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Comparisons to Othello

This is a special page designed exclusively for analytical compare and contrast between Woyzeck and William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Othello (read the entire play here).

There are many similarities between the male main characters of the two plays and also between the themes presented in the texts; “the plot of Woyzeck, if not the tone, is often reminiscent of Othello, and a close parallel reading of these two plays suggests borrowings more striking and pervasive…” (Stodder 115)

Military Men

Both Othello and Woyzeck are military men. While Woyzeck is a lowly, poverty-stricken soldier, Othello is a successful, brave, and competent general of the Venetian army.

The military is a strict, organized society where people’s places are clearly defined by rank. In Woyzeck his occupation as a soldier serves to emphasize his low rank in the society; he is “a private who is well-aware of his place in the military and social hierarchy. In front of his superiors he appears extremely submissive, and all abuse him” (Rozik 252). On the other hand, in Othello, the military position serves to portray how someone of such high standing can be so taken with jealousy that he commits a crime as serious as murder of his own wife.

Jealousy and the Crimes

Perhaps the most striking similarity between the two plays would be that the main character that each play is named after ends up killing his female companion out of jealousy. Othello kills Desdemona after being convinced by Iago that she is cheating on him. Woyzeck kills Marie because she has been cheating on him with a drum-mjaor. Although there are some differences, namely the fact that Desdemona has been truly faithful while Marie really had been having an affair, the resemblances are too significant to ignore.

by Eugene Delacroix 1858

The violent way in which the men kill the women is also notable. Woyzeck purchases a knife and stabs Marie convulsively. Othello, on the other hand, stifles Desdemona. The former method involves blood, which would later come to bother him as he tries to wash it off (this, interestingly, can be a connection to yet another Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth). The latter method allows Desdemona to die leaving her at least outwardly unscathed. This symbolizes her pure faithfulness to Othello to the last hour of her death. When Othello realizes his mistake he stabs himself; thereby those who have done wrong by being unfaithful (Marie) or killing the innocent (Othello) are bloodied, their crimes marked upon them as blood as they die.

The Advocates

Iago is one of the most genius, crafty characters written by William Shakespeare. Without making any blatant statements that would be considered lies, Iago effectively insinuates to Othello that Desdemona is supposedly having an affair with Cassio.

Because Desdemona is faithful to Othello and since Othello has no solid reason to believe that she would be otherwise, Iago alone serves as the advocate of Othello’s ultimate downfall.

In the case of Woyzeck, the Captain is the first to inform Woyzeck of Marie’s affair. However, the Captain is by no means the sole advocate of the crime to take place; although he “incites him to take vengeance” (Rozik 252), he is really informing Woyzeck of the truth. The truth about Marie’s affair with the Drum-Major of course plays the largest role in making Woyzeck jealous, but there are more things that push him out of control: he is in an impoverished, dehumanized state.

Works Cited:

Rozik, Eli. Generating Theatre Meaning: A Theory and Methodology of Performance Analysis. Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2008. Print.

Stodder, Joseph H. “Influences of “Othello” on Büchner’s “Woyzeck”.” Modern Language Review 69.1 (1974): n. pag. Web. 6 Dec 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3725204>.



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