Passion and Reason in Othello

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Since ancient times, philosophers have considered the dilemma of balancing reason and passion. Myths like the fall of Icarus tell of the calamities that occur when one takes precedence over the other— in this example, when passion supersedes reason. In his play Othello, Shakespeare illustrates this same predicament in an altogether different fashion. Three characters—Roderigo, Othello, and Iago—let passion override reason, with disastrous results. Roderigo’s infatuation with Desdemona prevails over his common sense. At the onset of the play, Roderigo is a wealthy young Venetian who had previously failed to woo Desdemona. When he learns of her marriage to Othello, Roderigo is heartbroken, and he irrationally threatens to “incontinently drown [himself] (I.iii.305)”. Taking advantage of this weakened state, Iago, under the premise of assisting in the wooing of Desdemona, extorts larges sums of money from Roderigo and convinces the boy to kill an enemy of his, Cassio. So desperately in love with Desdemona, Roderigo agrees with the plan and is ultimately killed by his benefactor, Iago. Roderigo’s passion for Desdemona had led him to attempted murder, poverty, and death. Both Roderigo and Othello let their love for Desdemona overrule reason. Othello begins the play as a high-ranking general newly married to Desdemona. He speaks simply and eloquently, and is able to quell a conflict with only his words: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. (I.ii.58-9)” His temperament shifts when Iago, his jealous ensign, convinces him that Desdemona is unfaithful, changing his passionate love into fury. He hotly declares his “sweet Desdemon” (III.iii.56) to be a “lewd minx” (III.iii.477), and irrationally accosts his wife with accusations she knows nothing about. His passion blinds him to the fact that Iago had falsely accused her, and his previous eloquence is transformed into savage ramblings. His anger sways him to the decision to murder Desdemona. Subsequently,...
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