Topics: Othello, Jealousy, Iago Pages: 16 (5198 words) Published: January 27, 2013

D. R. Godfrey
[Godfrey examines the portrayal of jealousy in Othello, determining that it is the cause of evil in the play. The critic exposes the jealousy presented by several characters: Othello, Roderigo, Bianca, and Iago. He compares their irrational behavior to that of Leontes, the jealous husband of Hermoine in The Winter's Tale, and asserts that each displays a form of sexual jealousy. Iago, however, exhibits "an all-encompassing jealousy directed not only against sexual love but against love itself in all its manifestations." As a result, envious hatred takes possession of his soul, motivates his actions, and turns him into "the most completely villainous character in all literature."]

To proclaim Shakespeare's Othello as a tragedy of jealousy is but to echo the opinion of every critic who ever wrote about it. The jealousy not only of Othello, but of such lesser figures as Roderigo and even Bianca is surely self-evident enough to be taken for granted. And yet, though the jealousy of Othello in particular is invariably mentioned and assumed, it cannot be said that any over-riding importance has on the whole been attributed to it. While Othello may deliver judgement on himself as one,

… not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplex'd in the extreme;
[V. ii. 345-46]

critical opinion has hardly gone beyond admitting that jealousy itself has been a contributing factor, of far less importance, for example, than the diabolical "evidence" manufactured by Iago. Until we are left with the conclusion, or at least implication, that had Othello not been jealous, the tragedy would still have occurred. This taking for granted or even belittling of the factor of jealousy in Othello, is the more surprising in that Shakespeare through Iago and Emilia has taken pains to identify for our benefit the special nature of jealousy, and to call particular attention to the element of irrationality that accompanies it. Jealousy, warns Iago, in order to awaken it in Othello,

… is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
That meat it feeds on.
[III. iii. 166-67]

And the same essence of irrationality is later confirmed by Emilia when, in response to Desdemona's pathetically rational "Alas the day! I never gave him cause" [III. iv. 158], she bluntly retorts:

But jealous souls will not be answer'd so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous: 'tis a monster,
Begot upon itself, born on itself.
[III. iv. 159-62]

The coincidence of view is remarkable, and presumably intentional, and clearly reflects more than the individual judgement of Emilia or Iago. Moreover the truth of the judgement is demonstrated again and again throughout the play wherever jealousy is manifest. The jealous person, whether Othello, Roderigo, Bianca or, as we shall attempt to show, Iago himself, is revealed as one who, from the moment that jealousy strikes, divorces himself or herself from rationality. Jealousy, once awakened, becomes self-perpetuating, seff-intensifying, and where no justifying evidence for it exists, the jealous person under the impulse of an extraordinary perversity will continue to manufacture it, inventing causes, converting airy trifles into "confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ," [III. iii. 323-24]. Any attempt, in other words, to interpret jealousy rationally, to look for logic in the mental processes of a jealous person, will be unavailing. For we will be dealing invariably and in at least some measure with a monster, a form of possession, an insanity. (pp. 207-08)

[In his Shakespearean Tragedy, A. C. Bradley argues] that until Iago leaves him alone to the insinuating thoughts he has planted in him [III. iii. 257] Othello is not jealous at all. However, Othello's immediately ensuing soliloquy clearly indicates how deeply his faith in Desdemona has already been undermined, and though at the sight of her he rallies,

If she be false, O, then heaven mocks...
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