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Reflections of the holy Quran in Shakepeare’s Othello

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28th-Apr-2017       
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Prof Md Abul Hasan :
It is great Shakespeare who made the true reflections of the holy Quran in most of his great plays. Today I would like to confine my studies only to his great tragedy Othello. But the question is how did an English play make the reflections of an Arabic Scripture? Here the fact is that the holy Quran was bestowed on the holy Prophet Muhammad (Sm) fourteen hundred years back but Shakespeare was a man alive after one thousand years, that is, Shakespeare was born in 1564 only four hundred years ago. As Shakespeare was a learned and intelligent playwright, he might have read the Quran in translation very carefully and wisely. As a result while he was writing his tragedies, he subconsciously referred to many of the ideas that was clearly declared by the Almighty in his great holy scripture, the Quran.
In the essay I shall try to discover the ideas of the Quran, which are reflected on the pages of Othello by Shakespeare.
To show the similarities I shall first quote from the holy Quran and then refer to the reflections on the pages of Othello. I think I should make the comparison of the same ideas in acts and scenes serially from the beginning to the end.
In the holy Quran, Allah forbade the Muslims to tell lies and if anybody lies he will surely be punished and have to pay a lot for telling lies. In sura Baqarah (Ayat- 42) Allah says, “And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when ye know what it is.” In the same way Shakespeare in his Olhello (Act- 1, Sc-1) says through the mouth of Roderigo some words of warning to Iago. The following are the words of Roderigo that express his hatred and anger to Iago  for telling lies about Desdemona.
Roderigo : Tush! Never tell me I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had any purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this. (Act- 1, Sc-1)
In the holy Quran, it is said that some people are not same in nature about their outward and inward character. They say something, but do the opposite. In sura Baqarah (Ayat-44) Allah says, “Some people ask others to do good but they themselves forget it. They read the Quran but don’t realise it.” Again in Sura Saf (Ayat- 2 & 3) Allah says, “Oh men, why do you say those which you do not do? It is very unpleasant in the eyes of Allah that you say such things which you do not follow in reality.” So this kind of double role is not supported in the Quran.
In Othello, Shakespeare speaks about the double standard of a man through the character of Iago when he discloses the nature of his character in his own words.
“I am not what I am.” (Act- 1, Sc-1)
In the Quran, it is said that the role of law is very important, so the laws of the country should be maintained properly. In case of any punishment the books of law should be thoroughly consulted. In sura Al-Maidah (Ayat- 50) Allah says “So, do they follow the laws of dark age? Who is greater than Allah to frame laws for the believers?”
In sura Tariq (Ayat- 13) : Allah says “Certainly the Quran in an answer to settle between truth and falsehood.”
We find the echo of maintaining the law books in the conversation of the Duke with Brabantio, father of Desdemona when they discuss about the undesired elopement of Desdemona with Othello. The Duke says :-
The bloody book of law
You shall yourself read in the bitter letter
After your own sense; yea, though our proper son
stood in your action. (Act- 1, Sc- 3)
In the Quran, marriage is the only medium between a man and a woman for legal union. In case of matured persons they can take their own decision regarding marriage. If marriage is legally done, there is no offence. In the beginning of Sura  Nisa (Ayat- 1) Allah says, “O, mankind ! fear your Lord Who created you from one person and your life partner from you.”
In sura Nisa (Ayat- 24) Allah says, “Apart from those (ladies whom you are not allowed to marry) you can find out any other woman for marriage with money (muhorana) but not for illegal sex.” In Othello, we see that the hero Othello confesses about his marriage with Desdemona and claims his legal right as husband. Here Othello says like this:-
I have ta’ken away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true: true, I have married her,
The very head and front of my offending,
Hath this extent, no more. (Act-1, Sc-3)
In the Quran, the duties of women have been divided. Before marriage a woman has her duties only to her parents but after marriage a woman has two types of duties. In sura Boni-Israil (Ayat- 23) about human duties to parents Allah says,  “My Lord hath decred that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents, whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.”
In sura Boni-Israil (Ayat-24) Allah says, “Allah, take care of my parents as they took care of us in our childhood.” Again in sura Bakarah of the Quran Allah says, “Womens have right on men and like that men have rights on women but men have dominance over women.” So, a lady has then some duties to her parents and some duties to her husband. We see the reflection of such an idea in Othello (Act-1, Sc-3) when Desdemona speaks before her father after her elopement with Othello, the hero of the drama :
Desdemona :
My noble father
I do perceive here a divided duty,
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to resped you. You are the lord of duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.  (Act- 1, Sc- 3)
In the Quran, it is said that a wife is supposed to be the co-sharer of well and woes of her husband. It should be deemed that wife and husband should enjoy everything equally and they are always co-sharers. In Sura Rum (Ayat- 21) Allah says “His another example is : He has created your partner from you so that you can get peace from her and He has created mutual love and sweet connection between you; certainly there is example for the thinkers.” In Othello Desdemona speaks like a very obedient and pious wife in the following words :-
I saw Othello’s visage in his mind,
And to his honours and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortune consecrate. (Act-1, sc- 3)
In the Quran, it is said that Satan is always after the good people and so is the case with the followers of Satan. The followers of Satan in the world are always doing harm to the good people by their heinous tricks. In sura Maidah (Ayat- 91) Allah says, “Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer : will ye not then abstain?”
In Othello, also we see such a Satan and he is in the guise of  Iago. We understand his satanic motives when he (Iago) discloses his hidden plan in his soliloquy :-
So will I turn her virtue into pitch
And out of her goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all (Act- 1, Sc-3)
In the Quran, it is said that truth never remains hidden, it comes out sooner or later by any means. In sura Boni Israil (Ayat- 81) Allah says, “Say, truth has come and falsehood has been banished, certainly falsehood will be banished.”
In Shakespeare’s Othello, we see that Othello becomes very angry with Desdemona and thinks of killing her for his false doubt about her adultery with Casio, the most handsome man in the  drama. But at one point of the drama Emilia, the wife of Iago comes to know about the fury of Othello on Desdemona and then she speakes the real truth to Othello, the sceptic husband of Desdemona in the following words:
Emilia:
I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,
Lay down my soul at stake. If you think other,
Remove your thought. It doth abuse your bosom.
If any wretch have put this in your head,
Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse,
For if she be not honest, chaste, and true
There’s no man happy. The purest of their wives
Is foul as slander. (Act- 4, Sc- 2)
In the Quran, it is always said that nothing goes unrewarded. The guilty people can never escape punishedment and it is always observed that these guilty people are at last caught red handed and undergo the punishment that they deserve for their crime. In sura Anaam (Ayat- 160) Allah says :- “He that doeth good shall have ten times as much to his credit : He that doeth evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil : no wrong shall be done unto (any of them).”
In sura Ibrahim (Ayat- 07) Allah says “If you are grateful, you will get more but if you are ungrateful, the punishment will be big.” In sura Jumar (Ayat- 70) Allah says, “Everyone will get proper reward for his deeds. Whatever they do is well known to Allah.” In sura-Nazam (Ayat- 31)- Allah says, “Those who do bad deeds get bad results and those who do good deeds get good results.” Again in sura Toor (Ayat- 21) Allah says “Every person is responsible for his deeds.”
In Othello, the last scene proves it clearly. All through the drama we observe that Iago is the man who is the real Satan that designs all mischiefs of the drama. Here he is the criminal who is at the root of all jealousy in Othello’s mind and that jealousy Drives Othello to kill the innocent flower-like Desdemona, his dearest wife. According to divine judgement Iago is detected as a real criminal and that's why in the last scene of the drama Lodovico, Brabantio’s kinsman,  assigns a big responsibility to Gratiano, the new governor and uncle of Desdemona. Actually this responsibility is about giving the condign punishment to the worst criminal Iago for all his develish works in the drama. It also proves the great third law of Newton, that is, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” We see that this great law of Newton is being proved in this mundane world at every moment. So let us see how the declarations of the holy Quran and Newton’s third law is reconfirmed in the last words of Lodovico in the final scene of Othello :-
Lodovico :
To you, lord governor
Remains the censure of this hellish villain,
The time, the place, the torture. O enforce it
Myself will straight aboard and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate. (Act- 5, Sc- 2) n

(In commemoration of 400th Anniversary of Death of William Shakespeare on April 23, 2017/ the writer is a Professor of English and currently Principal of Chittagong Govt Women's College)

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