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Essay Questions And Answers For Othello

Here are the questions that have come up on ‘Othello’ in the past. It is worth examining these to gain a sense of what kind of questions can come up on this complicated text.

Question 1
‘Othello’s foolishness rather than Iago’s cleverness leads to the tragedy of Shakepeare’s Othello.’
Discuss this statement supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the text.
Question 2
‘Shakespeare’s play Othello demonstrates the weakness of human judgement.’
Discuss this statement supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the text.

Question 1
‘Irony is a powerful dramatic device used by Shakespeare to heighten the tragic dimension of his play Othello.’
Discuss this view, with reference to or quotation from the play.
Question 2
‘Despite the striking portrayals of goodness and nobility, the play Othello leaves the audience with a sense of dismal despair.’
Discuss this view, with reference to or quotation from the play.

Question 1
‘Othello is the principal agent of his own downfall.’
Discuss this view, supporting your answer by reference to or quotation from the play Othello.
Question 2
Discuss the importance of the character Emilia (Iago’s wife) in the play as a whole. Support your answer by quotation from or reference to the play Othello.

Question 1
Othello is essentially a noble character, flawed by insecurity and a nature that is naive and unsophisticated.
Discuss this view, supporting your answer by reference to or quotation from the play
Question 2
‘Images of animals, images of storms and images of Heaven and Hell predominate in Othello.’
Discuss the use of such imagery and the purpose they serve in the play. Support your answer by reference or quotation.

Other questions:

  1. Compare and contrast Desdemona’s and Emilia’s views on love, sex, marriage and men. Do either Desdemona or Emilia change their viewpoints as a result of their conversations with each other?
  2. In what ways are the marriages of Othello/Desdemona and Iago/Emilia similar and in what ways are they different?
  3. The plot of the play hinges on the loss of a handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona. Two little deceptions – Emilia’s stealing of the handkerchief and Desdemona’s lie that it is not lost – cement Desdemona’s doom. What does it mean that such a little object has such a huge impact on Othello’s mind? What dramatic effect does this produce? Do you think that, in a situation of jealousy, even a handkerchief could sway someone’s opinion one way or another? Is the importance of the handkerchief in the play believable?
  4. Discuss Othello’s relationship with Desdemona. Does he truly love her?
  5. Why does Othello not investigate Iago’s accusations? Why does Othello not seek his own proof of Desdemona’s betrayal?
  6. ‘Iago was a brilliant opportunist who had plenty of motive to prompt his schemes and heaven-sent human material with which to develop them.’ Discuss.
  7. ‘A credulous husband and a foolish wife.’ Discuss this estimate of Othello and Desdemona.
  8. ‘Othello is a character of extremes. He is no middle range.’ Discuss this view of the character of Othello.
  9. Imagery contributes significantly to the development of the themes of ‘Othello’. To what extent to you agree with this statement?
  10. In ‘Othello’, Shakespeare dramatises a conflict between good and evil. Do you agree with this point of view?
  11. ‘In ‘Othello’, Shakespeare takes a profoundly pessimistic view of human relationships.’ Discuss this statement.
  12. From the beginning of ‘Othello’, one is made to feel that innocence can have no hope in a world given over to the power of evil.
  13. Jealousy is the dominant theme, being a factor in all the major relationships.
  14. Shakespeare’s use of irony is pervasive and painful. Discuss.
  15. ‘Othello’s fall cannot be accounted for simply, or even mainly, in terms of Iago’s devilish cunning. The basic causes are to be found in is weaknesses of character.’ Do you believe this to be a true account of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’?

Quotes & Possible Essay Questions for Othello


1. "I am not what I am." (Iago 1.1)

2. "You are—a senator." (Iago 1.1)

3. "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them." (Othello 1.2)

4. "Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it / Without a prompter." (Othello 1.2)

5. "I saw Othello’s visage in his mind." (Desdemona 1.3)

6. "If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black." (Duke 1.3)

7. "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: / She has deceived her father, and may thee." (Brabantio 1.3)

8. "My life upon her faith!" (Othello 1.3)

9. "I have looked upon the world for four times seven years, and since I could distinguish betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found man that knew how to love himself." (Iago 1.3)

10. "Virtue? a fig! ’Tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus." (Iago 1.3)

11. "Who steals my purse steals trash." (Iago 3.3)

12. "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on." (Iago 3.3)

13. "For she had eyes, and chose me." (Othello 3.3)

14. "Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone!" (Othello 3.3)

15. "Nobody,—I myself." (Desdemona 5.2)

16. "Thou hast not half that pow’r to do me harm / As I have to be hurt." (Emilia 5.2)

17. "O gull! O dolt! / As ignorant as dirt!" (Emilia 5.2)

18. "An honourable murderer, if you will; / For naught I did in hate, but all in honor." (Othello 5.2)

19. "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know." (Iago 5.2)

20. "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." (Othello 5.2)

21. "This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart." (Cassio 5.2)


Possible Essay Questions:

1. Compare and contrast any two film versions of the play.

2. Compare and contrast at least three film versions of the same character—Othello, Iago, Desdemona, etc.

3. Discuss the reasons for Iago’s actions. How far ahead does he plan and how much harm did he intend?

4. Discuss various characters in the play as outsiders.

5. Does Desdemona bear any of the responsibility for the tragedy? Why or why not?

6. Does Othello fall as the result of a tragic flaw? Why or why not?

7. Should Othello be played by a black or white actor? Does it matter?

8. Discuss film adaptations of Shakespeare. Can they compete with stage versions? Are stage versions closer to the Shakespearean original?

9. Discuss Othello as villain and hero, paying special attention to his final speech.

10. Is Othello a noble moor or a dangerous savage? (You might want to give examples from a particular film to support your point of view.)

11. Discuss prejudice in Othello. What points do you think Shakespeare was attempting to make?

12. Why does Othello marry Desdemona? Why does she marry him? Was the destruction of the marriage inevitable or was Iago’s malice necessary?

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