The Rover vs Othello: Compare & Contrast

The Rover vs Othello: Compare & Contrast
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Shakespeare’s Othello has been attracted the attention of many reads as well as audience overtime. It is the magnificent ability of Shakespeare that keeps the popularity of the play even after its first performance in the Jacobean period. Long through these years, many studies have been conducted on Othello, and critics have identified various elements that contributed much to the hilarious success of the play. One of the remarkable facets is the use of assorted issues in the play which are arranged as the beads in a string. But the most remarkable thing causes for the admiration of Shakespeare’s readers as well as his audience is the uneven craftsmanship by which he resolved or find remedies for the issues discussed in his plays. Shakespeare could keep the pulse of the story, whether it was being performed or written for his readers. It is the same craftsmanship that enabled him to resolve the problems discussed in his plays; in performance as well as in discussion, with the limited resources he had during his time.

Othello is often considered as Shakespeare’s most straightforward tragedy that partly based on a story in Hecatommity, a collection of tales by the Italian writer Cinthio. The play is developed through the character of Othello, the Black Moor. The play divides into five acts that portrayed the conventional Elizabethan style. The first three acts the play develops through rising action. The central theme of the play is the revenge of Iago, Othello’s villainous aid. Iago decided to prepare an evil plan to destroy his master and creates problems one by one.

The play Rover or The Banish’d Cavaliers is a Restoration comedy written by Aphra Behn. This play is based on the adventures of a group of Englishmen at Naples. It also follows the structural design like Othello— the first part of the play includes the rising action and then gradually develops to its climax. In Behn’s play, the issues are raised and developed through the central character named Willmore, the naval captain. A deep analysis of the plays reveals that both Othello and The Rover end in a different way but there are similarities in the way the issues are created, developed, and resolved at the end.       

If one needs to analyze the issues discussed in Othello, one has to wade through the historical records which throws light on its real reasons. Analysis of the historical texts reveal that Shakespeare adopted the material for this play from, ‘The Story of Desdemona of Venice and the Moorish Captain’, which appeared in the Italian Giraldi Cintho’s collection of the tales entitled Hecatommiti (One Hundred Tales) published in 1565 (Owens et al, 1996). Before one begins to discuss the issues in the play, it would be desirable to regard the significance of its title. The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, as Owens et al (1996) write in their book entitled; Shakespeare, Aphra Behn, and the canon. They also suggest that one has to regard an assortment of things before reading the play. The first one is concerned with its title. As the title demonstrates it is a ‘tragedy’, one can infer that is a story that deals with the death of a noble person or a man of high estate, despite the fact that Othello and Desdemona are not monarchs. 

Owens et al (1996) further identify the other issue concerned with the identity of  Othello, a Moor, the Muslim inhabitants of North Africa, mainly Morocco and Algeria. Shakespeare has portrayed Othello as a moor, a black man, just different from his other Christian characters. The term ‘black moor’ was used decoratively during that time to refer to a black man. By making a black man as a hero, Shakespeare could raise the uneasiness of his audience. Later, as the play progresses, the audience understands that it is the same black identity of Othello causes for the majority of the problems, especially his jealousy.

Shakespeare portrays the character of Iago as a man who leads the play scene by scene and one can see that the issues are raised and developed through the hand of Iago.  Each and every action or issue of the play is created and executed by the malicious villain, Iago.  Iago cleverly utilizes Othello’s identity of a Black Moor and decides to obliterate his master by persuading him that his wife Desdemona has illegal affair with Cassio, Othello’s new lieutenant. The crisis begins with Othello’s decisions to appoint Cassio as his subordinate. Iago cleverly puts away the marriage between Othello and Desdemona and decides to attack Desdemona’s father Brabantio. H. S. Toshack (2001) makes it clear when he observes thus; “Whatever those reasons, he takes the first step towards achieving his objective when he persuades Roderigo to stir up against Othello”

Iago uses his different wagers to do evil action so as to abolish Othello and Desdemona. Iago’s revenge reaches its zenith when he asked Emilia to steal the handkerchief of Desdemona. Then he informs Othello about the handkerchief and pulls him to endless suffering and adversities. All his actions in the play reveal his extreme revenge against the General and his family. His diabolic actions such as advising Cassio, conversation with Desdemona, the temptation of Othello, friendship with Roderigo, and his attitude towards his wife Emilia are the apparent expressions of his revenge. 

            Behn’s play The Rover discusses various issues such as gender issues, carnival politics, and power. One can find that gender issues and power play a dominant role in the play The Rover and it acquires the attention of the feminist activists. The character of Willmore presented as a sinister villain who flourished a rape culture in the play. Through the character of Willmore dramatist explores the male dominance in sexual relation. Women characters like Hellena and Angellica reveal the submissive status of16th and 17th-century omen. Willmore’s excessive passion for power and wealth reveals through his efforts to ignore Hellena. In the concluding Act, Hellena overcomes the barriers created by the patriarchal society and she succeeds to marry Willmore. James Fitzmaurice states that; “Like Hellena (and Angellica, Bianca, whose initials are the same as the author’s), Bhen’s poetic speakers often flaunt their sexual desire, making love a linguistic game that the witty woman can sometimes win” (Fitzmaurice, 1997 p.217). 

Analysis of the plays reveals that both Shakespeare and Behn have portrayed the issues of gender and power in their plays. But an overview of it exposes that though both the authors adopted these themes, one can find differences in their approach to these issues. While reading through their plays, one observes, “Gender issues are discussed at many levels throughout the book- with reference to the use of language, the representation of male access to the domestic realm, the treatment of Englishness as definitely masculine, and also in the construction of female identity within the plays by a man (Shakespeare) and by a woman (Behn) (Owens et al, 1996 p.18).  When one speaks of ‘Othello’ specifically, race and gender are the main issues discussed in the play. These issues are significant in the play because they work as the main instrument for the jealousy of Othello and ultimately leading the play to a tragedy. The play becomes a symbol of male dominance through the male chauvinism expressed by the characters of Othello and Iago. After watching the play, the audience feels pity and fear for the character of Othello, instead of Desdemona, who was murdered for no particular reason, except for suspicion and jealousy. Thus, one can conclude that the play becomes purely a male dominating one. Michael Bryson rightly comments; “Women are here figured as deceiving, dishonest, and dangerous creatures concerned solely with the entrapment and destruction of men” (Bryson, n. d.). Regarding the performance level, one finds many departures from the texts. The words of Owens et al, (1996 p.19) make it clear when they rightly observed that when these stories have been presented on stage, each chapter engages in a different way with the interpretative power of dominance, the ability of the director or actor, or designer or student/reader to engage with a text and imagine it in three dimensions.


 W.R Owens, L. G. (1996). Shakespeare, Aphra Behn, and the canon. Routledge.

S. Toshack (2001) Othello: A study commentary, WordSmith

Fitzmaurice, James (1997) Major women writers of seventeenth-century England, University of Michigan Press