Othello is a much respected Shakespearean play for a host of reasons not least because by setting it in a different country he was able to tackle stereotypes which may have offended English audiences of his day. His portrayal of Othello sensationalised black people, making them just as capable as whites of a wide range of characteristics, emotions, flaws and frailties. This was alien to audiences of the time who believed that black people were one dimensional, either good or bad. However, jealousy is arguably the most powerful theme being interweaved throughout the play and crucial in understanding the demise of the noble and respected Othello as well as his relationship with Desdemona and Iago. Jealousy is a state of fear, suspicion, revenge or envy called by a real or imagined threat or challenge; displaying that Othello becomes this character from Iago the manipulative Machiavellian.
As Jealousy is apparent in Othello, the tragedy focuses on the doom of Othello and other major characters as a result of jealousy. Jealousy is portrayed through the major characters of Iago and Othello. It utterly corrupts their lives because it causes Iago to show his true self, which in turn triggers Othello to undergo an absolute conversion that destroys the lives of their friends. It is jealousy that prompts Iago to plot Othello’s downfall; jealousy, too, is the tool that Iago uses to arouse Othello’s passions. Roderigo and Bianca demonstrate jealousy at various times in the play, and Emilia demonstrates that she too knows the emotion well. Only Desdemona and Cassio, the true innocents of the story, seem beyond its clutches. Shakespeare used the theme in other plays, but nowhere else is it portrayed as quite the “green- eyed” monster it is in this play. Since it is an emotion that everyone shares, we watch its destructive influence on the characters with sympathy and horror.
Iago uses three main emotion weapons to destroy and manipulate his enemies they are, reputation, desire and jealously. A good reputation is the most important virtue to the characters of this play, therefore why jealousy stands out. He does everything in his power to destroy others reputation by creating illusions and lies, whilst sharing them with those whom would listen. Iago was trusted by all, that people would continuously ask him for advice; he used this for his own beneficial advantage to manipulate their opinions and thoughts towards others. He first tries to manipulate Rodrigo saying that he will help him get Desdemona to fall desperately in love with him, but instead just takes his money and tells him many lies. The whole reason behind Iago’s devilish schemes, is his jealousy and rage he feels towards Cassio being Othello’s lieutenant (right hand man), and him wanting the role that he plays.
Unfortunately, Iago subtly and subversively stirs Othello’s subconscious, therefore leading to later suspicions. “Iago: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock, the meat it feeds on; (Act 3. Scene 3). Here, he pretends to warn Othello not to be a jealous man, pointing out that jealousy ends up destroying the heart of the man who falls prey to it. But Othello then denies any feelings of jealousy; “And on the proof, there is no more but this, Away at once with love or jealousy! (Act 3 scene 3. 31)”. Here, Othello claims that he won’t be destroyed by jealousy. He reasons that Desdemona “had eyes, and chose him” despite, presumably, the fact that he is black. But, then, Othello lets slip that he may in fact be a bit more jealous and suspicious of his wife than he lets on he says he wants some “proof” of Desdemona’s infidelity.
As Iago has accused Desdemona of having an affair/sexual relationship with Cassio it was thought of a deceitful for a woman to have any sexual contact with a man before they were married. “What not a whore” Othello says this to Desdemona as she pleads her innocence to him, she is meant to be a virgin until her marriage with Othello was granted. As the accusation continues this creates the chaste she disobeyed he father in the first act and in the Jacobean era the chaste also meant you were not allowed to disobey the men of the family. This connotes she is defiant and there could be a possibility that she is a whore due to her not being this stereotypical woman. This would obviously make Othello question his wife, and even question his own mind to whether or not Desdemona has had any sexual relationship with Cassio. Iago takes this to his advantage Othello’s jealousy literally drives him mad and anger and hate replaces his wisdom and judgment. As he has fearful conversations about Desdemona with Iago he begins to diminish and starts to insult his wife by calling her a “Excellent Wretch” he’s using an oxymoron where he is calling her both good and evil, so two different contrasts.
The handkerchief being the reason why Othello believes that she has deceived him was the plan that Iago had intended to do. Being a Machiavellian his intentions are wrong in order to save himself, to make his like benefit whilst the others suffer. Iago realizes that real proof of Desdemona’s supposed infidelity is not necessary because mere suspicion is enough to feed Othello’s jealousy. In the case of Othello, Iago used the handkerchief Othello gave Desdemona in order to convince Othello that Desdemona’s been cheating. But when Desdemona dropped her handkerchief Emilia picked it up and gave it to Iago and therefore dropped it to let Cassio find it for himself. This shows Iago’s jealousy towards Cassio as once Othello sees it in another man’s possession, he’ll think he has solid proof that Desdemona is unfaithful and take away Cassio’s role of lieutenant and appoint Iago as his right hand man. When Iago says the handkerchief will be “as proofs of holy writ” to Othello, he means that Othello will see the handkerchief as the holy truth that Desdemona’s a cheater.
Iago deployed Othello to a point in which Othello’s language diminishes from blank verse; a very posh way of speaking to prose in which is the way poor people speak. “Honest, Ay Honest” Othello has lowered himself down as Iago has turned him into a jealous rage. Unfortunately this then leads to the point in the play where Othello has gathered a plan to murder his wife. He maybe a jealous rage at that point in time, but because he is in love he says he will not damage her purity and will suffocate her instead of shedding her blood.
As Othello bewilders thoughts even more after killing his wife he realizes the truth and is furious that he ends up taking his own life. This denotes that jealousy is a killer. Jealousy is like a pack of dominoes, as one falls the others follow, and it spreads until the trauma comes to and end where there is nobody left to hit. The dramatic irony is that the most jealous indignation is expressed over offenses that did not happen: Othello jealous about his wife; Bianca jealous about Cassio; Iago formerly jealous about Emilia. Each character attempts to cope as an individual, but they all are eventually poisoned by jealousy and they suffered the consequences.
Aristotle comments on a tragic hero, a tragic hero who is not eminently good or just, yet whose misfortune is bought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He says “This change of fortune should not be from bad”. The hero’s form/flaw is what will bring him success but death by the end of it. I believe that this links with Othello as I believe that Othello is a tragic hero. He comes across as the hero at the beginning of the play, but what does he really doing throughout that makes him a hero? He lowers his self-esteem, he degrades himself and has no success in what he did to Desdemona as it was all lies, and then kills himself. Hero’s die for a reason for helping other people, all Othello did was hurt the people closest to him and leave them down whilst making them pic up all the pieces. That is why he is a tragic hero as he did no good in the play.