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Examination Questions on Othello

Question: Discuss the play of Othello as a whole; its rank among Shakespeare's plays; its lessons?

Answer: As in Lear the play turns upon the breaking of the tie, which binds father and children, in Macbeth, the tie which binds subject and sovereign, so in Othello we have the breaking of the tie between husband and wife, of the most sacred of all sacred ties. There is also the breaking of the tie between father and daughter.

Hudson, I believe, says that Othello is the "best organized" of all Shakespeare's plays; that as a dramatic structure it is splendid. Johnson says that, had the play been opened in Cyprus and the events of the first act been narrated occasionally, '"little had been wanting to a drama of the most exact and perfect regularity." "But this would have destroyed the regularity of the substance." (Rolfe or Hudson said this.)

Macaulay thinks that Othello is "perhaps the greatest work in the world"; Wordsworth, that it is one of the most pathetic. Mr. Hudson says it has not "the impressions and elements of moral terror" found in Macbeth, the variety and breadth of characterization of Lear, the compass and reach of thought of Hamlet, but it has this interest, that its scene is laid in domestic life, and it therefore appeals to the sympathies of all.

Its lessons seem to be summed up in the few and simple words: "Thou shall not lie": "To thine own self be true." Every character in the play who suffers in that final scene of agony is but paying the penalty due to injured moral laws. Look at lago - at Othello's story of the charmed handkerchief - Desdemona's untruth about the same - Emilia's countless evils. Intellect untempered by moral obligations, sentiment unaccompanied by sense of moral law indeed, nowhere can there be perfectness and harmony without moral ideas.

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How to cite this article:
Ragland, Fanny. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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