The Significance of Stories in Othello and The Tempest

Characters in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Tempest use stories to explain personal history or change the course of events. These are no simple tales; rather, they are complex and thought-provoking means of enriching each play and carrying action forward. This paper examines some of the stories told in each play.

First, in order to successfully woo Desdemona, Othello provides her with tales of his military experience that chronicle his bravery and honor. When interrogated by the Duke and Brabanzio, Othello pleads his case against the charge of trickery. He narrates his introduction to Desdemona and how she came to know “the story of my life,” declaring that “She loved me for the dangers I had passed,/ And I loved her that she did pity them” (1.3.128,166-7). The recounting of this tale becomes a story of its own, for it persuades the Duke to exonerate Othello from any misdeed; the purpose of the passage is to provide the first layer of storytelling from which the reader may draw the characterization of Othello and, oppositely, his preliminary adversaries. Just as the story is successful in convincing the court, so too is it successful in convincing Desdemona of Othello’s value as a soldier and, as a result, garnered the general a...

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