To watch Othello after Romeo and Juliet is a sort of provocation, a way to provoke reflection and illumination. From the hardly pubertal lovers we shift to adults that do not seem to be in any way saner than the pubertal kids. Their difference is the way they are entangled in ambition, jealousy and hatred from other adults and from themselves, destroying their love and its beauty..
Othello, the Moor, is a general for the Republic of Venice stationed in Cyprus and defending the island against the constant pressure from the Turks. He has an ensign who is the most evil person you can imagine, and a lieutenant who is the most sensitive person you can imagine. Iago is the first one and Cassio is the second. A pair that is clearly set up as the two perfect antagonistic characters with one being the predator and the other the pray, in that order.
The objective of Iago is to become the lieutenant at first and then the general himself if possible. He uses all kinds of plotting devices and he succeeds marvelously: planting jealousy in Othello's heart about Desdemona and Cassio gives him a first victory against Cassio who is eliminated from his lieutenant position and replaced by Iago, but the Duke a Venice arrives with orders from the Senate: Othello is to go back to Venice and Cassio is to take his place in Cyprus. A full defeat for Iago.
Then Iago speeds up the machine to eliminate Cassio by having him killed or at least incapacitated, and by heating the cauldron of Othello's jealousy till it may explode, and explode it does. We all know what's next. Othello tries to choke and strangle Desdemona and nearly succeeds but before dying she speaks a few words to her chambermaid, Iago's wife.
The last scene is Shakespearean to the utmost. Iago manages to kill his wife, after being arrested, restrained, forced to hear his wife's confession and accusation, but thus revealing he is the one who plotted the whole thing. Cassio is brought in carried by two people and he will be the next military general of Cyprus. Then two letters are brought that were found on the body of Roderigo, the man Iago had used to assault Cassio, a man he had killed for him not to speak after his failure. The two letters reveal the role of Iago in the plot. The play closes on the squaring of the dead victims with the suicide of Othello on the body of his wife. That's the whole play in one pattern: two women dead, two men dead, but on the stage only the two women and Othello. Four, the symbol of the crucifixion containing three the Shakespearean symbol of disaster and disorder, that can be expanded to five with Cassio on the stage severely incapacitated by the assault he was the victim of. And we could also expand these four on the stage to five with Iago and that would bring three men, the main cause of disaster (one restrained, one wounded, one dead), and two women, the main victims of that disaster.
Othello has expressed that pattern and the doom that was coming when he said in the second scene of the fifth act: OTHELLO: If she come in, she'll sure speak to my wife: My wife! my wife! what wife? I have no wife. O insupportable! O heavy hour! Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse Of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe Should yawn at alteration. With an expansion: "my wife" (neutral): "my wife, my wife" an even pair, "what wife!" third element, disorder. "I have no wife" final negation answering the third element, expanded to a diabolical five by the neutral initial element. Same structure with "a huge eclipse" (expanded element, rather neutral) "of sun and moon" (even pair) "the affrighted globe" (third expanded element, disturbed) "yawn at alteration" (fifth element, echo of the first one expanded by a verb expressing horror, fright, awe, etc). Three expanded, disorder, and two even in the center or nearly.
And the same architecture is used in the concluding remark by Othello after stabbing himself with his dagger and before dying: OTHELLO: I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee: no way but this; Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.. First a transitively symmetrical couple "I kiss'd thee" "I kill'd thee", then a disturbing inversion of that transitive symmetry into specular symmetry "killing myself" that disturbs the preceding pair, a disturbance that is amplified by "to die upon" to end up with the fifth element which is the second element of the second pair that is specularly symmetrical to the first one, a second pair that loses the transitive syntactic symmetry of the first pair. Perfect disorder in a regular architecture.
This great art is at the service of a phenomenally sinister drama or tragedy that expounds the irresponsibility of people one to the other and also one to oneself. Their love is rotten by their jealousy. Their value is rotten by their sensitiveness. Human and social peace is rotten by the desire of some to do evil onto others for their sole profit. The welfare of other people and oneself is rotten by the ambition of one who cannot dream himself at a deserved place and wants to be in the place of one's higher-ups. It definitely sounds like pure democratic multiparty politics. Who is the ass and who is the Dumbo? Free for you to choose, but both are dingo Goofy-goofs. But I must admit Anthony Hopkins in Othello is outstandingly provocative. Othello was the role Hopkins always wanted to play. But Hopkins is the actor Shakespeare had dreamed of (being?) all his life.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU