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A Broken Sense of Identity: Part 2 Iago

Iago is a character at once simple and complex, he has a clear objective to destroy the Moor but no clear motive, he has a set identity and yet a malleable one; he is made all the more fascinating for this reality. Unlike Othello, Iago’s identity is not one built up around the constructs of society, it is entirely one of his own making. Iago is a man unpleased with his identity but not without one. He knows who he is and as such needs no push or motivation to take action. There are those he believes below him, who have made their way above him and he wishes to bring them chaos and so he does. Wood describes, “Iago’s perception of himself in relations to others” his fear that others think Othello slept with his wife, how Cassio’s beauty makes him ugly, Iago perceives his identity by comparing it to the identity of others (Wood). Othello and Cassio have set public identities, that give them power and respect, but also constrain them with their demands of behavior. Despite this, Iago wishes to possess such an identity. Continue reading “A Broken Sense of Identity: Part 2 Iago”

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A Broken Sense of Identity: Part 1 Othello

Ones comprehension of their personal self is crucial to their confidence, to their psyche, and their interpretation of reality. A sense of identity is how one defines themselves, and when ones identify is put into question, the results can be disastrous. Without a clear sense of self, one lacks a filter with which to comprehend and distinguish reality. In William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, identity is a key theme and a large motivator of action. Othello is the tale of a Moor who marries a white women and because of the machinations of his ensign, Iago, Othello succumbs to jealousy and ultimately tragedy, but more than that, it is the tale of the outsider, of a desperate search to fit within the confines of society, not just that of a black man, but of faulty, imperfect humans. Each of the three main male characters Othello, Iago and Cassio, struggle with their own personal sense and reality of identity, and it’s what motivates and defines their decisions throughout the play. In a world of societal norms, expectations, and pressures, the role of identity is extraordinary.

Continue reading “A Broken Sense of Identity: Part 1 Othello”

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A Weakness of Character

In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago is able to get the other characters to dance to his tune with clever manipulation and an ability to improvise upon the opportunities that arise before him. His actions lead Othello to doubt his wife’s faithfulness and ultimately kill her, before killing himself when he realizes the mistake he has fallen prey to. Iago’s machinations are so effective because he plays on Othello’s insecurities and character weaknesses. The conductor of Othello’s downfall is without a doubt Iago, but he is manipulated and deceived because of his own flaws. When warned of Brabanzio’s anger at Othello having eloped with his daughter, Othello responds, “Let him do his spite:/ My services which I have done the signory/ Shall out-tongue his complaints” (1.2.17-19). This is a man supremely confident in his professional role, in his role as a military power and leader, and his place in society, as such. He knows his role and his value; however, as an outsider he struggles to find his place in a more personal setting. Continue reading “A Weakness of Character”

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“Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness”

Viola, the plucky heroine of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is much distraught to learn Olivia, the lady of a great house and the object of Viola’s masters love, has fallen in love with Viole, disguised as man by the name of Cesario. Viola, as Cesario, has found employment in the house of Duke Orsino, who trusting her greatly has sent her as an intermediary to win the love of Lady Olivia, who rejects his every advance. Things are further complicated for the stranded Viola by her own love for Orsino, who thinks her a man. This speech does a marvelous job of summarizing the plot as it stands while interweaving the complexity of Viola’s emotions and fear with her unwavering optimism. She comments on the deceitful and unfortunate nature of disguise as it sways Olivia to love her, whom Olivia can never have, and as it separates Viola from Orsino who will never have her, since she is portrayed as a man.


This play deals heavily with the idea of mistaken identity and the power of disguise. In this play, disguise is both “a wickedness” and a door for Viola (2.2.26). Disguise separates her from the one she loves but it brought her into Orsino’s life. It makes her the object of a lady’s love, but it keeps Olivia from falling for the Duke. Disguise opens up possibilities for Viola, allowing her to do, be, and see things she otherwise never would have. It takes her to a place where she has agency and more choice before her then ever before, and yet it separates her from Orsino and firmly closes that door. Disguise becomes a double edge sword of opportunity and confinement. Illusion allows her freedom but traps her in lies and ultimately blocks her from what she most desires.

Shakespeare uses powerful imagery in the line where Viola comments, “How easy is it for the proper false/ In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms” (2.2.28-29). Similar imagery was seen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it effectively portrays an image of a heart too keen to love, so soft as impossible not to take the form of another into it. This line gives us this idea of women with their flighty hearts and too easily swayed emotions, and yet we are presented with a contrast in words to actions. As Violas comments on “women’s waxen hearts,” she holds true and fast to her love for Orsino, and as the play wraps up, Orsino easily abandons his love for Olivia, despite claims to its steadfastness when presented with the possible option of Viola. This line puts into question what truly makes love, and if it’s quick to form does that make it weaker or stronger than love that is slow to set and mold? The reader never receives a set answer, but he or she is unable not to ponder whether “waxen hearts” don’t prove to be true.

This speech reveals to us a character of great strength and optimism. Viola states, “O time, thou must untangle this, not I./ It is too hard a knot for me t’untie” (2.2.39-40). This shows a character with confidence in time and more importantly with the power of plot to resolve and bring resolution to the issues it ultimately creates. Viola is stranded in an unknown land dressed as a man, with the lady, her master is in love with, setting her heart to Viola, and yet she brushes it off, confident that the procession of time with untangle the rope she has caught herself in. Nowhere is the true character of Viola shown more: her steadfast loyalty, and unwavering devotion and optimism in the face of adversity. With her words, Viola is secured in our hearts as a force of revitalization and hope.


Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. The Norton Shakespeare. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016.

Posted in Literary Analysis

A King of Individuality and State

William Shakespeare in his historical play Henry IV Part 1 is able to capture many of the prevailing ideals and qualities connected to the King and monarchies, not only from the time of Henry the IV’s rule but Shakespeare’s own time as well.

In act 3, scene 2 Prince Harry faces his father after years of immoral behavior, and we are given an artfully crafted speech about the expectations of royalty. The King says to his son, “Harry,/At thy affections, which do hold a wing/Quite from the flight of all thy ancestors” (3.2.29-31). In this line the King is claiming that Harry is not living up to the role laid before him by his predecessors, that his actions are not that of a King, as defined by those who came before him. His way of life is not living up to the expectations placed upon him; he is instead following a path contrary to the one imposed upon him. Continue reading “A King of Individuality and State”

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A Shattered Confidence in Man

In William Shakespeare’ s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark’s whole world is broken by the death of his father, this event proves to be a reassurance of mortality and the frailty of others characters, as he learns of his uncle’s role in his father’s murder. His mother’s hasty marriage to his Uncle Claudius also shatters Hamlet’s confidence in man as a being of reason. As a scholar, Hamlet was taught of the reason of man, of man’s great ability to think and comprehend, that there is nothing man cannot accomplish with his vast intellect and determination. Continue reading “A Shattered Confidence in Man”

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“What is honour?”

Falstaff, a comedic character from Shakespeare’s historical play, Henry IV Part 1, is a complicated character who can prove to be just as sympathetic and relatable, as he is despicable and amoral. In act 5 of the play, Prince Henry tells Falstaff he owes God his life in death as Hal runs off into battle to defend his father’s lands from the revolt of Hotspur and others who support him. These words set off a bit of a philosophical debate for Falstaff. In his speech, he contemplates the merit of honor, using metaphor to comment on its lack of skill as a surgeon, and how honor will do little to protect one’s life and as such holds little worth.

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“The lunatic, the lover and the poet;” Reason Concerning Fantasy

In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after four lovers have been led on a chase of confusion and misconstrued love by the actions of a meddling fairy king, and magical flower with the ability to make one fall in love with the first thing they see, they are discovered asleep in a meadow by the Duke of Athens, Theseus. When they relate their strange tale to the Duke, he finds himself unable to believe the reality of the fantastical tale they share, and he talks of this inability to comprehend it with his new wife Hippolyte. In his speech he goes on to explain how the lunatic, the lover, and the poet all have overactive imaginations, seeing the world through eyes clouded but different ailments, be it madness, love, or creativity. All of these things construe the way reality is interpreted, taking things of simple origin and attempting to make them into something greater, something magical. Continue reading ““The lunatic, the lover and the poet;” Reason Concerning Fantasy”

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A unique way of thought: John Donne “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” and “Death Be Not Proud”

Full of astonishing, powerful images, John Donne’s work is a unique blend of wit and passion. In a time full of political strife and religious prejudice, Donne struggled to find his place in society. Born into a Catholic family in a time where England had converted to Protestantism he was faced with prejudice and resentment. At every turn he faced prejudice and persecution, so he did the only sensible thing if he wished to survive, he converted to the English Church. Unfortunately the security this offered, soon escaped him when he fell in love with his employer’s daughter and secretly married her. Cast out once again from society and financial security, he struggle to care for his ever growing family. Tragedy struck when his wife died, leaving him alone and heartbroken with twelve children. Wishing to care for his family Donne works tirelessly to reinserted himself into the favor of society, striving to gain a patronage. He is unable to do so and finally consents to an ecclesiastical career that King James wished upon him. Donne rose to the occasion and became a well loved and well received preacher. Donne’s works reflect the diversity and struggle of his life, full of changing perspectives and emotions.

Continue reading “A unique way of thought: John Donne “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” and “Death Be Not Proud””

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The Creature as Satan: In honor of Frankenstein’s 200th anniversary

Classics are stories that have captured the minds and hearts of readers for generations. Their names, their characters, become engrained into our very culture. Whether someone has watched the movie or read the text, the name Frankenstein is known to the vast majority of our society. It conjures pictures of a hulking green monster, lightning filled sky and mad scientists holed up in labs. Despite the inaccuracy of some of these images, the idea of Frankenstein remains the same; a scientist desperately creating a monster from dead parts and bringing it to life. In Shelley’s time, Paradise Lost was one of these classics, and Shelley used its existence and characters to enhance her own work. Due to people’s preconceived knowledge, certain assumptions and connections can be drawn from the use of Paradise Lost in the text. Andrew Green in his work, “Intertextuality in Frankenstein: the influence of Paradise Lost and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’” comments “Shelley draws in detail on Milton’s great poem, using its main characters to represent or parallel the situations of her own protagonist” (1). These parallels allow for an even deeper understanding of the motivations and personalities of the characters. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the relation and reference to the creation mythos adds depth to a fantastic story. Victor has been compared to God and the creature his Adam, however, based on textual evidence, Mary Shelley placed the creature not in the role of Adam bur the of Stan from Paradise Lost, still one of God’s creations

Continue reading “The Creature as Satan: In honor of Frankenstein’s 200th anniversary”