By William Shakespeare
Written in 1622

Comments by Bob Corbett
July 2009

General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on


Oh me, what a play. About the only person connected with it who doesn’t die is the stage manager and we’re not sure about that person! Iago has to be one of the most evil and clever villains of all literature. The play is gripping in the suspense of how Iago will carry out his evil jealousy, and astonishing in the cleverness of his mischief.

Othello is the head of the army of Venice. He is a moor, a black man of North African roots. He is the beloved of the Duke of Venice, and has won the beautiful Desdamona as his wife. His chief aide, and a man Othello regards as his closest male friend, Iago, “the old one,” is jealous of Othello’s success.

Like many villains Iago doesn’t do his own dirty work, rather he weaves carefully drawn nets and involves many innocent, or relatively innocent folks, to do his horrors. There is his wife who is drawn in, and ironically, even Desdamona herself, who so loves Othello. A somewhat less savory character, Roderigo would like to have Desdamona for himself, as would the much more innocent and decent Cassio. However, Cassio and Othello have slightly fallen out and Iago milks this misunderstanding for his purposes.

Emilia, Iago’s wife, sort of reveals the central theme of the play very early on. Desdamona is worried about someone being jealous of Othello and Emilia tells her about jealous people:

“They are not jealous for a cause,
But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster
Begot upon itself, born as itself.”

But Shakespeare lets Iago reveal the source of his jealousy; he doesn’t believe Othello’s reputation is well deserved:

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition.
Oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”

Othello is like a fish in a fish bowl for Iago. He is completely taken in and reveals his trust to Iago, just in case he needed to be embolden! And weight’st thy words before thou giv’st them breath,
Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more
For such thing’s in a false disloyal knave
And tricks of custom, but in a man that’s just
They’re close dilations, working from the heart
That passion cannot rule.”

Othello doesn’t realize his insight is more to be directed AT Iago about himself, not about another. In fact, Iago understands that he has Othello so convinced of his trustworthiness, that he can ironically reveal to Othello:

“O beware, my lord, of jealousy
It is the green eyed monster which doth mock
The eat it feeds on. The cuckold lives in bliss
Who certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But O, what damned minute tells he o’er
Who dote yet doubts – suspects, yet soundly lovers!”

For us today reading Othello there can be no real surprises. The story is so much a part of our cultural history that even if one couldn’t give an accurate summary of the play, one knows of Iago, the cultural figure of betrayal and evil, and knows from the earliest lines of the play that Othello is doomed.

Yet going back now, some 50 plus years since first I read the play, I was gripped by the drama of it; dreading what was coming, and little by little as Shakespeare reveals the depths of Iago’s villainy, the more nervous does the reader become. A simply marvelous piece of literature.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu



Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu