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 Othello and 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 Shakespeare • The Power of Words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello • Sin and Villains in Doctor Faustus and Othello • Prejudice 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 *