Argumentative Essay Topics For Othello

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for Othello by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Othello in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Othello at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Introduction of the Character Othello

Structurally speaking, one of the more important elements of the beginning section of Shakespeare’s Othello, is the fact that the reader is not able to meet him until Scene 2. Before Othello is introduced, there are a number of perceptions we already have of him. For instance, since it is the villainous Iago speaking, we come to think of Othello as some kind of exotic animal or as a man that has no place in Venetian society. However, at his introduction, the reader finds out quite easily and rather quickly that Othello is not a savage and certainly not someone who does not belong in his society; he is well-spoken, elegant, and noble. In short, this narrative act of waiting to introduce Othello until after Iago has had his say and begins to use his power of language in Othelloand makes the reader the first one to fall victim to the manipulations of Iago. For this essay discuss how this opening scene is Iago manipulating reader perceptions and how this relationship with the audience continues.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: How Important is Race in Othello?

One of the most salient features of this play is the numerous references to Othello’s race, not only by Iago, but by other characters as well. In fact, at the beginning of the play, we don’t even know Othello’s name yet but we are well aware that he is dark-skinned and different. However, Othello is anything but the “barbarian" he is described as and is actually rather more elegant than many other characters in the play, particularly in terms of his verbal ability, martial position, and general personality. As a result, despite any emphasis put on race by other characters, it can be easily argued that race is not, especially as the play progresses, a primary factor by any means and in fact, this story could have just as easily been told if Othello were a white man. While certainly race is one of the most salient themes in Othello discussed in many essays and classrooms, take the high road for this essay and go for a challenge. Write an argumentative essay on Othello in which you evaluate the ways race is not important. A hint: Use quotes that pertain to race but back them up with examples of Othello behaving against the negative stereotypes these terms invoke.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: #3 The Significance of Animal Imagery in Othello

Images relating to animals are a constant throughout the text and as one might imagine, many of these are used in reference to Othello. Called a “Barbary horse" that would make “the beast with two backs" as well as an “old ram" the parallel between Othello’s race and the perceived savagery is clear. Animal images in Othello could be used to counter the above thesis statement (#2) that race is not important. In addition to Othello being equated with animals verbally, there are other examples in the text as well, including swans, goats, etc. For this essay, go through the text and look for references to animals and attempt to determine what they symbolize. Another important question to ask yourself is how animals and animal behavior function within the larger narrative.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Classic Archetypes in Othello

Part of what makes Othello such a resonant play, even with modern audiences, is the fact that the characters and situations are so universal. Part of this universality is based on the fact that every one of the major characters is a classic archetype. For example, Iago is the classic villain—an evildoer with extraordinary manipulative powers and the ability to create chaos. Desdemona is the classic damsel in distress (despite her feminist pipe-ups, she is the unwitting victim here) and Othello….well…he fits a number of classical categorical definitions. Some have suggested that Othello is a tragic hero, like Achilles or like in a more modern sense, like Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart. He is a good man, he just is willing to be manipulated and from there, all turns to hell. For this essay, look to other works of literature for classic definitions or examples of these character types or archetypes and conclude with a statement on how this creates a timelessness about the work and makes it universally understood.

* A few helpful articles on the topics listed here and others include Perceptions of Race in Othello by ShakespeareThe Power of Words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and OthelloSin and Villains in Doctor Faustus and OthelloPrejudice in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Merchant of Venice


This list of important quotations from Othello by Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Othello listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers, or line and scene numbers.

“You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, / you’ll have your nephews neigh to you, / you’ll have coursers for cousins and jennets for germans" (I.i.113-16).

“For if such actions [Othello marrying a white woman] may have passage free, / bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be" (I.iii.98).

“[Desdemona’s] father loved me, oft invited me, / Still questioned me the story of my life / From year to year" (I.iii.127–129).

“Keep your bright swords, for the dew will rust them / Good signor, you have more command with your years than with your weapons" (I.ii.58).

(Othello) “Rude am I in speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of speech" (I.iii.83-84).

(Iago of Othello) “Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains— / Yet for necessity if present life / I must show out a flag and sign of love" (I.i.156-58)

“Strumpet, I come. / Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted. / They bed lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted" (V.i.35-37).

* For several freely accessible essays and articles on Othello and other works by Shakespeare, visit the literature archives at ArticleMyriad *

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Generally, irony is the literary technique that involves differences between appearance and reality, expectation and result, or meaning and intention. More specifically, verbal irony uses words to suggest the opposite of what is meant. In dramatic irony there is a contradiction between what a character says or thinks and what the audience knows to be true. Finally situational irony refers to events that occur which contradict the expectations of the characters, audience, or readers. Identify the various types of irony used in Othello and explain their significance to the plot.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: In Shakespeare’s Othello, verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony are used to propel the action forward and to intensify the drama as it proceeds.

II. Act I
A. Iago tells Roderigo “I am not what I am.”
B. Iago tells Othello “I lack iniquity / Sometimes to do me service.”
C. Othello discusses how his merits will speak for themselves.
D. Brabantio wants Othello to go to prison for eloping with Desdemona.
E. The invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish fleet causes Othello’s commission to the island.
F. Brabantio’s insistence on how Desdemona was beguiled by Othello versusIago’s beguiling of Othello.
G. Othello’s comments to the Duke that Iago “is of honesty and trust”

III. Act II
A. The storm destroys the Turkish fleet off the coast of Cyprus.
B. In the humorous praise of women, Iago pretends that he has difficulty imagining ways to praise the various women Desdemona mentions.
C. Othello tells Desdemona “If it were now to die, / ‘Twere now to be most happy.”
D. Desdemona responds to Othello with “that our loves and comforts should increase / Even as our days grow!”
E. Othello proclaims an evening of celebration of victory over the Turkish fleet and his marriage.
F. Othello comments to Cassio, “Iago is most honest.”
G. Iago encourages Cassio to “have a measure to the health of black Othello.”
H. Iago tells Othello that he would “rather have his tongue cut” from his mouth “than it should do offense to Michael Cassio.”
I. Iago urges Cassio to ask Desdemona for help to get reinstated with Othello.

IV. Act III
A. Iago tells Cassio that he will “devise a means to draw the Moor / Out of the way, that your converse and business / May be more free
B. Emilia says that the rift between Othello and Cassi“greives my husband / As if the cause were his.”
C. Desdemona says to Cassio that “thy solicitor shall rather die / Than give thy cause away.”
D. Iago says to Othello, “My lord, you know I love you.”
E. Iago states to Othello that “men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they might seem none!”
F. Othello comments that “This honest creature doubtless / Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds” with reference to Iago.
G. When Desdemona offers to bind Othello’s head with herhandkerchief, it falls and Emilia picks it up.
H. Othello tells Iago, “Thou hads’t been better have beenborn a dog / Than answer my waked wrath” after demanding visible proof of Desdemona’s infidelity.
I. Othello tells Desdemona that to lose or give away the handkerchief “were such perdition / As nothing else could match.”
J. Cassio gives Bianca the handkerchief for her to copy the design.

V. Act IV
A. Iago instructs Othello to eavesdrop on a conversation he has with Cassio about Bianca.
B. Bianca enters and chides Cassio for giving her the handkerchief.
C. Lodovico delivers the letter recalling Othello to Venice and appointing Cassio in charge in Cyprus.
D. Emilia says to Othello that “If any wretch have put his in your head” to “Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse.”
E. Iago asks Desdemona “How comes this trick upon him?”
F. Emilia suggests that “some eternal villain …devised the slander.
G. Othello tells Desdemona to get “to bed on th’ instant …...

(The entire section is 1703 words.)

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