The tales of Othello and Macbeth both tell a story of a men that have gone wrong, and all due to someone else’s manipulation. These stories have been popularized by many films, parodies, and other forms of media, influencing many thanks to Shakespeare’s way of writing his tragedies.
Othello tells the tale of the moor of Venice with the same name and is seen as the city’s best general of their army. Despite this, his weaknesses have been revealed at one point and was used against him, killing his own wife Desdemona and wanting harm to his lieutenant Cassio. Thanks to the sociopath that he once considered his most loyal friend, Iago. On the other hand, Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish general with the same name facing the prophecy of becoming the next king of Scotland. Though skeptical at first, the prophecy would become true, making him believe the prophecy and corrupting him into madness. He would end up killing those that attempted to stop him from taking his place at the throne, including his best friend Banquo and King Duncan. Though both stories have a similar tale, there are also multiple differences between the two, including their creation, inspiration, characters, and the endings of both stories. They both tie all the way back into the mind of William Shakespeare and what led to the creation of these stories.
William Shakespeare is widely recognized for his histories, comedies and tragedies, but his own personal life is a mystery at best. Despite the countless works that been recorded, his own personal life has not been mentioned at all. If anything, biographies that try to record Shakespeare’s life are not worthy of citing or reading and are merely theory. Personally, I believe some of his sonnets can say otherwise, speaking of love and mentioning lovers that he might’ve had during his life, but there is no proof whatsoever. Davis Ellis would state, “Verifiable events or stages in Shakespeare’s life would include his christening, his marriage, the birth of his children, his various purchases of land and property, his membership of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, his death and so on” (40); this proved the statement of the biographies many have made, as these events as these were the only things documented at the time, as they do not bring any importance of Shakespeare’s life that might have influenced his works or actions.
Since there is not much information to bring up Shakespeare’s personal life, his works (or at least the themes of the stories) speak for themselves. Most of his tragedies are based on other people’s life stories, such as the King of Scots Macbeth himself, though it was heavily dramatized and different from the original text for unknown reasons.
For me, I’d like to think that Shakespeare was a man that may have been inspired by these stories of history and put a spin onto his own terms. The likes of Othello and Macbeth were inspired from another source, and then dramatized into a performance for many to see. His other works of tragedies also include Romeo and Juliet, which is a globally known tragedy that shows what love can bring, and the play of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, re-telling the events of a betrayal that marked the death of a beloved emperor. All of these plays are similar in one way or another, and it is the themes, morals, and values of each of the characters at the end of each story.
These themes, morals, and values all have been noted in his works, including the plays of Othello and Macbeth. Both main characters of these stories—Othello and Macbeth—were ethical, doing the right thing for their own reasons. Examples include Othello’s everlasting loyalty to his wife Desdemona, Othello’s position as a general and his respect to his peers, and Macbeth’s military prowess in battle. These two characters begin to break down as they would be manipulated through a single person, directly, or indirectly.
The theme of Othello is made to portray the effects a sociopath can do to a sane human being; the corruption of a man once thought good. Here, the story is ultimately made through the theme of jealousy and the difference between appearance and reality, consuming Othello entirely with these themes through his “loyal friend,” Iago. Macbeth’s theme on the other hand is similar yet different to the play of Othello: A man once thought good yet turned wrong by the means of power and corruption. Macbeth grows more and more paranoid of the prophecies and what was to come due to his greed and corruption of power. Here, the character did not go evil out of spite and anger, but out of paranoia and selfishness, mostly stemming from the pressure of his wife, Lady Macbeth.
“Who’s a man without the death of their own king?” Macbeth might have thought. Pressured with the idea of manhood and from his own wife, he felt there was no other choice of becoming king than following along the ideas set by his own wife. She herself was as a madwoman at the start, stating what she would’ve done to an infant child, “I would, while smiling in my face… Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums… and dashed the brains out,”this shows and reveals her true vile nature and her intentions of persuading Macbeth (Harp 26).
These two themes are coherent with each other and convey a similar message, yet they both have different ways of explaining the tale, taking place in different times and different motivations. These two characters have ultimately ruined their life. They ruined it by including their status, loved ones, and their friends in the means of greed and personal intent. Iago has ultimately affected Othello in the manner of creating scenes and warping them. Making Othello believe the story the way he placed it. If Othello had not been so lacking in his own self-esteem, the whole scheme would have flopped. While Macbeth is polarizing compared to Othello. Macbeth was either all or nothing. If there had been no wicked witches in the first place, Macbeth wouldn’t have considered taking the king’s places and ultimately died. But sadly enough, he was persuaded by his wife and had to choose a decision. Which would shatter his mind and drive him to insanity. As one book mentioned, “Macbeth’s exasperation of disillusionment reaches a climactic point here and all the spirals of gloom and seething discontent forming earlier are objectified eventually in this soliloquy” (Ansari and Ogden 136).
Lady Macbeth’s actions were vile nature and greedy. I am not sure whether or not Lady Macbeth was truly evil. Though she may have driven Macbeth to a final decision but, she later began to sleepwalk, murmuring to herself the regret and guilt of the decision she’s made. Eventually she ended up killing herself for what she did. This guilt is something that we all face at some point in our lives, whether it be minute, day, or on a grander scale such as this. This underlying guilt is the crux of the story that would foil the plan of Macbeth and his wife.
For Othello’s case, Iago, Othello’s supposedly-loyal friend, makes sociopathic scenarios that start to break down Othello into a monster, killing his own wife in the belief that Desdemona was cheating on Othello for Cassio. This was due to Iago’s manipulation and perversion of Othello’s weak self-esteem, old age, and more. Iago also had conversations with a slew of people around his circle, including Othello, Cassio, Desdemona, and more, resulting in acts that includes Cassio’s loss of his position, Othello in trial, the passing of Desdemona’s handkerchief, and the suicide of Othello, all of which indirectly affected Othello to believe it was right to kill Desdemona for her “wrong-doings.”
There was racial prejudice and sexual inequality at the time of the writing of Othello. This makes it a stark contrast of Macbeth, as it’s more of a tale of corruption in the state, and didn’t involve any of these different aspects of life. At one point of the story, Iago uses this sort of racism to manipulate Brabantio into thinking he was a monster, stating, “Even now, now, very now, and old black ram… Is tupping your white ewe,” placing this racist image of Othello with Brabantio’s daughter, Desdemona (Shakespeare 3). This not only makes others think otherwise of Othello, but for he himself also, as a black moor outsider, unbeknownst of the Venetian culture, and uses it against himself to justify when he feels he is not enough for Desdemona.
Iago, moreover, is a misogynist, and that women cheat for no good. With the extreme belief that young women are foolish, he uses this to manipulate Othello into thinking that Desdemona is up to no good. Leading and making it to bigger speculation of what she could be doing. It’s a surprise that these aspects are not seen nowadays, but with the racial injustice and the inequality of both sexes, it shows that these aspects can too make an impact on the story, leading Othello to believe that his younger wife too may partake in the young “foolish actions” that many other women supposedly make, according to Iago.
Imagery can lead to deception, as shown in the tragedy of Othello. During the Renaissance period, the passing of one’s handkerchief meant the passing of one’s love. This has always been a tradition even dating back to the Middle Ages. When the romance of a woman is taken through some object that may represent them. According to Shawn Smith, “The answer may be partly related to the function of the handkerchief in the courtly love tradition. Michael Hays identifies the handkerchief as a standard kind of chivalric “token” of love” (24). The meaning of the handkerchief taking place in the tragedy of Othello holds so much importance for Othello. It was obvious that the passing of Desdemona’s handkerchief to Cassio made up from Iago, would upset Othello. It finally help Othello make the ultimate and final choice of murdering his own wife. Also taking advice from the same man that has been manipulating him all the time.
It is with this decision that Othello completely regretted his decision, realizing that Desdemona had been an innocent and loyal wife the whole time. Desdemona has always been at Othello’s side throughout the whole story, and does not understand what goes on in Othello’s mind. If Othello had confronted Desdemona about the problem first, then they would have been solved it right there. However, it was too late once she had explained it to Othello right before her death. Being jealous, and not trusting of his own wits, he believes everything Iago says. He believe all the things Iago says about them, true or not. “In his jealous frenzy, Othello is unable to realize about his wife’s virtuous character and her love for him, while he is equally incapable of trusting his own worth, the moral attributes that are precisely the reason why Desdemona chose him over more appropriate suitors” (Dominguez-Rue and Mrotzek).
To justify his cruel actions, Othello feels that there is no other choice than to kill himself. Realizing the horrible actions he has done, he feels empty without Desdemona (and the guilt of even murdering his loyal wife), so killing himself is the only solution that would tie the knot to this problem. Jennifer Feather states, “Tellingly, his greatest concern is how he will be presented, betraying his preoccupation with unifying his body and his social identity. He authenticates the narrative that he suggests—that he was one who loved “not wisely but too well” (5.2.342)— by stabbing himself,” revealing that Othello felt that he did not deserve such a woman like Desdemona. He felt that it was the right choice to kill himself to feel just for his cruel actions. (255-256).
As for Macbeth, a prophecy is made for Macbeth and Banquo with the abrupt meeting of three witches. Macbeth remains skeptical until he gains the position of being the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, spiraling him onto a corrupt madman after the pressure of his wife Lady Macbeth. After the death of King Duncan and the assassination of his best friend Banquo, Banquo’s son, Fleance, groups with Macduff and his son to slay Macbeth of his regicide. Macbeth loses his wife, frantically beginning to feel guilty of his actions and starts to have paranoia from the prophecies ever becoming true. Growing confident of the prophecies, Macbeth assumed no one would ever be born outside from a woman. The prophecies become true however, and he soon gets slain by Macduff, whom was born out of a cesarean section, beheading Macbeth in the end.
For the three witches, If they hadn’t shown Macbeth about his prophecy, then he wouldn’t have slayed and killed anybody that got in his way. They showed Macbeth of what will happen of his future and fate. They told him that he will be made thane, a rank of Scottish nobility and eventually be the King of Scotland. When it started to come true Macbeth ambitions brought him to murder the king and his friend. The witches brought Macbeth into a false sense of security when they told him that no one born of woman can defeat him. Which makes him think he is unbeatable and unstoppable. They can be seen responsible for manipulation of Macbeth, but his ambition is what mostly brought himself down. “Macbeth’s demise is indeed catalysed by the witches’ prophecy, the actions that follow that prophecy are caused by his own ambition and are thus entirely of his own making” (Dominguez-Rue and Mrotzek).
There was no turning back for Macbeth when he had murdered the king. However before killing the king Macbeth had hallucinate and seen a floating dagger. His murderous thoughts had shaped into a physical floating dagger. The dagger can be seen as a manifestation of Macbeth guilty conscience deciding on what to do. Kevin,Curran states, “It catalyzes Macbeth’s consciousness of his own criminality and at the same time teeters playfully on the frontier between idea and object.” He reveals that the dagger was the decision of an idea and actually committing murder.
Both of the tales of Othello and Macbeth have many simitlerister and difference. Othello tells the tale of the moor of Venice being manipulated by Iago, into wanting to killing his own wife, Desdemona. Macbeth tells the story of a general becoming the next king of Scotland and becoming corrupted by that power by killing from the witches and his wife.No matter what they both tell a story of a man that gets corrupt due to someone else’s manipulation.
Ansari, Asloob Ahmad, and James Ogden.”The Existential Dramaturgy of William Shakespeare?: Character Created through Crisis.” Lewiston, N.Y.?: Edwin Mellen Press, ©2010., 2010.EBSCOhost,
Curran, Kevin. “Feeling Criminal in Macbeth.”?Criticism, vol. 54, no. 3, Summer 2012, pp. 391–401.EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/crt.2012.0024.
Feather, Jennifer. “‘O Blood, Blood, Blood’: Violence and Identity in Shakespeare’s Othello.”Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, vol. 26, Jan. 2013, pp. 240–263.EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=lfh&AN=90281235&site=eds-live.
Domínguez-Rué, Emma, and Maximilian Mrotzek. “Shakespearean Tragedies Dynamics: Identifying a Generic Structure in Shakespeare’s Four Major Tragedies.”?International Journal of General Systems, vol. 41, no. 7, Oct. 2012, pp. 667–681.?EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03081079.2012.703386.
Ellis, David.?”The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction and Modern Biographies.” Edinburgh University Press, 2012.?EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=nlebk&AN=459474&site=ehost-live.
Harp, Richard. “Virtue Is Not Boring.”Modern Age, vol. 58, no. 2, Spring 2016, p. 19.EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=f6h&AN=114855128&site=eds-live.
Smith, Shawn. “Love, Pity, and Deception in ‘Othello.’”?Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 44, no. 1, Winter 2008, pp. 3–51.?EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=a9h&AN=30007048&site=eds-live.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology, edited by R.S. Gwynn, Pearson, 2015, pp.719-816.
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