Past exam questions on ‘Othello’

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Here are the questions that have come up on ‘Othello’ in the past. It is worth examining these to gain a sense of what kind of questions can come up on this complicated text.

2008
Question 1
‘Othello’s foolishness rather than Iago’s cleverness leads to the tragedy of Shakepeare’s Othello.’
Discuss this statement supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the text.
Or
Question 2
‘Shakespeare’s play Othello demonstrates the weakness of human judgement.’
Discuss this statement supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the text.

1998
Question 1
‘Irony is a powerful dramatic device used by Shakespeare to heighten the tragic dimension of his play Othello.’
Discuss this view, with reference to or quotation from the play.
Or
Question 2
‘Despite the striking portrayals of goodness and nobility, the play Othello leaves the audience with a sense of dismal despair.’
Discuss this view, with reference to or quotation from the play.

1994
Question 1
‘Othello is the principal agent of his own downfall.’
Discuss this view, supporting your answer by reference to or quotation from the play Othello.
Or
Question 2
Discuss the importance of the character Emilia (Iago’s wife) in the play as a whole. Support your answer by quotation from or reference to the play Othello.

1990
Question 1
Othello is essentially a noble character, flawed by insecurity and a nature that is naive and unsophisticated.
Discuss this view, supporting your answer by reference to or quotation from the play
Or
Question 2
‘Images of animals, images of storms and images of Heaven and Hell predominate in Othello.’
Discuss the use of such imagery and the purpose they serve in the play. Support your answer by reference or quotation.

Other questions:

  1. Compare and contrast Desdemona’s and Emilia’s views on love, sex, marriage and men. Do either Desdemona or Emilia change their viewpoints as a result of their conversations with each other?
  2. In what ways are the marriages of Othello/Desdemona and Iago/Emilia similar and in what ways are they different?
  3. The plot of the play hinges on the loss of a handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona. Two little deceptions – Emilia’s stealing of the handkerchief and Desdemona’s lie that it is not lost – cement Desdemona’s doom. What does it mean that such a little object has such a huge impact on Othello’s mind? What dramatic effect does this produce? Do you think that, in a situation of jealousy, even a handkerchief could sway someone’s opinion one way or another? Is the importance of the handkerchief in the play believable?
  4. Discuss Othello’s relationship with Desdemona. Does he truly love her?
  5. Why does Othello not investigate Iago’s accusations? Why does Othello not seek his own proof of Desdemona’s betrayal?
  6. ‘Iago was a brilliant opportunist who had plenty of motive to prompt his schemes and heaven-sent human material with which to develop them.’ Discuss.
  7. ‘A credulous husband and a foolish wife.’ Discuss this estimate of Othello and Desdemona.
  8. ‘Othello is a character of extremes. He is no middle range.’ Discuss this view of the character of Othello.
  9. Imagery contributes significantly to the development of the themes of ‘Othello’. To what extent to you agree with this statement?
  10. In ‘Othello’, Shakespeare dramatises a conflict between good and evil. Do you agree with this point of view?
  11. ‘In ‘Othello’, Shakespeare takes a profoundly pessimistic view of human relationships.’ Discuss this statement.
  12. From the beginning of ‘Othello’, one is made to feel that innocence can have no hope in a world given over to the power of evil.
  13. Jealousy is the dominant theme, being a factor in all the major relationships.
  14. Shakespeare’s use of irony is pervasive and painful. Discuss.
  15. ‘Othello’s fall cannot be accounted for simply, or even mainly, in terms of Iago’s devilish cunning. The basic causes are to be found in is weaknesses of character.’ Do you believe this to be a true account of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’?

Some important quotes from Act III of ‘Othello’

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Here are some quotes to learn for the quotes test that you will be sitting on Act III:

Scene 1

‘The general and his wife are talking of it,
And she speaks for you stoutly. The Moor replies
That he you hurt is of great fame in Cyprus
And great affinity; and that in wholesome wisdom
He might not but refuse you. But he protests he loves you
And needs no other suitor but his likings
To take the safest occasion by the front
To bring you in again.’
Emilia to Cassio

Scene 3

‘My lord shall never rest,
I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;
His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;
I’ll intermingle everything he does
With Cassio’s suit. Therefore be merry, Cassio;
For thy solicitor shall rather die
Than give thy cause away.’
Desdemona to Cassio

‘Excellent wretch, perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.’
Othello, speaking about Desdemona

‘And, for I know thou’rt full of love and honesty,
And weigh’st thy words before thou giv’st them breath’
Othello to Iago

‘give thy worst of thoughts
The worst of words.’
Othello to Iago

‘Good name in man – and woman – dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.’
Iago to Othello

‘O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.’
Iago to Othello

‘I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;
And on the proof, there is no more but this:
Away at once with love or jealousy!’
Othello to Iago

‘I speak not yet of proof:
Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio;
Wear your eye thus: not jealous, nor secure –
I would not have your free and noble nature,
Out of self-bounty be abused – look to’t.
I know our country disposition well:
In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience
Is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown.’
Iago to Othello

‘As – to be bold with you –
Not to affect many proposed matches
Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
Whereto we see in all things nature tends –
Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank,
Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural’
Iago to Othello

‘I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapour of a dungeon,
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others’ uses.’
Othello, soliloquy

‘I will in Cassio’s lodgings lose this napkin,
And let him find it. Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ. This may do something.
The Moor already changes with my poison:
Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons.
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood,
Burn like the mines of sulphur. I did say so.
Look where he comes. Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.’
Iago, soliloquy

‘I had been happy if the general camp,
Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body,
So I had nothing known.’
Othello to Iago

‘Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore!
Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof;
Or, by the worth of mine eternal soul,
Thou hadst been better have been born a dog
Than answer my waked wrath!’
Othello to Iago

‘I’ll tear her all to pieces!’
Othello to Iago

‘O, that the slave had forty thousand lives –
One is too poor, too weak for my revenge!
Now do I see ’tis true. Look here, Iago:
All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven – ’tis gone!
Arise, black Vengeance from thy hollow hell,
Yield up, O Love, thy crown and hearted throne
To tyrannous Hate! Swell, bosom, with thy fraught,
For ’tis of aspics’ tongues.’
Othello to Iago

‘Witness that here Iago doth give up
The execution of his wit, hands, heart
To wronged Othello’s service.’
Iago to Othello

‘Not with vain thanks, but with acceptance bounteous;
And will upon the instant put thee to’t.
Within these three days let me hear thee say
That Cassio’s not alive.’
Othello to Iago

‘Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!
Come, go with me apart; I will withdraw
To furnish me with some swift means of death
For the fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant.’
Othello to Iago

Scene 4

‘that handkerchief
Did and Egyptian to my mother give;
She was a charmer, and cold almost read
The thoughts of people; she told her, while she kept it
‘Twould make her amiable and subdue my father
Entirely to her love – but if she lost it,
Or made a gift of it, my father’s eye
Should hold her loathed, and his spirits should hunt
After new fancies. She dying, gave it me
And bid me, when my fate would have me wived,
To give it her. I did so; and, take heed on’t,
Make it a darling like your precious eye:
To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition
As nothing else could match.
. . .
‘Tis true; there’s magic in the web of it:
A sybil, that had numbered in the world
The sun to course two hundred compasses,
In her prophetic fury sewed the work;
The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk,
And it was dyed in mummy, which the skilful
Conserved of maidens’ hearts.’
Othello to Desdemona

‘Why do you speak so startling and rash?’
Desdemona to Othello

”Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;
To eat us hungerly; and when they are full
They belch us.’
Emilia to Desdemona

‘But jealous souls will not be answered so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.’
Emilia to Desdemona

Iago’s temptation of Othello

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As we read through the lengthy ‘Temptation Scene’, it may be useful for you to have a visual image of how Iago poisons Othello’s love for Desdemona. In the 1995 version of the film, director Oliver Parker uses clever editing to suggest that this conversation has taken place over a longer period of time than the play would suggest.

Some key quotes from Act II of ‘Othello’

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Remember to keep on top of your quotes as we are progressing through the play! Here are some of the key quotes from the second Act:

Scene 1

‘News, lads! Our wars are done:
The desperate tempest hath so banged the Turks
That their designment halts. A noble ship of Venice
Hath seen a grievous wrack and sufferance
On most part of their fleet.’
Third Gentleman

‘He hath achieved a maid
That paragons description and wild fame,
One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens,
And in th’essential vesture of creation,
Does tire the ingener.’
Cassio, about Othello’s marriage to Desdemona

‘Sir, would she give you so much of her lips
As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,
You’d have enough.’
Iago to Cassio, about Emilia

‘You are pictures out of doors;
Bells in your parlours; wild-cats in your kitchens;
Saints in your injuries; devils being offended;
Players in your housewifery; and housewives
In your beds.’
Iago’s misogynistic view of women

‘These are fond paradoxes to make fools laugh i’th alehouse.’
Desdemona to Iago

‘He takes her by the palm – ay, well said, whisper! – with as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. – Ay, smile upon her, do! I will gyve thee in thine own courtship. – You say true, ’tis so, indeed. – If such tricks as these strip you out of your lieutenantry, it had been better you had not kissed your three fingers so oft, which now again, you are most apt to play the sir in.’
Iago, in an aside, about Cassio

‘If I were now to die,
”Twere now to be most happy; for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.’
Othello to Desdemona

‘Come hither, if thou be’st valiant – as they say base men being in love have then a nobility in their natures more than is native to them – list me: the lieutenant tonight watches on the court of guard. first, I must tell thee this: Desdemona is directly in love with him.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Besides, the knave is handsome, young, and hath all those requisites in him that folly and green minds look after – a pestilent complete knave, and the woman hath found him already.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife;
Or, failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgement cannot cure’
Iago, soliloquy

Scene 3

‘Iago is most honest.’
Othello to Cassio

‘I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking. I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment.’
Cassio to Iago

‘If I can fasten but one cup upon him,
With that which he hath drunk tonight already,
He’ll be as full of quarrel and offence
As my young mistress’ dog.’
Iago, soliloquy

‘I learned it in England, where indeed, they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.’
Iago to Cassio

‘You see this fellow that is gone before?
He’s a soldier fit to stand by Caesar
And give direction; and do but see his vice –
‘Tis to his virtue a just equinox,
the one as long as th’other. ‘Tis pity of him:
I fear the trust Othello puts him in,
On some odd time of his infirmity,
Will shake this island.’
Iago to Montano

‘And ’tis great pity that the noble Moor
Should hazard such a place as his own second
With one of an ingraft infirmity:
It were an honest action to say
So to the Moor.’
Montano to Iago

‘For Christian shame, put by this barbarous brawl!
He that stirs next to carve for his own rage
Holds his soul light: he dies upon his motion.’
Othello to crowd

‘What’s the matter,
That you unlace your reputation thus,
And spend your rich opinion for the name
Of a night-brawler?’
Othello to Montano

‘Now, by heaven,
My blood begins my safer guides to rule,
And passion, having my best judgement collied,
Assays to lead the way.’
Othello to crowd

‘I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth
Than it should do offence to Michael Cassio.’
Iago to Othello

‘I know, Iago,
Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter,
Making it light to Cassio. – Cassio, I love thee;
But never more be officer of mine.’
Othello to Iago and Cassio

‘Reputation, reputation, reputation! O I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.’
Cassio to Iago

”Reputation’ is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.’
Iago to Cassio

‘I will rather sue to be despised than to deceive so good a commander with so slight, so drunken, and so indiscreet an officer. Drunk, and speak parrot, and squabble? Swagger, swear, and discourse fustian with one’s own shadow? O, thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou has no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!’
Cassio to Iago

‘O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains; that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!’
Cassio to Iago

‘Our general’s wife is now the general.’
Iago to Cassio

‘She is of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition, she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested. This broken joint between you and her husband entreat her to splinter.’
Iago to Cassio

‘For, whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I’ll pour this pestilence in his ear:
That she repeals him for her body’s lust:
And by how much she strives to do him good
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.’
Iago, soliloquy

 

Some key quotes from Act I of ‘Othello’

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It is essential to keep up to date with quotations from ‘Othello’. They will form a central part of every essay that you write. If you learn them well in now, it will make life much easier for you later on.

Here are some of the key quotes from Act I:

Scene 1

‘I know my price, I am worth no worse a place’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Mere prattle without practise
Is all his soldiership.’
Iago to Roderigo about Cassio

‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘In following him, I follow but myself –
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end;
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon by sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Call up her father,
Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,
Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,
Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t,
As it may lose some colour.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul:
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.’
Iago to Brabantio

‘Because he come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, 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 gennets for germans.’
Iago to Brabantio

‘Farewell, for I must leave you:
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
To be produced – as, if I stay, I shall –
Against the Moor.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,
Yet, for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love –
Which is indeed but a sign.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Is there not charms
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abused?’
Brabantio to Roderigo

 

Scene 2

‘For know, Iago,
But that I love the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into circumscription and confine
For the sea’s worth.’
Othello to Iago

‘I must be found:
My parts, my title and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly.’
Othello to Iago

‘Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.
Good signior, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons.’
Othello to Brabantio and officers

‘If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, to incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.’
Brabantio to Othello

 

Scene 3

‘She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted
By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks;
For nature so preposterously to err,
Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,
Sans withcraft could not.’
Brabantio to Duke

‘Rude am I in my speech,
And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace:
For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnishe’d tale deliver
Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration and what mighty magic,
For such proceedings I am charged withal,
I won his daughter.’
Othello to Duke

‘A maiden never bold;
Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion
Blush’d at herself; and she, in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, credit, every thing,
To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on!
It is a judgement maim’d and most imperfect
That will confess perfection so could err
Against all rules of nature, and must be driven
To find out practices of cunning hell,
Why this should be. I therefore vouch again
That with some mixtures powerful o’er the blood,
Or with some dram conjured to this effect,
He wrought upon her.’
Brabantio to Duke

‘If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence
Even fall upon my life.’
Othello to Duke

‘She thank’d me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This is the only witchcraft I have used’
Othello to Duke

‘I do perceive here a divided duty:
To I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;
I am hitherto your daughter: but here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show’d
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.’
Desdemona to Brabantio

‘I here do give thee that with all my heart
Which, but thou hast already, with all my heart
I would keep from thee.’
Brabantio to Othello

‘The Turk with a most mighty preparation makes for Cyprus.’
Duke to Othello

‘So please your grace, my ensign;
A man he is of honest and trust:
To his conveyance I assign my wife,
With what else needful your good grace shall think
To be sent after me.’
Othello to Duke

‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.’
Duke to Brabantio

‘Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.’
Brabantio to Othello

‘My life upon her faith! Honest Iago,
My Desdemona must I leave to thee:
I prithee, let thy wife attend upon her:
And bring them after in the best advantage.’
Othello to Brabantio and Iago

‘It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor – put money in thy purse – nor he his to her: it was a violent commencement, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration – put but money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in their wills: fill thy purse with money – the food that to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida. She must change for youth: when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice: she must have change, she must: therefore put money in thy purse.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘I have told thee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor: my cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him: if thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport.’
Iago to Roderigo

‘Thus do I ever make my fool my purse:
For mine own gain’d knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe.
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor;
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in the kind,
Will do for surety. He holds me well;
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio’s a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery – How, how? Let’s see –
After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false. The
Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly by led by the nose
As asses are.
I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.’
Iago – soliloquy

‘Othello’ – National Theatre Live

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The National Theatre presents a major new production of William Shakespeare’s celebrated play about the destructive power of jealousy. Olivier Award-winning actor Adrian Lester takes the title role. Playing opposite him as the duplicitous Iago is fellow Olivier Award-winner Rory Kinnear, who is reunited with director Nicholas Hytner.

Othello, newly married to Desdemona – who is half his age – is appointed leader of a major military operation. Iago, passed over for promotion by Othello in favour of the young Cassio, persuades Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. This is an ‘Encore’ recorded screening of the National Theatre Live event.

It will be shown in Movies @ Swords on 26th September and will be of interest to our 5th year students who will be studying ‘Othello’ for Leaving Certificate in 2015.

For more information on the production, go to the following website:

http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/40168-othello

Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago

Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago