Othello Essay
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  • 1. Othello Essay The human mind is a fickle thing. Where once we may dismiss an idea or concept as unfeasible or insane, when faced with drastic circumstances we grasp at anything to console ourselves. Be it far from the truth, the human mind will create delusions that are contingent upon their stresses and quiet rational thought. In the case of Othello, by Shakespeare, Iago use the faults of human reasoning to great effect, preying on those ill of mind. Despite the fact that he is considered Othello’s trustworthy servant, this conniving man uses his stature to secure his revenge, shaping every mishap and whim to his own dastardly schemes. Iago thoroughly muddles Othello’s mind, using his jealousy and persecution as the Moor against him; he becomes the puppet master of Rodrigo; and he influences Cassio when the unsuspecting lieutenant is down in the doldrums. Iago plays upon each of the characters faults- jealousy, obsession, and pride- to achieve his means. The mindset of humans is subject to the dilemmas that they are confronted with. One of the first to fall under Iago’s spell is the love-struck Rodrigo. This poor man is devastated by Desdemona’s marriage to the Moor, to the point where he’d even take his own life by stating “It is silliness to live when to live is torment; and then have we a prescription to die when death is our physician” (Act 1, Scene II). And who comes swooping in to secure his festering prey but the vulture Iago. Iago uses Rodrigo’s unhealthy obsession of Desdemona, much akin to a stalker, against him. He tells Rodrigo that he will have Desdemona and to “put money in thy purse” (Act 1, Scene II). Iago also plays upon the Moor’s race and Desdemona’s gender, stating that both the Moor and Desdemona would lose interest in each other when they are satisfied with their lust. Rodrigo, who is already somewhat unstable, grasps upon Iago’s consoling with a passion- his only lifeline against insanity. Thus Iago gains a pawn and also much wealth as he cons Rodrigo into giving him vast amounts of money for Iago’s assistance. Iago yet again uses race and gender to further his plots. At the sea port in Cyprus, Iago confides to Rodrigo that Desdemona is in love with the lieutenant. Although Rodrigo knows this is impossible, seen with his statement “I cannot believe that in her; she's full of most blessed condition” (Act 2, Scene I), his obsession blinds him to the facts. Coupled with her marriage with the Moor seen as corruption and the stereotype of women as whores, this creates a very potent potion indeed. Rodrigo’s obsession with Desdemona is only on par to the man’s stupidity. True, this man has clear insights through his murky mind. He confronts Iago on many occasions, saying that he has no inkling to how he will gain Desdemona’s attention through his recent escapades. However, Iago is always able to convert Rodrigo’s indignation back to his obsession of Desdemona, yet again quelling Rodrigo’s coherent thought and turning him into a mindless automaton. The valiant Moor, Othello, is yet another to fall into Iago’s grasp. Iago uses Othello’s race and bane- jealousy- to achieve his sickening revenge. Othello is essentially an outcast of Venetian society- alienated and discriminated against. This is most visibly seen with everyone’s reference to him as the Moor, not even deigning to call him by name. Yet another example is Othello’s groveling to the council in his affair with Desdemona by stating “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, My very noble and approved good masters” (Act 1, Scene III). This pressure, coupled with Desdemona’s farther warning her of being untrue to her father and thus possibly to her husband, sows
  • 2. the seeds of chaos. Othello has married a white women, frowned upon by society. Othello is insecure because this white woman could be marrying him because of his “exoticness” and may soon grow disinterested. Iago, who has thus far nurtured an honest, loving façade to all of society, first begins to wear away the Moor’s mentality, akin to a wave crashing against the cliffs, by forcing Othello to demoting his lieutenant and thus closing the gap further between lord and servant, a trusted advisor. With no one to turn to and voice his worriers, Othello invariable becomes dependent on Iago, as seen with him saying “These letters give, Iago, to the pilot; And by him do my duties to the senate: That done, I will be walking on the works; Repair there to me” (Act 3, Scene III). This shows that Othello is placing more trust into Iago and basically unofficially making him his lieutenant. But this rise of status, once the focus of his revenge, is not enough, for he wants his retribution paid in full. Iago begins to play on Othello’s fears, insinuating that Desdemona may be untrue, and baiting the Moor to give his fears voice and state them outright. Iago uses this insinuation to let Othello himself think that he made this conclusion instead of Iago playing Othello into his trap. Othello is overly protective of his new wife, feeling that any man might frisk her away. This jealousy is what Iago uses to shatter Othello’s armor. It is even stated outright by Iago to beware the “green-eyed monster” (Act 3, Scene III), which is ironic since Iago is warning Othello of the very thing that he’s using to manipulate Othello. He then yet again uses Desdemona’s gender against her, stating that she is fickle and will turn on him when her lust is sated. Women are not seen in the best of light during these times, in which Shakespeare exemplifies this through the whore, Brianna. With no proof to Desdemona’s adultery, Othello becomes a savage beast torn between him innately knowing that Desdemona is true, and the delusions clouding his mind like an ominous thunderhead. This is shown through him saying “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore, be sure of it; give me the ocular proof: Or by the worth of man's eternal soul, thou hadst been better have been born a dog than answer my waked wrath!” (Act 3, Scene III). Othello is clearly on the brink of insanity, an anguished man to know the “ocular truth” about his wife. Yet again does Iago, the puppet master, use this outburst to his advantage, feigning hurt. He then sets up Cassio to laugh about Brianna the whore having a serious relationship with him, in which Othello misinterprets to be about Desdemona. This seriously delusional man, Othello, creates a fallacy to match his own twisted train of thought. Jealousy has changed this intrepid general into an invidious green-eyed monster. The proud, proud Cassio falls so far from his exalted status as lieutenant, devastating him and leaving him ripe for the pickings of Iago. Cassio falls right into Iago’s ensnarement by becoming intoxicated, in itself demeaning for a man of his stature, but made worse by his antics with Rodrigo. This leaves Othello no choice but to demote him or risk losing face in front of all of Vienna. Although Cassio is good at heart, his Achilles heel is that of his pride, as seen when he says “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Act 2, Scene III). This man puts too much stock into his reputation, literally giving Iago a weapon in which to leverage him. Cassio would do anything to get his status back, and Iago, “honest Iago,” comes to console him and give Cassio hope by telling him to confide in Othello’s mistress to gain his reputation back. This subterfuge between Cassio and Desdemona, which is meant to gain back Othello’s favor, actually creates a rift between them, carefully cultivated by
  • 3. Iago as one may tend their crops. Cassio’s dodging of the Moor while conversing with Desdemona makes Othello very suspicious indeed, and Iago further promotes this by saying “Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, that he would steal away so guilty- like, seeing you coming” (Act 3, Scene III). Although it may seem at first that this dissuades Othello from suspicion, it in fact encourages this as it insinuates darker motives for Cassio. Cassio, the innocent pawn, is again drawn further into Iago’s web when he plants Othello’s handkerchief with Cassio. Cassio has no notion of the looming doom about to encompass all in this play, and his intrinsic role in the happening. Iago uses seemingly miniscule events to create vast and potent works of art. Another example of this is when Iago uses Cassio’s seemingly harmless jokes and laughs about Brianna to incur Othello’s wrath in thinking that Cassio is referring to Desdemona. Cassio, who views Iago in good heart, would not suspect Iago of any treachery and plays the blind jester in this play, not knowing that his every act seals the fate of many. Iago is a multi-faceted person able to shed each façade and go into any role, displaying any emotion, like that of a snake shedding its skin. Iago’s portrayal is so complete that it is even unbeknownst to his wife the true self residing within him. This man has dual personalities, that of a façade of honesty shown to all, hiding a cunning and corrupt monster underneath. What makes Iago so influential in each case between the characters is that he is able to spin a web of lies and deceit while the victim is still reeling from shock or their defenses are slowly worn away. Where once these figures would reject such degradations made by Iago as preposterous, their own misery and doubt leaves them vulnerable to any influence, to which Iago uses to great effect. Yet mere desolation is not the cause of such gullible natures seen in the play. Iago doesn't state these lies outright but instead leaves hints and insinuations that lead the quarry astray and thinking that they themselves came to a horrid conclusion instead of Iago, the masterful chess player, choosing their every move and thought. Yet this man- as with all masterminds- leaves some stones unturned and forsaken that hasten his downfall.