Alternative Critical Interpretations of A Streetcar Named Desire


One of the Assessment Objectives for A Streetcar Named Desire in the AS Drama and Poetry exam is AO5 – alternative critical interpretations. This AO does not exist for A Streetcar Named Desire in the A2 Drama exam but it can still count as AO3 (context). The following is a list of critics and critical perspectives that I have collected over the last year. While it is not necessary to know the names of specific critics or perspectives, it is helpful — but I know it is easy to forget, so you can replace their names with stock phrases, such as “Critics say…” or “Some have interpreted this as…”.

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How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?


How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?

  • Desdemona is a defiant character who displays duality.
  • Her duality of being assertive and submissive has enabled her to reconcile conflicts e.g. her marriage to Othello.
  • This duality brings the theme of appearance and reality into play – Iago exploits this and depicts her as being untrustworthy and unfaithful, knowing that this would anger Othello because his greatest weakness is jealousy.
  • Act III, scene III is crucial in portraying her insistent nature – it marks the moment where Iago’s machinations begin fully.

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Historic Setting Use – Othello

How and why has Shakespeare used the historic setting of Venice and Cyprus in 1570-1?

Shakespeare had used the dramatic technique of a split geography with the first act taking place in Venice and the rest, in Cyprus. Othello explores what it means to live in a dynamic city like Venice, during times of high power and wealth as an independent republic. Stereotypes of hedonism fascinated the English, with Venice’s courtesans demonstrating the cities more relaxed view of sexual and promiscuous behaviour – something that Iago has anxieties about in Scene 1 when he tells Brabantio “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs”. In contrast, Cyprus – an ideal area for economic success – yet an area of tension. Venice had owned Cyprus and had wanted to maintain it but the Ottoman Empire was looking to expand their territory. With Othello as leader of the Venetian mercenary army, he would have had authority but not status or respect as the army was not official. This is made clear when Cassio, a scholar “that never set a squadron in the field” could be promoted over Iago. It would create opportunities to move the plot along and introduce themes of jealousy which concludes the play to a tragedy.



‘The Moor’ AO3 – Othello

The Moor AO3

  • Arab, Berber people of North Africa who inhabited Northern Spain
  • ‘Barbary’ – famous horse from the Arab world but when Iago says “your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” he is also playing the the term ‘barbarian’ meaning savagery
  • Genetic – moor, black African referred to as ‘blackamoor’
    Queen Elizabeth wanted to rid England of Spanish ‘negors’ and ‘blackamoors’ in 1601
  • Othello’s race sets him apart
    – he is a high noble, in charge of the Venetian army
    – racial tensions/sexual tensions
    – intermarriage anxieties
  • Moors were often the villains in literature of the time – early 17th century

Act I Scene II

“Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints”
Let him do his worst,
What I have done has been approved by the governing body

Who will get the better of him
Othello is noble and honest – opposite to Iago

“I shall promulgate”
I shall make publicly know

More evidence that he is honest

“My parts, my title and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly”
My qualities, my legal right and flawless soul
Shall reveal me correctly as I am
He is not hiding anything, appearance vs. reality

“Holla, stand there!”
“Keep up your bright swords”
“Hold up your hands”
Stop! Don’t move!

His use of imperatives shows his high status

“Good signor, you shall move command with years
Than with your weapons”
We don’t need to fight. Use your aged wisdom not violence.

He appears moral and peaceful, a type of pacifist (but not in war)

“Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it
Without a prompter”
If it was my turn to fight, I would know it without having to be provoked

He is sharp, clear – worthy of his role, nobility



Act 1 Scene III – Othello

A key theme in the novel is stories and tales. This helps with characterisation too.

How does Othello and Brabantio say Desdemona fell in love?


  • “She is abused, stolen from me”
  • “corrupted by spells and medicines”
  • “witchcraft”
  • “most imperfect/That will confess perfection so could err/Against all rules of nature”
  • “praises of cunning hell” – adjectives
  • “same mixtures powerful o’er the blood” – blood is linked to sexual passion
  • “some dram conjured to this effect/He wrought upon her”
  • She is “never bold” according to Brabantio – He puts no blame on Desdemona and says their relationship goes against nature

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Key Terms – Othello

Iambic Pentameter
Blank Verse
Hyper syllabic lines
Shared line
Literary allusion

It is an extensive list but if you are unsure of any of the meanings you should really try and learn the definitions. This way you will be to refer to them in essays – it may also help to annotate in your text whenever you see them! Shakespeare uses them for a reason!