Othello is a victim who runs ahead of his tempter
Othello is a powerful and thought-provoking play because it demands its audience to contemplate the very nature of humanity. The concept of mankind's inherent evil is explored primarily through the character of Othello. The audience is often left confused as to whether Othello's downfall can be blamed on his character or rather the inescapable evil of man. Of course, in Othello, Iago acts as a catalyst for the disastrous chain of events and can hence be credited with initiating Othello's change in nature.
The main theme of Othello is that of mankind’s intrinsic evil. Shakespeare explores the idea that, despite outside influences, within all people lie unavoidable jealousy, mistrust and cruelty. Shakespeare considers this idea largely through Othello, who is originally characterized as loyal, loving and kind. This is demonstrated by the respect he commands in the presence of the Duke and senators and also be the obvious love Desdemona holds for him, refusing, even upon his threatening her with death, to renounce her love. Shakespeare however provides two explanations for Othello’s transformation. The first being is that he is simply overly influenced by Iago’s evil, and the second being that all of mankind possess an inner immorality which cannot be held at bay, and to which Othello unfortunately succumbs. This innate element of humanity is defined throughout the play as a “monster”. Iago describes people as “not ever jealous for the cause. But jealous for they are jealous: ‘tis a monster. Begot upon itself, born on itself”. This use of metaphor highlights the horrific nature of this emotion that, like a monster, can completely consume its maker. Othello accuses Iago of acting “as of there were some monster in his thought. Too hideous to be shown”. This is ironic because Shakespeare is in fact using a premonition, in that he is also referring to the uncontrollable jealousy, or “monstrous thought”, within Othello, although it only later emerges. Othello’s response to Iago’s accusations of Desdemona as adulterous is “O monstrous, monstrous”. Axel Kruse, an academic who writes on Othello, claims this repetition of the word “monster” throughout the play is because of Shakespeare’s understanding of the need for obviousness and repetition of the main themes. However, the repetition of this powerful word also reinforces the concept of this so-called “monster” actually referring to humanity itself. The word “monster” encompasses all the flaws of man: cruelty, jealousy, suspicion and irrationality. Repetition is therefore a clever technique used to reinforce the idea of humanity’s inherent evil, constantly comparing it to an unrestrained monster. Othello’s death is also a tragic moment, where the hero of the narrative is reduced to one who “foams at mouth and… breaks out to savage madness”. His ending forces the audience to consider whether this state of chaos and “irrational passion” (according to Axel Kruse) is in fact representative of the final illness of humanity itself. This concept of mankind’s intrinsic sin suggests that Othello is merely a victim of something greater and more powerful than himself, an evil that can be found in all people and is not just particular to Othello.
Shakespeare also portrays Othello as weak in character, in that he succumbs to his doubts, acts irrationally and has a strong capacity for violence. By allowing the tragic hero to have quite obvious flaws, Shakespeare is demonstrating Othello’s ability to run ahead of his tempter because of his own hubris, rather than purely being a victim of humanity’s inescapable evil. This is evident in the play when Othello, referring to Iago’s accusations of Desdemona’s betrayal, says, “I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove”, followed shortly by Othello stating, in the same scene, “’Tis destiny unshunnable, like death”. Here, Shakespeare uses contradiction to enforce Othello’s rapid ability to...
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