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Othello Essay

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William Shakespeare’s Othello is essentially a play about human passions, which, when unleashed, can be blind and destructive. Iago can be considered the most important character in the text, as it is him who manages to manipulate all the characters in the play by making use of their own weaknesses, so as to make them serve his own purpose of revenge. Iago’s motivations are multiple. He repeatedly states his hate for “the Moor”, and sets to destroy him and the other characters in the play.

To achieve this, Iago makes use of the passions that he intuitively perceives as very prominent in the other characters: he uses Othello’s love for Desdemona and manages to drive him to believe she is unfaithful, he uses Desdemona’s generosity to determine her to speak to Othello in behalf of Cassio and so on. Thus, love and hate are the main human passions, but, from both of these, a third passion is often born: jealousy. Iago triggers Othello’s jealousy, and as he does so, he is motivated by his own jealousy. In Othello, Shakespeare shows how jealousy drives men to acts normally unconscionable.

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Jealousy motivates Iago to lie, cheat and steal his way to the chief lieutenant’s position. Without jealousy, men would be content in their environments and no conniving would occur. Jealousy is the strongest and the most powerful emotion in man. The most important feature of Iago is his permanent dissembling and his distortion of reality. This is the tool that he uses to deceive the others and to make them comply to his plan. Iago’s permanent dissembling is very important for understanding the motivations behind his acts.

Even from the first scene of Act I, Iago declares that he acts so as to reach his own goals, and he is not devoted to any other person or sentiment than to himself. Thus, as Iago emphasizes, he only dissembles that he “follows” Othello as a servant, but in fact, only follows himself and is only faithful to his own motivations: “Others there are/ Who, trimm’d in forms and visages of duty,/ Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,/ And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,/Do well thrive by them and when they have lined/ their coats/ Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;/And such a one do I profess myself.

For, sir,/ It is as sure as you are Roderigo,/Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:/In following him, I follow but myself;” (I. i. 49-59) Iago is motivated by his own designs and plans to destroy the Moor. Whatever the motivations that lie behind his hate for Othello, Iago makes it clear that he is only faithful to himself, and disregards any other feelings or principles that might stand in the way. At first sight, his almost diabolic plans seem to make of Iago a very cold and calculated character, since he manages to dissemble everything and to deceive everyone, while hiding his true nature and motivations.

Iago is indeed Machiavellic in pursuing his purposes, and he states this himself, when he says that he will wear his heart upon his sleeve- a phrase that has a double meaning: firstly, he implies that he will play the others as he pleases, always taking the advantages as in a game of cards, and then that he will do this without any feeling or “heart”: “But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/ For daws to peck at: I am not what I am. ”(I. i. 65-66)

However, as it shall be seen, Iago can not be considered as a mere cold blooded and Machiavellic character that acts only to reach his own abstract goals. Although his first motivation is to serve his own purposes and ensure his own comfort and pleasure, Shakespeare actually lets the reader see that Iago is motivated by his own passions, and most of all by jealousy, in his actions. The first hint in the play that corroborates this assumption is the fact that Iago’s manipulation of the other characters seems to spring from his own knowledge of the passions that impulse them.

Iago’s is jealous of everyone else, and thus knows this feeling better that everyone and is able to use his knowledge to drive Othello to mad jealousy. He manipulates all the other characters as well, by using their own passions and a subtle distortion of truth: he uses Desdemona’s good heart to make her plead for Cassio in front of Othello, and thus drives her to perdition through her own actions, then he uses Cassio’s admiration for Desdemona and his desire to get his position back as a lieutenant to make him ask Desdemona for help, and so on.

Even to achieve smaller purposes he always makes sure that the other characters are driven by some passion, so as to play them as he likes (as when he calls Barbantio, Desdemona’s father, and makes Roderigo tell him about his daughter’s corruption by Othello, and thus drives him into a rage). As such, Iago is a true Janus figure, a double faced character who dissimulates his own jealousy and passions to manipulate the other’s feelings: “Iago is like Janus, the two-faced god by whom he swears (“By Janus, I think no” [1. 2. 32]), in that he speaks with a double tongue.

He alters his version of the truth to suit the occasion. To Roderigo he presents a Desdemona who is sexually susceptible, while to Cassio he offers a jaundiced view of “good name” — no longer the “jewel” of the soul that he praises to Othello (3. 3. 156) — when he asserts that “reputation” is an “idle and most false imposition” (2. 3. 267-68). Although Iago does tell a few direct lies, such as the presumably fabricated “dream” of Cassio, his speciality is more often “false interpretations of factual data” or the manipulation of empirical data to his advantage. ”(Hall, 73)

Some of Iago’s main motivations for his plans can be plainly read in his own statements and soliloquies in the text. Thus, the first motivation that comes into sight even at the beginning of the play is his jealousy of Cassio’s promotion as Othello’s lieutenant. Iago’s rancor drives him to call Cassio an incompetent lieutenant and to state that the place should have been his. He thus evinces the first sign of his over powering jealousy- he desires another man’s position and cannot stand to feel left aside: “As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practice/ Is all his soldiership.

But he, sir, had the election/ And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof/ At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds/ Christian and heathen must be be-lee’d and calm’d/ By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,/ He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,/ And I–God bless the mark! –his Moorship’s ancient. ”(I. i. 25-32) The second important motivation to determine Iago’s actions is again jealously. This time, it is jealousy of Othello, as he thinks that the latter has engaged in an adulterous relationship with his own wife, Emilia.

The statement appears twice in the play, and Iago emphasizes that his revenge will be the “wife for wife”, that is, he will make Othello pay with Desdemona wife for taking his own wife Emilia: “I hate the Moor, / And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets / [He’s] done my office. ” (I. iii. 386-88) I do suspect the lusty Moor/ Hath leap’d into my seat; the thought whereof /Doth (like a poisonous mineral) gnaw my inwards; /And nothing can or shall content my soul /Till I am evened with him, wife for wife. ” (II. i. 295-99)

The jealousy that Iago feels in both cases, for Cassio’s promotion over him and for Othello’s affair with Desdemona is unfounded as such. Emilia herself declines later in the play having had any kind of adventure with Othello. Therefore, it becomes obvious that these reasons that Iago takes up to pursue his revenge are more or less fabricated. He is indeed jealous both of Cassio and Othello, but his jealousy springs from an even deeper fountain than what that to which he admits: he is in fact eaten by envy for all the other character that is more successful than him or has more advantages than he does.

Iago’s main motivation for his actions arises from an almost chronic jealousy of everyone and everything that main constitute a threat to his own ego: “Audiences accept the sincerity of his explosive “I hate the Moor” (1. 3. 377), his resentment at being passed over for promotion to lieutenant despite his being senior to Cassio (1. 1. 32-33), and his fear of being cuckolded (1. 3. , 378-79; 2. 1. 307).

At the same time, they probably intuit other motives that drive his campaign of hatred: an underlying racial animosity toward Othello and bitterness at “class privilege,” a pervasive envy of anyone who is more successful than he is, and a need to assert himself through exercising power over the people who threaten his ego. ”(Hall, 74) The love for his own self and his egocentrism are recurrent elements in Iago’s speech. This does not mean merely that he tries to preserve himself from harm and injury or that he always pursues his interests and ambitions. As already seen, Iago is indeed a character that always seeks his own interest.

This can be easily inferred from the fact that he seems to act, as he himself states, to protect what is of his own right: his wife, and the position of lieutenant that, as he implies, should be rightfully his. However, Iago acts out of jealousy and a desire to possess everything that others possess, and not to protect his property. His idea is that the love for oneself should always come first, and annihilate any other principles, and this is one of the crucial reasons for his villainous actions: “[…] and since I could distinguish/ betwixt a benefit and an injury, I never found man/ that knew how to love himself.

Ere I would say, I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, /I would change my humanity with a baboon. ” Since Iago’s love for himself drives him to jealousy of everyone else, he has no moral principles of his own. He mocks at love, virtue and honesty, reputation, and believes that the only true motivation for action should be that of pursuing one’s strict interests. In his conversation with Cassio, Iago advocates that reputation does not count for anything, and that a bodily injury would have been much more serious a wound: As I am an honest man, I thought you had received/ some bodily wound; there is more sense in that that/ in reputation.

Reputation is an idle and most false/ imposition: oft got without merit, and lost without/ deserving: you have lost no reputation at all,/ unless you repute yourself such a loser. (II. iii. 270-275) Not only does Iago despise any moral principle or value, but he is jealous of them when he sees that the others have them. Another motivation for his actions is thus the jealousy that he feels at the beauty he sees in the others’ lives. This is his case against Cassio who has a “daily beauty in his life” that makes Iago “ugly”: [… ] if Cassio do remain,/ He hath a daily beauty in his life/ That makes me ugly; and, besides, the Moor May unfold me to him; there stand I in much peril:/ No, he must die. But so: I hear him coming. (V. i. 18-22) Thus, most of Iago’s motivations are determined by jealousy and envy. His jealousy is not limited to Othello’s taking of his wife or to Cassio’s taking of his position as a lieutenant, as he would have us believe. He is jealous of all the things or persons that are good or beautiful. As such, Iago has been many times seen as the personification of evil.

He is almost a devil, who tempts the passions and weaknesses of other people, a true artist of evil. As Joan Lord Hall affirms, Iago seems at time to act as the principle of pure evil that does not need motives: “Whereas the original Vice sporting his “self-proclaimed, ebullient villainy” does not need motives, Iago is not wholly convincing when he provides them. ”(Hall, 78) Iago himself, after having devised his diabolic plan, proclaims himself the author of the evil that shall follow: “ I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night/ Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. ” (I. iii. 424-425)

Although it is clear that Iago is evil, it is still obvious that he has his reasons for being evil, and that these are almost pathologic. He hates everyone else and is jealous of everything, and these are the main things that make him be evil. As Hall observes, Iago is indeed a passionate character, and he is animated by a pathological form of jealousy: “His intrigues thus serve to shore up the terrible emptiness of his “inner abyss. ” The actor of Iago, though, may prefer to portray him as a smoldering volcano of aggression and pathological jealousy rather than as an emotionally dead human being. (Hall, 79)

Thus, Iago denigrates both love and virtue in his conversation with Roderigo, trying to persuade him that Desdemona could be his in spite of her seeming love for Othello and of Othello’s love for her. Love is but a “sect or scion”, something that arises in the senses and that can be controlled with the help of the will. This crude and naturalistic definition of love that Iago gives, is certainly rooted into his own jealousy at not being able to partake of this feeling or of any other: but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal/ stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that/ you call love to be a sect or scion. (I. iii. 354-356) Iago cannot feel anything else except his own jealousy. This is why he imitates the feelings of Othello, and states that one of his reasons for his acts is his own lust for Desdemona. The position is however obviously false, as he only feels jealous of Othello and Desdemona’ love: Now, I do love her too;/ Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure/ I stand accountant for as great a sin,

But partly led to diet my revenge,/ For that I do suspect the lusty Moor/ Hath leap’d into my seat; the thought whereof/ Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards;” ( II. i. 312- 319) As Hall proposes, the ultimate reasons for Iago’s behavior can be rooted in his acute jealousy, which obviously is almost paranoid. He does not feel jealousy for his wife as such, but for every man that might be happy with a woman: “If we find in Iago’s soliloquies interior development rather than casual motive-hunting, then the character is suffering from acute jealousy and sexual paranoia.

He appears to distrust his wife intensely. Resentful of Cassio’s attentions to Emilia at the harbor, he later wonders if Cassio has usurped his “nightcap” (his place in bed). In his very first soliloquy, he broods on the rumor that Emilia has slept with Othello. ”(Hall, 79) The most interesting part in the play for this point is Iago’s conversation with Othello, and his “advice” to the latter against jealousy. Thus, Iago induces Othello’s jealousy by denigrating jealousy in front of him in such a way that it becomes obvious that he speaks from personal experience, and that he knows the feeling all too well.

Thus, Iago appears as a character who acts out of extreme jealousy, while he manages to target the jealousy of Othello and make him be the one that actually performs the evil: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/ It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss/ Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;/ But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er/ Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves! ” (III. iii. 188-193) Iago’s ultimate silence at the end of the play helps the conclusion.

He has been trying to manipulate everyone through his speech and lying and to reach his goals, but at the end he is silenced by Desdemona’s last speech of love. His jealousy is thus smothered by the power of true love: “Thus defeated a second time, what further silence can Iago seek to impose, except upon himself? His characteristic movement, from awareness of inadequacy to anger to denial, here reaches its logical conclusion, in a denial so complete that it blocks access even to a language formed from pain or anger. ”(Zender, 328)

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