Jealousy Comes with a Price
Society makes us think of the seven deadly sins in different ways and it has
many opinions on which is the deadliest. In Othello, the sin of envy is the deadliest of
sins. The villain Iago’s envy infects both Roderigo’s small mind and Othello’s great
heart, ultimately destroying the very embodiment of innocence, Desdemona.
Many of the characters in Othello have specific roles to aid the main character.
One who certainly plays the part of a pawn in Iago’s chess game is Roderigo. While the
first act opens to Roderigo arguing with Iago, the audience can see how easy it was for
Iago to change the subject of conversation from Roderigo blaming Iago of cheating him
out of his money, to Iago’s anger at “the Moor” for choosing Cassio as his second in
command, to the idea that Roderigo should tell Barbantio about his daughter
Desdemona and her relationship with Orthello (1.1.1-75).
Iago continues to use Roderigo as a pawn when Iago gets Cassio drunk and tells
Roderigo to go after him (2.1.257-269; 2.3.130-131). Cassio strikes Roderigo and Iago
instructs him to go “cry a mutiny” (2.3.150) to create the chaos that Iago needs to ruin
Othello’s first night with his new spouse Desdemona. After this scene, Roderigo
disappears for most of the play, reappearing at the end of Act 4, Scene 2 to deal with
Iago himself. Once again, Iago takes advantage of this opportunity and turns the
subject of the conversation while accepting and agreeing with the statements Roderigo
makes against him. After he makes these accusations, Iago tells Roderigo about the
message from Venice saying that Cassio will replace Othello as head of the army. This
is when Iago plants the idea of killing Cassio to keep Othello, and therefore keeping
Desdemona, in Cyprus. (4.2.171-241). While Roderigo tries to stand up for himself, his
small mind will not let him follow through with it until the end.
The plot thickens when Iago meets up with Othello in the second scene of the
play. Iago presents himself as Othello’s friend, making sure to be kept in the inner circle.
He “jokingly” mentions to Othello how he lacks the evil-mindedness to kill in cold blood,
even though he has thought about killing Roderigo many times (1.2.1-5). He also
swears by the roman god Janus (1.2.33) when Othello asks him if it is Barbantio,
Roderigo, his officers. Othello, in his good heart has ignored these clues. Iago then put
his plan into action after Othello has dismissed Cassio from his service. He begins his
campaign with the remark that its bizarre for Cassio to be leaving the company of
Othello’s wife in a hurry when he sees Iago and Othello enter the room. He continues by
asking if Cassio knew about Othello’s love for Desdemona when Othello was wooing
her (3.3.93-103), asking Othello to watch how Desdemona interacts with Cassio,
reminding Othello that Desdemona lied to her father to marry him, that she pretended to
be frightened of Othello when really she loved him most, and how all these prove that
she can be deceptive (3.3.194-212).
It is at the end of this scene that Iago truly believes that he has Othello in his
pocket. So he continues on through the scene, picking at everything Desdemona has
done, answering with a rehearsed response when Othello asks him for living proof; “I do
not like the office. But sith I am entered in this cause so far - pricked to’t by foolish
honesty and love - I will go on. I lay with Cassio lately, and being troubled with a raging
tooth I could not sleep. There are kinds of men so loose of soul that in their sleeps will
mutter their affairs: One of this kind is Cassio. In sleep I heard him say: ‘Sweet
Desdemona, let us be wary, let us hide our loves’; And then sir, would he gripe and
wring my hand, cry ‘O, sweet creature!’ and then kiss me hard, as if he plucked up
kissed by the roots that...
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