Othello as a Domestic Play

Othello is a domestic play in the sense that its subject is one of family or domestic issues. The issues are limited to the scope of a family and personal assistants of the hero: marital relation and happiness, sexual jealousy and personal revenge, intrigue and conspiracy, friendship and betrayal.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

The central theme of Othello's relationship with his wife, his sexual jealousy and the consequence of his fatal weakness of gullibility doesn't go beyond the limit of his family life.

Othello is a domestic tragedy in the sense that it deals with domestic issues of a couple's married life, the husband's jealousy and the wife's ignorance which lead to their disaster. Earlier dramas, the classical dramas of the Greek model, used to deal with social and universally significant human issues at large, William Shakespeare much narrowed down the subject matter in Othello to a more ordinary 'domestic' issue. Even when compared to his other tragic dramas, this play has a more common issue. Instead of dramatizing an issue of national or communal importance Othello is essentially concerned with domesticity. The pictures of a short lasting conjugal bliss and its disruption through unnatural jealousy become the major thematic aspects in the play. Othello-Desdemona marriage begins violently, ends violently and between these two violent points, there is brief joy and much sorrow.

The play has been called a domestic play, especially in the light of the fact that most serious tragedies before Shakespeare and even Shakespeare's other tragedies used to deal with more public issues. Plays like Oedipus Rex and even Shakespeare's own Hamlet and Macbeth, were about kings and princes, and generals like Othello; but the action and issue in them was not limited to the individual persons or their personal and family lives. They used to be about kings and their kingdoms: the actions and decisions of the characters affected the country and the people. But, in the case of Othello, the main issue is limited to Othello's private life, his relation with his wife, his happiness and failures. The play is limited to the marital life and happiness of a husband and wife; and though the intruder and related people come into the action, their roles also do not lead out the effect of the interactions to people outside. lago and Emilia's lives are also affected by the main line of action related Desdemona and Othello, but that is also a family issue. Cassio's relationship with Othello is more domestic than professional; he was friendly and acted like a family member with Desdemona before her marriage, and he is like a brother to her and Othello. Roderigo is the only character who is not so much in the family structures of relations.

The public and state matters like those that take place at the Duke's court and in Venice are marginal to the theme of the drama. Thus, since family or domestic issues are primary, the play has been called a domestic play.