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Play Othello Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is a prominent playwright and poet whose creative works are well-known all around the world. He is widely considered not only the greatest English dramatist but also one of the most famous writers in the world literature. Moreover, Shakespeare reached great success in mastering the art of writing and managed to develop a personal writing style, which is easily distinguished from other authors.
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In his writing pattern, Shakespeare repeatedly depicted similar themes, in particular, friendship, fate, love, passion, jealousy, and betrayal. In most plays, these feelings usually lead to a fatal flaw of the main characters (Favila 31). For example, every mentioned emotional state is present in the play Othello to a certain extent; nevertheless, jealousy totally dominates all of them. Furthermore, the feeling of jealousy is so strong that it causes irrational behavior and fatal mistakes of Othello and Iago and finally leads to the heroes’ self-destruction.
In Othello, one can easily trace jealousy through the whole lives of the heroes. To exemplify, right from the first lines of the play, the reader becomes acquainted with an envious Roderigo who would like to be with Desdemona even though she is in the relations with Othello: “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe,” (Shakespeare 1.1.91- 92). At the end of the play, Othello also experiences the strong feeling of jealousy since he believes that his beloved Desdemona betrays him with Cassio. For some characters in Othello, jealousy is a part of their human nature while for others it is a result of somebody’s affair and negative impact. For instance, Iago’s enmity to Cassio and Othello is based on the jealousy of Cassio, who was nominated to be a lieutenant, although Iago himself expected to occupy this position: “For ‘Certes,’ says he,/ “I have already chosen my officer.”/ And what was he?/ Forsooth, a great arithmetician,/ One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,” (Shakespeare 1.1.17- 21).
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Iago is the main character of the tragedy, a lieutenant in the service of Othello. By nature, he is a plebeian, who was forced to be subordinated to the Moor, and he extremely dislikes this experience. Iago is unable to witness the serene happiness of Othello and Desdemona and because of that, he conducts a monstrous affair around them, and eventually involves Cassio in this incident. Iago represents himself as a complete opposite to Othello: clever, cunning, jealous, ready for any affair in order to destroy the harmony he sees in Othello’s life. Moreover, he easily manipulates other people in a masterful way, so they do not see his true motives and plans. Iago’s villainy is hidden behind the mask of the honest ensign and, therefore, nobody sees his real intention: “I am an honest man…” (Shakespeare 2.3.245). Eventually, Iago has a negative impact on every character in the play but his deeds are never revealed. The intense hatred that drives all actions and thoughts of Iago is terribly destructive force, and finally, destruction becomes the only thing this man is capable of. He perfectly knows how human psychology works and uses this knowledge to destroy Othello: he spreads rumors about Desdemona because, in such a way, he may reach Othello and cause his irrational behavior. In this regard, one can compare Iago to a chess player who does not understand the strategy to win a game, but who sets up a goal to do that. Iago?s main aim is to put people on a false track and make them suffer from jealousy even if to achieve that he needs to betray his own fellows. According to Coleridge, Iago’s motives for revenge are changeable, and that is why lack rationalization (310).
Love of Desdemona is the highest live value for Othello. She is a perfect woman and a wife who possesses rare qualities, in particular, noble humanity, gentleness and charm, moral purity, and steadfastness. She is a shy and quiet girl: “She is abus’d stolen from me, and corrupted / By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks; / For nature so preposterously to err, / Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense, / Sans witchcraft could not,” (Shakespeare 1.3. 60- 64). Othello is sincere in his feelings and happy to have Desdemona next to him “She loved me for the dangers I had pass?d, / And I loved her that she did pity them,” but their pure love tends to become a powerful tool in Iago’s hands (Shakespeare 1.3.167- 168). Iago clearly understands that the easiest way to destroy Moor is to approach Desdemona, what he actually plans to do.
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Othello admits that in his life he had only a few months when he was not thinking of military duty, and that was the time when he met Desdemona. In addition, Othello mentions that if he did not love her, he would not have agreed to limit his freedom for the entire world’s wealth. “Oh, my soul?s joy!” says Othello to his wife after the battle, and adds that his soul feels so happy that he would like to die at that moment in order not to expose this happiness to an unknown future (Shakespeare 2.1.169). In contrast, Desdemona says that over the years their love will be even stronger: “The heavens forbid / But that our loves and comforts should increase, / Even as our days do grow,” (Shakespeare 2.1.178- 180).
The sequence of scenes is always important to understand the author?s intention, and it is essential that this dialogue precedes the execution of Iago’s sinister plan. Thus, Shakespeare shows that before the intervention of Iago, nothing clouded the happy marriage of Othello and Desdemona. From the very beginning, Iago starts spreading misleading thoughts about Desdemona to Rodrigo; then, he disputes with Cassio to arouse impure desires, talking that Desdemona has some feelings to him. Cassio does not believe in Iago’s words although he admires Desdemona for her modesty, gentleness, and refinement. After being convinced of the infidelity of his wife, Othello remembers about her features with deep sorrow: “Dost thou hears, Iago? / I will be found most cunning in my patience; / But – dost thou hear? – most bloody,” (Shakespeare 4.1.89- 91). Being blinded by anger and fear that Othello?s love can triumph again, Iago exclaims: “O, thou art wise; is certain,” and Othello becomes hatred (Shakespeare 4.1.74).
Othello is so shocked, that his inner world changes in one moment. The manner of his speech becomes different: he starts to use rude vocabulary that is more common to Iago. However, the most difficult for Othello is to hear that the passion for a human of a different race is fragile and unnatural. Here, Shakespeare raises a psychological problem of the personality: a person, who has different from the others’ appearance, easily believes that he or she cannot be truly loved. “Haply, for I am black / And have not those soft parts of conversation / That chamberers have,” – Othello tells himself sadly (Shakespeare 3.3.263- 265). Therefore, Othello is completely confident that any sane woman would not fall in love with a creature as he is. The prejudice of people around Othello awake the most horrible fears: Desdemona cannot really love him and she never did. Thus, Iago’s plan to make Othello doubt succeeded.
Meanwhile, Iago receives Desdemona’s handkerchief from Emilia and is confident in his success: he understands that he can provoke Othello’s jealousy, and a jealous person perceives any little thing as a valid argument. Iago adds a metaphor: “Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons. / Which at the first are scarcely found to distaste, / But with a little act upon the blood / Burn like the mines of sulfur,” (Shakespeare 3.3.326- 329). Finally, Iago also says that nothing in the world will bring Othello his old dream back, because “this Venetian dame is neither to fee, no to hear” his enemies (Rymer 127).
Othello feels torment, which he compares with the torture on the rack, and recites his monologue – farewell to the feathered troops – which is frequently perceived as his farewell to life. Presumably, it is the first time Othello considers committing suicide. He admits that he would have been happy not to know about Desdemona’s betrayal – even if the whole camp tasted her sweet body. After that Othello is ready to forget about all that he has dear in his life – feathered troops, three major wars, ambitions, neighing horses, the call of the pipe, drums, flags, pride, pomp, glory: “Farewell! Othello?s occupation’s gone!” (Shakespeare 3.3.357). It is a farewell to Othello’s life where the love of Desdemona is his highest award; because of Desdemona’s treachery his life becomes meaningless, she destroys his human nature and brings chaos to his soul.
In the second scene of the fourth act, the conversation between Othello and Desdemona takes place. In his speech, Othello uses a set of metaphors to express his disgust in the betrayal of his wife and clarifies the reasons for his suffering. Desdemona, being pure and innocent, does not fully understand the meaning of the speech but comprehends the fury in Othello?s voice. “Why do you speak so faintly? / Are you not well?” (Shakespeare 3.3.282-283). Othello responds in an allegorical way: if the heavens poured rain on his disease and vilification, loaded him into poverty to the very lips, sold into slavery, he still managed to find in the soul, “I should have found in some place of my soul / A drop of patience” (Shakespeare 4.2.52- 53). However, it turned into a fixed figure for watches of contempt to slow it pointed arrow. Othello is so distressed by the wife’s betrayal that he does not seem to be polite talking to Desdemona.
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After long listening to Othello’s speech, Desdemona responds in a question, “I have not deserved this” (Shakespeare 4.1.241) and hears even more terrifying words: “O devil, devil! / If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears, / Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile” (Shakespeare 4.1.244-246). This saying is accompanied by curses, which Desdemona answers in simple, sorrowful, and very sincere words: “By heaven, you do me wrong” (Shakespeare 4.2.81). After Othello has left, Desdemona almost loses consciousness, feels “half asleep” and cannot speak (Shakespeare 4.2.97). Later, this condition is replaced by a flood of tears, prayer, and confession that she loves Othello, but he does not want to listen to her. Desdemona is struggling to understand the reason for Othello’s behavior, and Emilia, a simple woman, instantly guesses that this is jealousy. Thereafter, Desdemona discovered that Iago is the one who slandered her: she becomes so shocked that she just repeats the words “my husband” and starts thinking that Othello simply wants to shift the blame to the other (Hazlitt 261).
In the meantime, Iago pretends to care about Othello and warns him about the jealousy. The following words of Iago became the most famous judgments of jealousy: “Beware of jealousy, sir – /That – a monster with green eyes, / Sneering over their prey. /Humidity stag, indifferent to the changes, /But the miserable one who loves and does not believe, Suspects and worships.” Shakespeare introduces Iago as a slanderer by nature, because Iago lies to everyone. Sometimes, Othello doubts Iago’s honesty: “I think thou dost; / And, for I know thou?rt full of love and honesty,” (Shakespeare 3.3.116- 117).
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Generally, the jealousy of Othello has a changeable face and different shades. For instance, the hatred of Othello to Cassio becomes even stronger when he finds out that Cassio brazenly boasts a victory over Desdemona and even gives her scarf to a courtesan. Thus, Othello’s order to kill Cassio is generated by disgust to the vile traitor as now Cassio seems to him. Simultaneously, Othello?s hatred for Desdemona rises from the understanding of its falsity – the more she denies treason, the more offended Othello becomes. “She’s, like a liar, gone to burning hell: “Twas I that killed her” (Shakespeare 5.2.129- 130), he says. Thinking about Desdemona’s murder, Othello firstly wants to demand justice, but later he becomes so blinded by jealousy that he cannot think reasonably. Neither Emilia’s nor Desdemona’s words on her deathbed do not help Othello to wake up, but on the contrary, they reinforce his indignation.
In Othello’s monologue, uttered at the bedside of the sleeping Desdemona, complex and profound images appear – as if Othello can think rationally again. He speaks to his soul, repeating the words, which give rise to different interpretations. The first lines of the monologue are the following ones: “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,– / Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! – / It is the cause” (Shakespeare 5.2.1- 3). Generally, Othello’s monologue is characterized by a combination of the thought of killing Desdemona and his resistance to this terrible decision – exactly at this moment the reader understands that Othello?s love is still alive.
“Yet she must die, else shell betray more men,” says Otello and immediately a metaphor for blowing out a candle or put out the light appears in his speech. At the same time, Othello thinks that the candle can ignite again if repentance comes: “If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, / I can again thy former light restore, / Should I repent me” (Shakespeare 5.2.7- 10). “When I have plucked the rose, / I cannot give it vital growth again. / It must need to wither: I’ll smell it on the tree” (Shakespeare 5.2.13- 15) – this is the moment when Othello’s love revivals. He kisses sleeping Desdemona and conveys that the balm of her breathing almost persuades him to break his sword of justice. Still, he repeats that he must kill his wife, he is crying, but tears are violent.
The final decision to kill Desdemona Othello makes after a painful deliberation: he convinces himself to accomplish this difficult but fair trial. Othello repeats that Desdemona is going to die, that she is on her deathbed, tells her to confess her sins. After hearing the message that Iago has killed Cassio, Desdemona finally understands the cause of Othello’s jealousy and realizes the horror of the situation. Impulsively, she wants to say that now there is nobody to prove her innocence, but Othello misunderstands her words: he thinks that Iago dedicated in her secret affair betrayed his friend Cassio. Finally, Othello kills his beloved Desdemona. Right before the death of Desdemona, Emilia asks her who did it, and Desdemona replies, “Nobody; I myself. Farewell / Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!” (Shakespeare 5.2.125). In such a way, Desdemona wants to save her husband from the punishment. Moreover, she makes it clear that she forgives Othello for her death. Unfair accusations and insults cause not anger and irritation in Desdemona’s heart, but only bitter tears and compassion for her husband.
In the final monologue, Othello expresses his grief and hatred not only towards Iago but also towards himself. Furthermore, many passions joined in Othello’s jealousy: violation of human dignity, purely physiological aversion to adultery, deep contempt for vice and falsehood, and the main thing – deep sorrow for Desdemona. Othello lost faith in Desdemona and blindly believed the slanderer – such a fatal error he is trying to explain by the character of Iago. In such a way, Othello turns “from a villain into a tragic hero” (WGBH Educational Foundation 12). Concerning Iago, he tends to be extremely cynical not only about Desdemona but also about people in general; nevertheless, everyone perceives his vulgarity and cynicism as the integrity and honesty – none of Shakespeare’s characters gets the epithet “honest” as often as Iago does. Only Desdemona, hearing his dirty judgments about women, half-jokingly calls him “the accuser” and “the shameless babbler”.
Kolin mentions that Shakespeare’s characters are not fully explained, and the reader has to come to the conclusion about the hero by himself, thus, the role of the audience becomes highly essential (91). Additionally, in Shakespeare’s dramas, as in real life, different people view the same person in different ways, and they cannot take all the sayings about a man by his friends or enemies for granted; moreover, the hero perceives himself through the prism of his character.
The judgments of other characters are usually dictated by their own goals and personal attitudes towards the hero, so the most trustworthy replicas are of the secondary characters and an epitaph made in the final scene. Thus, to understand the characters of Shakespeare, one can use the same psychological observations that usually help us to understand people in real life. The perception of the characters and the author’s intention determines the identity of the reader, his/her moral nature, his relation to similar situations, actions, behavior, and emotions of people in the surrounding life.
Being imposed by Iago, Othello suffers from a complex inner feeling and is forced to behave irrationally since Iago provoked jealousy in his heart. On one hand, Othello’s contradiction in logical and emotional thinking can be explained by the noble features of his nature that are distorted by jealousy, but on the other hand, Iago’s language conveys cynicism and meanness of the accuser, covered with a mask of integrity and honesty. Having used the opposition of temporarily changed human nature of Othello and the unchanging nature of Iago, who has never experienced hesitation or remorse, Shakespeare reaches deep psychological generalizations in the play, Othello. Besides, the author shows that the ideals of truth and generosity are real ones although their existence in a Venetian civilization is under mortal threat; moreover, the world of selfish egoists is strong enough to deal with these high ideals. Shakespeare’s tragedy fills the heart of the reader with the hatred for the society that destroys Othello and Desdemona’s love. To conclude, in the play Othello Shakespeare provides a great example of how jealousy can influence the lives of people, and now it is only our choice to follow it or not.
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