeth (1606) IV iii 219

at one fell swoop instantly, in a


single action

Why then, the worlds mine oyster, which I with


sword will open.
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) II ii 2

the world is my oyster to have


unlimited opportunities; to be able to
go anywhere and do anything you like

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve


For daws to peck at
Othello (1602-4) I i 64

wear my heart upon my sleeve to


display your feelings and emotions
openly.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!


Richard III (1591) V vii 7

to be willing to give up everything just


to have a simple means of transport

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.


The Tempest (1611) II ii 42

strange bedfellows people or things


which wouldnt usually go together

He that dies pays all debts.


The Tempest (1611) III ii 143

death brings an end to all the worries


and trivialities of life

We have seen better days.


Timon of Athens (1607) IV ii 27

seen better days to be in a worse


condition now than in the past

be not afraid of greatness: some are born


great, some achieve greatness, and some have
greatness thrust upon em
Twelfth Night (1601) II v 139

there are many different ways to


achieve honour and esteem; take
opportunities whenever and however
they come to you

he was more than over-shoes in love.


The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1592-3) I i 24

cf. head over heels absolutely in


love, turned upside down by love

[back]
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Venice and the Ottoman Empire


The extract is written from the Turkish point of view. The writer explains
how Venice acknowledged the Ottomans rights in Cyprus by paying an
annual tribute to their ruler. In the text, the Venetians are depicted as
deliberately provoking Turkish hostility by building fortifications against
them and allowing pirates to attack their ships.
Other sources claim that the Venetians were so unpopular among the mainly
Greek population on the island, that the Turks were largely welcomed as
liberators. One British writer describes the Venetian occupiers as the
despotic Venetians and another English historian writes of how, during the
82 years of Venetian occupation, the island which had once been famed for
its legal, artistic, literary and architectural achievements, became nothing
more than a military outpost. [back]

Iago begins his intrigue


1

Othello has bypassed Iago and chosen Michael Cassio to be his


lieutenant. Iago is angered and outraged by Cassios appointment
and asserts to Roderigo that he possesses both seniority (old
gradation) and experience and deserves to have been promoted.
Iago claims that Cassio is less well qualified than he is, and
compares Cassios lack of experience in the field with his own wide
experience in Rhodes, Cyprus and many other places.
Iago is particularly bitter because he sent three mediators,
important men in Venice, to plead his case and Othello rejected their
representations. It is ironic that Iago complains to Roderigo of the
present method of promotion which he describes as based on letters
of recommendation and favouritism, compared with the old method
that was based on seniority. Iago had been very ready to use
influential suitors to obtain the position as second-in-command. His
anger is due to the fact that the personal suit which he arranged to
try to influence Othellos decision did not succeed.

Iago says that Othello is arrogant. He asserts that the general acts out
of pride. He describes Othellos speech as being pompous,
describing the reasons he gave for not appointing Iago as bombast
circumstance / Horribly stuffed with the epithets of war (I i 13-14).
In other words, he compares Othellos language to the padding used
in clothes and claims that he uses an excess of military jargon.

Iago firstly emphasises that Michael Cassio is a Florentine, that is, a


foreigner to Venice. Although Florence and Venice are both Italian
cities, they were separate states in the period in which the play is set.
He then derides or pours scorn on Cassios military experience,
labelling him as a great arithmetician (I i 17). In describing Cassio
in this way, Iago implies that all Cassios knowledge is theoretical
and he goes on to explain that he lacks experience in the field. In this
period, the medieval army was being replaced by the professional

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army. Soldiers frequently hired their services to foreign rulers, as


Othello has done in this play. With the growth of the professional
army came the growing importance of military theory. Cassio could
be another example of this new type of soldier.
4

Iago describes the duteous (or loyal) servant as one who is


constantly kneeling to his master to show deference. He implies that
this type of servant is always eager to be of service. His scorn is
shown in the compound phrase knee-crooking knave (I i 45) which
suggests a fawning, obsequious follower. He describes this service in
terms of slavery, using the metaphor of bondage (I i 46) to suggest
the servants lack of freedom. He then compares this type of
follower to an ass (I i 47). Animal imagery is typically used by
Iago when he wants to heap scorn on someone. Like the slave, the
ass lives his life only for his masters need. His reward is meagre
his bare rations during his work life and rejection once he is no
longer useful.
In contrast to this, Iago identifies with the type of servant who
appears to serve his master loyally but, in fact, only looks towards
his own advantage. He uses clothing imagery to describe this sort of
servant. Such servants are trimmed (I i 50), or dressed up, in the
appearance of loyalty. In the meantime, they have lined their coats
(I i 53); in other words, they have looked after their own needs, by
using their position to win their fortune (cf. the phrase to line ones
pockets, i.e., with money).
Even today, politicians and other people in public positions are often
accused of corruption. Shakespeare reflects on the disparity between
reality and appearances in many of his plays. As well as the imagery
of clothing, he also uses the imagery of makeup to show how human
beings deceive one another.
Iagos cynical attitude towards service derives from the fact that his
own long-term loyalty to Othello has gone unrewarded. The
implication of the comparison he makes here is that he had
previously been the duteous kind of servant whom he now reviles
as an ass that deserves to be whipped.

Iago and Roderigo never refer to Othello by name in this opening


scene. They only refer to the general by using the personal pronouns
he, him and his until line 33 when Iago sarcastically calls him
his Moorship (I i 33), parodying the phrase his Lordship. He also
speaks of Othello as the Moor (I i 58), emphasising his foreign
origin and race. Roderigo calls him the thick-lips (I i 67) which is a
racist slur.
Roderigo and Iago further reveal their prejudices against Othellos
foreignness as the scene continues. Iago refers to his general as an
old black ram (I i 89) and the devil (I i 92).
Iago and Roderigo show their dislike of Othello and their prejudices
against him by the way they refer to him. In emphasising his black

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skin and racial characteristics they attempt to vilify Othello to


Brabantio, and subtly connect him with the Ottoman enemy. [back]

The exposition
1

To set them against his enemy, Othello, Iago provokes both


Roderigo and Brabantio in the opening scene. He persuades
Roderigo to wake Brabantio and tell him the news of Othello and
Desdemonas elopement. He then incites Brabantios anger further
by describing their love and intimacy in crude sexual terms,
comparing their physical relationship to the coupling of animals:
an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe (I i 85-6)
youll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse (I i 108)

Iago quickly protects himself by hiding his identity. He leaves


Roderigo to take Brabantio to Othello once he has confirmed the fact
that his daughter has eloped with the general. Iago first reveals
where Othello and Desdemona are, however, so Roderigo may lead
the enraged father against him.
2

Although he previously invited Othello frequently to his house as a


welcome guest, Brabantio is appalled to think the foreigner has now
eloped with his daughter. He quickly reveals his prejudices by
calling Othello a foul thief (I ii 62) and insisting that Othello must
have enchanted Desdemona as his tender, fair, and happy daughter
(I ii 65) would never have willingly chosen Othellos sooty bosom
(I ii 69). He is prepared to fight Othello and it is Othello who calms
the situation. Brabantio then demands that the Duke and senate
punish the general.

Although the Duke and the senate are initially sympathetic to


Brabantios complaint, once they realise that Othello is the accused,
they ask him to explain what has happened. When Desdemona
supports Othellos claim that she accepted his courtship willingly
(and even initiated the relationship), the Duke tells Brabantio that he
must accept the situation.

It is clear that the Venetian authorities respect Othello and have a


high regard for his abilities as a warrior and military leader. They
seem to accept his version of what has happened. One cannot forget,
however, Iagos observation that the city cannot afford to lose
Othellos services at this time as the Turks threaten the island of
Cyprus. Some critics have seen this scene as proof of Venices lack
of moral fibre.

Othello is commanded to leave for Cyprus to defend the island


against the invading Turkish navy. Desdemona wins permission
from the Duke to follow her husband to Cyprus and Othello entrusts
her to Iagos care. Roderigo threatens suicide but Iago persuades him
to disguise himself and come to Cyprus where Iago hints that he will

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help him win Desdemonas hand if he pays Iago enough money.


Iago claims that the couple will soon tire of each other because their
union is so unnatural. In a closing soliloquy (a speech where a
character speaks his thoughts aloud, and directly to the audience),
Iago reveals that he intends to revenge himself on Othello and
Cassio by persuading the general that Cassio has cuckolded
Othello (i.e., that Cassio has had sex with his wife, as Iago suspects
that Othello has done with his own wife, Emilia). [back]

Othello
By his dignified behaviour, Othello immediately contradicts the negative
impression given by Iago in scene i. This can be seen in his simple and
straightforward reply to Iagos feigned regret that he could not stab
Brabantio when the latter was abusing Othello:
Tis better as it is (I ii 6)

Othello then speaks of the service that he has given the state. He tells Iago,
whom he views as his trusted follower, about his background which he has
not made generally known as he does not wish to boast. This directly
contradicts Iagos account of Othello as loving his own pride and purposes
(I i 12). The audience learns that Othello is of royal birth, a status which he
sees as equal to Desdemonas. He also declares his love for her.
Othello confirms this more favourable view of his character when he refuses
to flee from Brabantio and his men, and in the way he responds to
Brabantios aggression by calmly calling for peace:
Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. (I ii 59).

In the following scene, when he is asked to explain his actions by the Duke
and the senators, Othello again speaks candidly and convincingly about his
courtship, revealing none of the bombast previously referred to by Iago.
What he does reveal is that he is an experienced warrior who has travelled
widely and that he is used to hardship. The Duke and senators reinforce this
perception of Othello when they welcome him as the valiant Moor (I iii
47) and determine that he must be sent to Cyprus to defend this Venetian
possession against the looming Ottoman threat. [back]

Staging the opening scene


1

The following answer describes two versions of the way the opening
scene is represented, the BBC version and the William Marshall
version. In the BBC version, the opening shot shows a dark, narrow
Venetian lane enclosed on both sides by tall buildings. Iago and
Roderigo come hurrying along the lane towards the front of the
screen, as Roderigo complains to Iago. The camera then focuses on
them with a medium close-up throughout the ensuing dialogue.
Roderigo is taller than Iago and he speaks up to Roderigo in a
conspiratorial manner. Iago dominates the scene because of the

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certainty with which he expresses his views and because he faces the
camera while Roderigo stands in front of Iago and looks back at him.
The William Marshall version takes a different approach. The two
men come out of what appears to be a tavern door. They have
carnival masks and Iago is holding a tankard (a large drinking cup,
usually with a handle). They talk loudly, in the manner of men who
have been drinking. Roderigo is short and speaks in a high, squeaky
voice. Iago dominates with his voice and stature. Although the
atmosphere is less eerie than the BBC version, the scene is livelier
and is more effective in showing the relationship and balance of
power between the two characters.
2

There are many ways in which you coul establish the setting of Act I
scene i. You will have to choose where the scene takes place. Some
possibilities include:

in a piazza (an Italian town square)

in a narrow lane close to a canal, or

on one of the bridges crossing a canal.

You will need to think about how you will create the atmosphere of
conspiracy. What use will you make of light, dark and shadows?
What music and sound effects will you use? How will the characters
be dressed? Is your film or stage version set in the period of the text
or have you transformed it to a more modern era? If you are filming,
how can camerawork help you? Do you open with a wide shot that
shows the whole scene and then zoom into a medium shot of the
characters or do you begin with a close-up of the two characters
speaking? How can close-ups and reaction shots (shots where the
camera focuses back and forth from the speaker to the listener) be
used effectively? [back]

Writing program notes on attitudes to race


The following paragraphs are an example of how you could have organised
and rewritten the research material. Comparing your program notes will also
help you to ascertain if you have understood the given information.
The Elizabethans were fascinated by the tales told by travellers about foreign
places and their peoples. As a result, blackamoors like Othello were
frequently included as characters in the plays of the day. Although the
English of the period were not as prejudiced as the later Victorians, they still
saw darker-skinned people as inferior to Europeans both in culture and
morality. Perhaps as a result of this attitude, they did not differentiate
between Africans and those of Arabic or Berber descent, and classified all
darker-skinned peoples under the generic term Moor.
The colour black carried negative connotations for the Elizabethans. It was
associated with concepts like sin, death and sexual licentiousness. This
prejudice is reflected in the attitude of many of the characters in the play.

[back]

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Considering the context


Shakespeare introduces both Othello and Desdemona through the eyes of
other characters before the characters appear on stage. Because of his
jealousy and hatred, Iago describes Othello as arrogant, boastful and
pompous, while Brabantio portrays Desdemona as dutiful and innocent.
These biased viewpoints are instantly contradicted when the two characters
enter the scene. Although Othello is a professional soldier, he speaks and
acts like a knight of the medieval era. He is honest, modest and sensible in
his dealings with Iago, Brabantio and the Duke, and he frankly admits his
love for Desdemona. Although she speaks respectfully to her father,
Desdemona is independent and strong-willed, and she is determined to
accompany her new husband, Othello, to his military posting in Cyprus.
The technique of characterisation employed by Shakespeare is highly
effective. The audience is instantly struck by how different Othello and
Desdemona are to what they have been told about them.
Iago is motivated by jealousy. He is bitterly angry about Cassios
appointment as Othellos lieutenant, and he blames Othello for this insult.
He feels betrayed by his general. All of Iagos former loyalty towards
Othello has now turned to hatred, and he determines to seek revenge.
Although Iagos accusations against both Othello and Cassio are motivated
by jealousy and hatred, there is still a grain of truth in them. Iago is an astute
judge of character, and he will use his knowledge of the personalities of
both men to prey on them and manipulate their weaknesses.
Iago also deceives and manipulates Roderigo for his own benefit. Note how
he repeats the refrains Put money in thy purse and make money when he
is encouraging Roderigo to join with him in his plot against Othello and
Cassio.
Shakespeare makes use of contemporary racial stereotypes and prejudices
when Roderigo, Iago and Brabantio talk disparagingly about Othello. They
refer to his race and his features which they describe in animalistic and
stereotypical terms, for example, by calling him the thick-lips.
Othello is a mercenary soldier employed by Venice to lead its forces against
the Turkish threat. Although mercenaries were not regarded with the distrust
of modem times, Othello was still regarded as an outsider even though he
was esteemed by the authorities of the city for his military capabilities.
The conflicting attitudes towards Othello explain why Brabantio, like the
typical European citizen of the Renaissance era, was interested in hearing
the strange tales he could tell of his adventures in foreign places, still did not
believe Othello was good enough to marry his daughter.
Most Westerners nowadays, whether they are male or female, take for
granted that they can choose their own partner in marriage. However, in the
context of 16th Century Venice, Desdemona was being extremely rebellious
in eloping and marrying Othello without her fathers permission. She was
not submissive to her father but instead flouted his authority over her.

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However, she was probably also aware of the fact that Brabantio would
never give his permission for her to marry Othello, which is why she is
driven to act as she does.
As a result of Desdemonas defiance of paternal authority, Brabantio warns
Othello:
She has deceived her father, and may thee. (I iii 289).

By consummating their love for one another in marriage, Desdemona and


Othello have not only challenged family order and customs but also civic
order and the concept of patriarchy itself. This may be as much a threat to
the peace and stability of Venice as the external threat of invasion.
Brabantio recognises the significance of the challenge when he says: So let
the Turk of Cyprus us beguile: / We lose it not so long as we can smile. (I
iii 208-209) Brabantio believes that the senators are ignoring the broad
implications of what has happened because of the current foreign threat.
Desdemona also shows unusual independence in asking to follow Othello to
Cyprus. Documents of the time suggest that a military camp was not
considered a suitable place for wives. Despite this, the Dukes acceptance of
her and Othellos explanations and the dignified speech and behaviour of
the couple suggest that the contemporary audience was meant to admire the
two central characters, even though they would have been aware of how far
they had stepped outside the conventions and moral codes of the day. [back]

Writing a synopsis of Act I


Compare your synopsis with the example provided below. Remember that
you do not have to use the same words as long as your responses basically
mean the same thing.
Act I of Othello is set in < Venice >. The play opens with Iago, Othellos
< standard bearer >, plotting against his general with a foolish young
< nobleman >, Roderigo. Roderigo is upset as he feels that Iago has
< not been honest > with him. As the act progresses, it becomes clear that
Othello, a < Moor > who the Venetian state has < hired

> to lead its

forces, has < eloped > with Desdemona, the daughter of a local nobleman,
Brabantio. Iago persuades Roderigo, who has been paying Iago to help him
win Desdemonas hand, to arouse Brabantio from his sleep and tell him of
the < marriage >. Brabantio is < outraged > and convinced that Othello
has < stolen > his daughter. He instantly seeks < restitution > from the
< senate > which is sitting in a late night council of < war >. However,
Othello and Desdemona are ultimately <

excused

> by the Duke and the

< senators >. They realise that they need their general to lead the defence of

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their military outpost on < Cyprus > against the < Turks

>. Othello is

told that he must leave < immediately > for < Cyprus > and Desdemona
is permitted to accompany her husband. Othello entrusts <

Iago > as a

chaperone to accompany his new wife to the island. Iago is pleased. He has
< reassured > Roderigo that he may still <

win > Desdemona, who he

claims will soon < tire > of Othello. Iago also ensures that Roderigos
money will continue to < finance > his own lifestyle. Iago has now
determined to plot against Othello and his new < lieutenant >, Cassio,
both of whom he < despises >. It is uncertain whether Iagos < hatred >
is caused by Othello < bypassing > him for the position of < lieutenant >
or because he suspects Othello of < sleeping with > his wife. What is clear
by the end of the act is that Iago is determined to < destroy > his generals
happiness. [back]

Act II synopsis
In Act II the action moves to the military outpost on < Cyprus >. A wild
storm < scatters > the < Turkish > fleet. As a result, the threat of war is
< averted >. Cassio is the first person to reach the island, closely followed
by < Desdemona >, <

Iago

> and <

Iago

>s wife, Emilia. To

< Desdemona >s relief, < Othello > also arrives safely and the < lovers >
are reunited. Othello expresses the depth of his <
<

wife

the <

>, claiming he would gladly <

joy

love

> for his new

battle > any storm if it brought

> he feels at < seeing > her. Meanwhile, Iago wastes no

time in beginning to orchestrate his < revenge >. His first target is
< Cassio >. He cleverly plays on Cassios < weakness > for < drink >
and the < courteous > young lieutenants desire to please everyone. Iago
persuades Cassio that he will offend < Montano >, the governor who
Othello has replaced on < Cyprus >, and his fellow Cypriots if he does not
<

share

> a drink with them. Previously, Iago has convinced

< Roderigo > that Desdemona favours Cassio, and that he is a far more
< natural > object for her < affections >. He tells Roderigo to pick a
<

fight

<

guard

> with his supposed <


>. Iago is < delighted

rival

> when he goes to check the

> with the result of his plot. Othello

< dismisses > Cassio who, in his drunken <


< Montano

anger

>, has injured

>, and Iago is easily able to < persuade > Cassio to

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approach to Desdemona to < intercede > on his behalf. Iago outlines how
he will use Desdemonas < goodness > to arouse Othellos < jealousy >.
He will convince the < Moor

> that Desdemona is < pleading > for

Cassio because she is having an < affair > with him. [back]

Character relationships

[back]

Honest Iago
But Ill set down the pegs that make this music, / As honest as I
am. (II i 198-9)
OTHELLO: Iago is most honest. (II ii 6)
OTHELLO: Honest Iago, that looks dead with grieving / Speak. (II iii 158-9)
OTHELLO: I know, Iago, / Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter
(II iii 227-8)
IAGO:
As I am an honest man (II iii 245)
CASSIO:
Good night, honest Iago. (II iii 302)
[back]
IAGO:

Iago and Cassio


As Othellos newly-appointed lieutenant, Cassio is very eager to please
everyone. Shakespeare emphasises his courteous behaviour to the ladies
when he meets them. He kisses Emilia when she enters with Iago and then
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reassures Iago that it is his breeding that gives him this bold show of
courtesy (II i 98-99). When he tells Desdemona not to mind Iagos
bluntness he takes her hand in his (II i 163). This act of gentlemanly
diplomacy later enables Iago to convince Roderigo that Cassio and
Desdemona are lovers: Didst thou not see her paddle with the palm of his
hand? Didst not mark that? (II i 240-41)
Like Othello, Cassio appears to trust in Iagos honesty and loyalty as a
friend. Notice how he takes Iagos advice when he wishes to regain his
position. Quite possibly he is being only all too human in giving in to peer
pressure in a situation where he wishes to impress others.
Cassios dismissal is important to the plot as it gives Iago the opportunity to
make Cassios supposed relationship with Desdemona seem more credible.
Iago suggests that Cassio ask Desdemona to intercede on his behalf with
Othello. As a result, Iago can draw Othellos attention to the frequency with
which Cassio and Desdemona are together. He can also use Desdemonas
pleas on Cassios behalf as evidence against her.
The dismissal of Cassio is also important because, if the audience is to retain
any sympathy for Othello, it must find his acceptance of Iagos accusations
believable. By the time that Iago directs his poison against Othello in Act
III, the audience has seen that not only the foolish Roderigo has been duped
by Iago but also the newly-appointed lieutenant.
Furthermore, Montano, the governor of Cyprus, has readily accepted Iagos
slander that Cassio drinks regularly and is a doubtful choice for lieutenant.
No-one questions Iagos friendship for Cassio even though he is the one
who tells Othello about the incident and Cassios role in it. [back]

Act III and IV synopsis


Iago now targets < Othello >. Cassio approaches < Desdemona > as Iago
has suggested. Iago wastes no time in suggesting to Othello that there is
something < suspicious > about the former lieutenant talking to his wife.
Iago is cautious at first, making no direct < accusations >. Once he has
planted the seeds of doubt, however, Iago becomes increasingly explicit and
<

crude

> in his use of language, and he arouses Othellos outrage and

<

anger

>. Iago then directly <

lies

> to Othello as his confidence

and influence over his general grow. He claims to have heard Cassio talking
in his sleep about his < liaison > with Desdemona. Iago vividly describes
the <
<

bedroom

stages

> scene to Desdemonas distraught husband. Iago then

> a scene with Cassio where he leads Othello to believe that the

woman Cassio is describing in disparaging terms is in fact < Desdemona >


when, in reality, Cassio and Iago are talking about < Bianca >, who is in
love with Cassio. Circumstances also seem to assist the ensigns intrigue.
Desdemona accidentally drops the < handkerchief > which was Othellos

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first gift to her. Emilia, Iagos wife and Desdemonas < handmaid >, finds
it and gives it to her husband. Iago then leaves it in < Cassio >s room,
and Cassio gives it to his lover, Bianca, to copy the < design >. Iago uses
this incident to < convince > Othello that he has seen direct proof of
Desdemonas < unfaithfulness > after he sees Bianca angrily return the
handkerchief to Cassio. By the end of Act IV, Othello has decided that
Cassio must definitely <

die

>. Iago also < persuades > him to murder

Desdemona. He even suggests the method: < strangulation >. Lodovico and
< Gratiano >, Desdemonas uncle, arrive from Venice with orders for
< Cassio > to take over command of Cyprus and for Othello to return to
< Venice >. They have arrived too late, however, to < prevent > the
success of Iagos <

plot

>. Even though Emilia < defends > her

mistresss < innocence >, Othello is no longer prepared to listen. He


accuses Desdemona of < infidelity > and will not believe her < denials >.
Desdemona is < heartbroken >. When Othello later < commands > her to
wait for him in bed and dismiss her handmaid, she <

obeys

> him despite

Emilias misgivings. Desdemona lies waiting for him on their < wedding >
sheets. Roderigo, unlike Othello, continues to <
confront Desdemona and will give up his <

suit

doubt

>. He plans to

> if she returns the

< jewels > that he believes Iago has given her on his behalf. Iago now
moves swiftly. He < persuades > Roderigo that he has one last chance. If
he wishes Othello and Desdemona to stay in Cyprus and not go away to
< Mauritania >, he must kill < Cassio >. Iago < promises > to support
Roderigo. [back]

How Iago manipulates Othello


1

Iago persuades Cassio to ask Desdemona to intercede on his behalf.

Iago suggests to Othello that Cassio looks guilty as he leaves


Desdemona.

Iago hints that there is something worrying in the fact that Cassio
acted as an intermediary in Othellos courtship of Desdemona.

Iago warns Othello to beware of jealousy and pretends to be relieved


when Othello claims that he is not easily made jealous.

Iago tells Othello to observe Desdemona and Cassio together.

Iago tells how Venetian women often deceive their husbands. He


reminds Othello how Desdemona deceived her father.

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Othello shows signs of doubt. Iago reinforces the doubt by saying


that he thinks Desdemona is honest.

Iago suggests that it is unnatural that Desdemona should fall in love


with someone so unlike herself.

Iago advises Othello to wait a while before he reinstates Cassio so he


may observe Desdemonas response.

10 When Desdemona accidentally drops the handkerchief Othello gave


her, Emilia retrieves it and gives it to Iago. He drops it in Cassios
room.
11 When Othello asks for visual proof, Iago becomes crude and asks if
he wishes to see Desdemona making love to Cassio.
12 Iago tells of hearing Cassio talk in his sleep of his love affair with
Desdemona.
13 Iago tells Othello that he saw Cassio wipe his beard with the
handkerchief that Othello gave Desdemona.
14 Othello and Iago make a vow to avenge Othello. Othello demands
that Iago see that Cassio is dead within three days.
15 Iago agrees to have Cassio killed but asks that Desdemona be spared.
As he planned, Othello immediately decides his wife must die too
(III iv 474-79).
16 Iago reminds Othello about the handkerchief and suggests he has
heard Cassio boast that he has lain with Desdemona. Othello has an
epileptic fit.
17 Iago sets the scene for the ocular proof. He talks to Cassio about
his lover, Bianca. He leads the watching Othello to believe that he
has seen proof of his wifes guilt.
18 When Othello sees Bianca return the handkerchief to Cassio, Othello
believes he has seen proof of Desdemonas guilt. Iago uses this to
persuade Othello again that Desdemona must die. (IV i 162-194)
19 Iago suggests that Othello should strangle Desdemona. (IV i 195)
[back]

Othellos decision to murder Desdemona


1

The following points are some of the possible reasons why Othello
trusts Iago rather than Emilia or Desdemona:

Othello has been a bachelor and army man for most of his
life. He is used to trusting the men he serves with.

Everyone speaks of Iagos honesty.

Othello is inexperienced with women and marriage.

He has always dealt with external threats. He is unused to


dealing with emotional difficulties.

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Iago plays on Othellos insecurity and inexperience. He


reminds Othello that he is an outsider in Venice and that he
knows nothing of the way that Venetian women behave. Iago
convinces Othello that it is unnatural for women to love men
who are very different from themselves.

Iago reminds Othello that Desdemona deceived her father


and so is equally capable of deceiving her husband.

Othello believes he has actually seen the proof of


Desdemonas infidelity when Iago talks to Cassio about
Bianca and when Bianca returns the handkerchief to Cassio.

Desdemona lies about losing the handkerchief.

Othello hates to be in doubt. He says to himself: No! To be


once in doubt / Is to be resolved. (III iii 181-2)

Iago rouses Othellos passion by describing Cassios socalled dream in explicit detail to the point where Othello
becomes incapable of viewing things rationally.

Because Cyprus is an island and a military outpost it is isolated from


the daily life of Venice. After the Turkish fleet is destroyed by the
storm, the soldiers on the island do not have much to do. As a result,
Othello is not diverted either by preparing for battle or by
participating in affairs of state.
In this claustrophobic atmosphere, Iago can feed his suspicions
regularly. It is not until it is too late that Lodovico and the delegation
from Venice arrive with a reminder of the outside world. By this
time, Othello is convinced of Desdemonas guilt and has decided
that she must die. [back]

Othellos soliloquy
Below is an example of how you might write your journal entry:
This soliloquy shows that Iago has made Othello entertain the possibility that
Desdemona may be unfaithful. At first I will show Othello as being
thoughtful. He is thinking about Iagos reputation for honesty. When he
addresses the audience, he shows no doubt in the reality of that honesty.
Iago has reminded his general of how inexperienced Othello is in the ways
of Venetian society. Othello can recognise the truth of Iagos reminder. He
has total faith in his ensign whom he has fought with many times on the
battlefield. However, his faith in Iago has also forced him to acknowledge
the possibility that Desdemona could be unfaithful. He explores how he
would feel if Iagos accusations were true.
Othellos belief in his own nobility and importance is still secure at this point
in the play. There is almost something impersonal in the way he reflects on
how he would act if she were indeed unfaithful. His opening metaphor is
drawn from falconry, a pursuit of the nobility in Elizabethan and Jacobean
England. Later in the speech he equates himself with the great ones whose
fate it is to be cuckolded by those who are inferior to them.

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As he admits the dreadful possibility that Desdemona may have betrayed


him, he sees himself as in control. If she proves haggard, in other words,
like an untrained, wild falcon, he will release her jesses, the straps the
trainer ties onto the falcons leg. This sense of his own worth and honourable
nature must be reflected in his posture and the firmness with which he
speaks. Yet already, he seems to be acknowledging subconsciously the pain
this will cause him when he compares the jesses to his dear heartstrings.
As Othello thinks of letting Desdemona go, he becomes more violent in his
language. He blusters rather than acknowledge his emotions. He will loathe
her. He curses all women. He draws on the ambivalence of Jacobean males
toward females when he, on the one hand, refers to how delicate women are,
and on the other, talks of womens natural lust. It is at this point that he uses
the image of the toad that lives upon the vapour of a dungeon. I can almost
hear the disgust in his voice as he visualises being a toad in a dungeon and
then says that is preferable to being cuckolded. He is again reflecting the
typical male Jacobean preoccupation with the shame of being cuckolded by
their wives.
Despite his growing anger, Othello can still control his feelings. I will pause
slightly after the phrase For others uses and take a deep breath. Othello
controls his feelings at this point by generalising once more. He
philosophises on the fate of the great ones who are inevitably betrayed by
their loved ones. His use of the pronoun us shows that he views himself as
one of them. His anger at this point seems to have been replaced by a quiet
sadness.
Desdemona walks onto the stage at this moment and Othello knows
instinctively that she is pure and totally innocent. Yet, he still sees himself as
having to control the doubt Iago has introduced. The line Ill not believe it
emphasises the I. Othello is determined that he will control his own fate.

[back]

Why does Desdemona change?


In trying to understand Desdemonas behaviour, consider the following:

Elizabethan/Jacobean beliefs regarding marriage and the role and


status of women

the strength of Desdemonas love for Othello

the unexpectedness of his accusations and his violence towards her

her isolation from all of her family and friends in Venice and the fact
that she is living as one of only two women in a remote military
encampment. [back]

Act V synopsis
Act V opens with the attack on < Cassio >. Roderigos sword fails to
pierce Cassios <

coat

> but, in the following confusion, Iago

successfully murders < Roderigo >. He also attacks Cassio but only
wounds him in the <

leg

>. Lodovico and Gratiano belatedly come to

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the aid of < Cassio > when they feel sure they are not in danger
themselves. <

Iago

>s attack on Cassio achieves its purpose, however.

Othello, passing nearby, hears Cassios desperate cries of < Murder >
and believes that Iago has < avenged > his honour as planned. He then
vows to go and kill < Desdemona > immediately. Desdemona pleads for
her life but Othello remains <

firm

>. Although he is torn by the sight of

her < beauty >, he remains deaf to her insistence that she is < innocent >
of betraying him by having an affair with < Cassio >. Othello < strangles >
her. Emilia calls from outside the door to tell of the attack on < Roderigo >
and Cassio. She discovers her mistress dead. Her cries bring < Montano >,
Gratiano and < Iago >. An incredulous Emilia learns that her it was her
huband, Iago, who incited Othello to < kill > Desdemona. She reveals
too late that she found the < handkerchief > and gave it to Iago. Iago
murders his wife to silence her. His efforts to < protect > himself are in
vain, however, as Roderigo had < letters > in his pocket that reveal the
ensigns < guilt >. When Othello tries to attack Iago, he is < disarmed >.
He has another < sword >, however, which he uses to kill < himself >.
He is left to speak his own <

eulogy >. Cassio is left in charge of

< Cyprus > and Iago is condemned to < torture >. [back]

The notion of honour


Although Othello is aware that he is speaking to a public audience and
adopts a rhetorical tone in his speech, for the first time in the play he shows
true humility and regret. He confesses how he was perplexed in the
extreme and he rues the fact that he threw a pearl away by sacrificing his
wife. Had Desdemona been guilty of infidelity, then his actions would have
been justified; once her innocence is proved, Othello must face both the
personal loss and legal consequences of the crime he has committed.
Though he acknowledges that he is a murderer, Othello claims that his
actions were all in honour. (V ii 292)
He is not the only character in the play to set a high value on honour. Cassio
is deeply concerned when he perceives that he has lost his reputation,
describing it as the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.
(II iii 241-244)
Though he is cynical and using the assertion to manipulate Othello, Iago
also addresses the supreme importance of honour for the Elizabethan
mindset:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse, steals trash; tis something, nothing,

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Twas mine, tis his, and has been slave to thousands;


But he who filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed. (III iii lines 156-62)

Still concerned to uphold his reputation and good name at the end of the
play, Othello chooses suicide as the only honourable option left open to him
after he learns that Desdemona is innocent. [back]

The warrior and honour


1

The persona in Lovelaces poem compares war to a mistress (a


woman loved and courted by a man).

He develops the personification by saying that he is being unfaithful


to his lover by going to war. The paradox (a seemingly
contradictory statement) is that he believes that she will approve of
his faithlessness. This is because honour is more important than love.

Lovelace uses a metaphor when he speaks about being in Lucastas


company. He compares her company to a nunnery. Nunneries or
convents are quiet, religious places where the nuns are seen as good,
contemplative and pure. These are the qualities admired in women in
that period. Notice how he expands the metaphor by talking about
her chaste breast (in other words, she is sexually pure) and quiet
mind. [back]

The clash of old and new values


Old values

New values

Brabantio believes he should choose a


suitable husband for his daughter.

Desdemona is unrepentant about eloping


with Othello.

Brabantio appeals to the senate to uphold


his patriarchal rights.

The Duke and senators act pragmatically.


They condone the elopement because they
need Othello to defend Cyprus.

Military camps were not considered a


suitable place for women.

Desdemona wants to follow her husband to


war rather than stay at home waiting for
him.

The leaders in military campaigns were


drawn from amongst the nobility of the state
at war.

Two foreign mercenaries, Othello and


Cassio, are chosen to lead the Venetian
forces.

The knights of medieval times subscribed to


the chivalric code of honour.

Iago believes in serving his own interests.


He mocks those who serve their
commanders loyally.

Iago believes he should have been chosen as


lieutenant because of his loyal service and
practical experience in warfare.

Military matters are now seen as a science


or art. Cassio is appointed in part because of
his theoretical knowledge of warfare.

Desdemona is loyal and obedient to her

Emilia believes that a husband must earn a

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husband and believes all women will be


faithful to their spouses.

wifes loyalty. She shares her husbands


pragmatic view of life. She will decide how
to act depending on the circumstances.

[back]

Comparing the two texts


A Horseman in the Sky

Othello

The story is set during a civil war. It is set in


the 19th Century in the United States

The story is set during a foreign war. It is


set in the 16th Century in Venice and
Cyprus.

The protagonist (main character, or hero)


kills his father.

The protagonist kills his wife.

The story opens with a description of the


valley and mountains where the action
occurs.

The story opens with the storys antagonist


(i.e., the enemy of the protagonist, or the
villain) discussing his plot.

The story is narrated in the third person. The


identity of the horseman is not revealed to
the reader until the end of the story.

The drama is revealed through dialogue.


The audience is aware of Iagos plot but the
other characters are not.

The reader learns a lot about Druses


background.

The audience learns a little about Othellos


background.

Druse has a strong sense of duty and


honour.

Othello has a strong sense of duty and


honour

Druse is overcome by emotion when he


realises that the soldier he must kill is his
father.

Othello is overcome by emotion and regret


when he realises that his wife, Desdemona,
was innocent.

[back]

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