A Crucial Power of Jealousy in Othello

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A Crucial Power Of Jealousy in Othello

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Jealousy, without a doubt, is the most powerful human emotion. Looking at the world in its entirety, it is easy to observe that people are destroyed because of what they think they know as much as the truth behind certain actions. In Othello, a play by William Shakespeare, the envious ambiance runs rampant. The proclaimed “Green-Eyed Monster” tightens his grips around the minor and major characters alike. Roderigo, Iago, and, most of all, Othello, all suffer from the plague of jealousy.

Othello begins with Roderigo and Iago confronting Desdemona’s father in the middle of the night. Barbantio is a prominent white male in the play and is extremely distraught that his daughter would marry a sloppy black general. Once Desdemona convinces her father her love for her new husband is true, Barbantio foreshadows the unfaithfulness that will appear later in the play: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee” (Shakespeare 1.3.292). As Jennifer Putnam says in her essay “Jealousy in Othello,” Iago is a professional at telling people what they want to hear to have them react the way he wants them to (Putnam 1). He knows how to avoid direct confrontations with others and carefully maneuver his way out of slimy situations with words. Desdemona’s marriage to the undesirable Othello triggers Barbantio’s jealousy; however, Iago’s manipulation of words add fuel to the fire. In truth, there was no real reason for Barbantio to be jealous or angry of his daughter’s marriage, but Iago pointed out why he should be. The irony in this plot development is the jealousy Iago transfers to Barbantio and Roderigo comes back to hurt him later in the story.

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Iago, Roderigo, and Othello are all characters with different personalities and approaches to problems. One thing they all share in common, however, is the jealousy that all three develop during the course of the play. This development in character is what leads to the path each individual goes down. Iago is the first character to truly express his jealousy. He complains to Roderigo about not receiving his desired promotion to lieutenant. Roderigo sympathizes with Iago since he feels his own pains of jealousy from Othello stealing the girl of his dreams. This combination of hatred and jealousy toward Othello, clearly the source of all the pain, leads Roderigo to team up with Iago in order to sabotage Othello.

The first scene of the play does not end with the development of Barbantio’s anger. That same night, for the same reason, Roderigo begins to present his jealousy. Roderigo once asked for Desdemona’s hand in marriage only to be turned down. Roderigo is devastated. Roderigo feels cheated when he finds out that Othello will be Desdemona’s husband instead of him. His jealousy is aggravated when Iago attempts to explain that Desdemona’s and Othello’s love for each other is not real: “. “Mark me with what violence she first loved the Moor but for bragging and telling her fantastical lies. To love him still for prating? Let not thy discreet heart think it. Her eye must be fed” (Shakespeare 2.1.230). “When Chaos Is Come Again” by Marcia Macaulay may explain the way Iago manipulates characters feelings the best. The article describes, “[Iago] commences with an imperative, follows with a question in which he answers himself, and ends with a bold assertion” (Macaulay 3). Roderigo leaves his life behind. The power of jealousy clouds his mind; he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the girl he believes he deserves. Roderigo will sell everything he has in Italy and give up his life for the futile pursuit of Desdemona.

The plans Iago has to ruin the Moor and Cassio are clearly triggered by his spite of not receiving the promotion he desired combined with the thought the general has slept with his wife. After Iago finds another individual with the same burning passion to get back at Othello, he immediately starts to establish a dangerous plan to ruin the people who have bestowed this jealousy upon him – Othello and Cassio. The lack of a promotion was the first cause of Iago’s jealousy. The fact an inexperienced general got the position instead of him drug Cassio into harms way. Iago complains, “And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damn’s in a fair wife; That never set a squadron in the field…And I – God bless the mark! – his Moorship’s ancient” (Shakespeare 1.1.20). It is clear Iago is clearly jealous of the promotion of Cassio and the fact he himself remains a simple worker for the Moor. Iago complains to Roderigo to further ignite the jealousy in him. Iago’s evil plans and deceitful nature begins to take form in the early stages of the play, and it will continue in the scenes to come.

Iago reveals the second part of his jealousy in act two – this time toward Othello. Iago suspects that his wife and the Moor have slept together, and the only way to get back at Othello is to sabotage Othello’s marriage: “For I do suspect the lust 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 even’d with him, wife for wife” (Shakespeare 2.1.55). All of this hatred and envy is based on what Iago thinks he knows; however, there isn’t enough evidence to prove him correct. This makes his Iago’s motives are clearly spawned by his jealousy of Othello, and Shakespeare makes it apparent Iago’s jealousy guides his thinking and actions through the remainder of the play.

Hiding her envious thoughts a little better than any of the other characters of the story, Bianca, a prostitute, finally explodes at the thought of her love, Cassio, seeing somebody else. Bianca finally confronts Cassio about the handkerchief that he asked her to copy. She “knows” that the handkerchief is from another woman and refuses to copy the pattern. The plague of jealousy seems to reach every character in the play. The story itself is based on jealousy, and it is that fatal emotion that brings down Othello himself.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Iago’s plan to ruin Othello is warning him of the state of mind that would later destroy him: “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” (Shakespeare 3.3.165). Iago hopes that Othello may deny any envious feelings in the future. This is when Iago will begin to plant the seeds of doubt into the mind of Othello. He begs Othello not think about his wife sleeping with Cassio, which of course, as Karl Zender concludes, only causes Othello to think of it more constantly (Putnam 45). Easily persuaded by Iago, since he seems to be the only one that actually cares, Othello will re-think everything his new wife does. Every little thing that she says will sound like proof that she is being unfaithful. As Putnam points out, Othello never actually goes and asks his wife and/or Cassio of their affair. He only listens to what Iago says and the premeditated evidence that is presented to him, such as Desdemona’s handkerchief found in Cassio’s bed chamber (46). Othello is obsessed with jealousy and now will only trust Iago since he is the one “helping him.”

Othello is completely overwhelmed with jealousy that he believes the only other way to rid the world and himself of the injustice is to kill Desdemona himself. He is tricked into believing that Desdemona has been unfaithful, and like the characters before him, he acts on what he “knows.” He is certain she has been sleeping with Cassio and takes his anger out on her. Ironically, Othello mentions that he is not a jealous person. In reality, he is the ultimate reason for Desdemona’s death and his own – he could not see past the deceptions Iago sent his way. He announces to the world, “Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak of the one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous, but being wrought perplex’d in the extreme” (Shakespeare 5.2.345). The tragedy at the end of the play was based on what Othello thought he knew.

The play itself revolved around the theme of jealousy. Each character’s problems toward each other lead them down there separate roads in order to get even with the opponent. Roderigo wants to get back at Cassio and Desdemona, Roderigo at Othello, and Iago at Othello and Cassio. In each case, the jealousy that triggers this reaction is not entirely based on fact. They all assume they know best, and take their actions based on this assumption. The tragedy speaks the warning, “beware of jealousy.” The play ends when the truth comes out and the mess cannot be undone.

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