Jealousy in Othello by Shakespeare

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From the several significant issues with which Shakespeare asks his audience to wrestle in this play, select the two you find to be the most rewarding and discuss the mind stretching he gives to each issue.

Jealousy, one of the predominant feelings in Othello, dominates the characters of Iago and Othello. Iago feels jealousy towards and hates Othello; Othello feels jealousy and distrust towards Desdemona. Iago’s jealousy is revealed in the very beginning of the play, whereas Othello’s jealousy is slowly unveiled throughout the play.

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Iago’s jealousy overtakes him so that he seems to not even need evidence for this rumored unfaithfulness before seeking revenge on Othello. In attempts to punish Othello, Iago uses jealousy as a weapon, “practicing upon his peace and quiet / Even to madness”. By making Othello feel the torments of jealousy towards Desdemona and her supposed lover, Iago causes Othello to suffer as much as he does. Jealousy is a pervading plague in our world today; we see jealousy corrupting families, societies, and governments, similar to the way it corrupted each of these in Othello.

Another issue Shakespeare creates in the play is that of identity, specifically Othello’s identity as either a military hero or a lover. From some of the very early moments in the play, Shakespeare makes it clear that Othello’s career affects his marriage. Desdemona accompanies her husband to Cyprus and continually sits by his side whether in the midst of business or military conflict. Othello establishes his success as a lover on his success as a military soldier and leader, all the while impressing Desdemona with multiple stories of battles and travels. As the play progresses, Othello clings to his identity as a soldier while his identity as lover fall to pieces. In fact, Othello confuses both identities with one another. His seemingly broken marriage turns into the following:

Farewell the plum’d troops and the big wars

That make ambition virtue! O, farewell,

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,

The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear piercing fife,

The royal banner, and all quality,

Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”

Throughout Othello’s inner turmoil (as shown in the quotation above), Shakespeare poses the question if one’s occupation or love is the essence of their identity. It’s obvious at this point in the play that Othello is convinced his military career is his identity. He depends on this identity as a soldier to appear strong in the public’s eye and persuade them to forget his disastrous marriage.

It’s interesting that Shakespeare creates the idea of there being no happy fate for women in the play: first, the innocent death of Desdemona and next, the innocent death of Emelia— both murders committed by the hand of their husbands. The role of Emelia is a complicated one: she (perhaps naively) aids Iago in the destruction of Othello’s marriage and then bears witness to the truth that had occured. Her commitment to speaking the truth ultimately costs her life.

In the beginning of the play, Iago claims that he is angry at Othello for not selecting him for the position of lieutenant. And from there, the assumptions and jealousy only increase. A few scenes later, Iago claims that Othello may have possibly slept with his wife, Emilia. He says: “it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets / He has done my office”. Iago reinforces this anger with saying that he desires Desdemona in order to get even with his competitor, Othello: “wife for wife” he explains. However, none of these assumptions Iago makes seem to be enough to motivate his terrifying actions. He is willing to seek vengeance on anyone that, whether it be Othello, Desdemona, Roderigo, Cassio, or even his own wife, Emilia.

By developing a schism between Desdemona and her father, Shakespeare creates the expectation that Desdemona will be a bold and authoritative character throughout the play. This expectation of Desdemona’s character puts the audience in an anxious position when she suddenly appears as a submissive character, taking responsibility for her own murder.

Should Shakespeare have concluded this play without Desdemona dying?We all love a classic “happily-ever-after” story— but simply put, this is not Shakespeare’s style. Quite frankly, if Desdemona hadn’t died, one might question if Shakespeare actually wrote this play. 

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