“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!/ It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock/The meat it feeds on” (1226). Before this unit, I would not have known that this quote came from one of Shakespeare's plays. I would even not have understood what it meant, nor how it could set the tone for all of the tragic events that would occur to the characters in his play. Although I first read this work in middle school, I feel that I have read a completely new story reading it years later. This time around, the play was about the reasons the characters behaved the way they did, emotions, and sex,
In middle school, the only thing I understood about my constantly-changing emotions was that I didn't understand them. I knew what it was like to impulsively manipulate things to work out for me, but it never came close to the depth and care that Iago took in his master plan. Iago thought far ahead in order for his deceptions to come to pass. He patiently waited for everything to unfold the way that it did. Although his antics irked me the entire play, at the end I could not help but feel something I hadn't expected. The first time, I mindlessly hated him and was prepared to hate him again. However, instead I was able to step back and see how he masterfully put all of the mismatched pieces of the puzzle together. And this time, I felt admiration for his work.
On Thursday, my group tried to focus on the reasoning behind why the characters acted the way they did. For me, it was the first time that I really began to understand Iago and his affect on the other characters. The magic of Iago's persuasiveness lay in his words and reputation. He was commonly referred to as “honest Iago” and never forgets to remind the one he is trying to deceive that he loves them at crucial moments throughout the story (1202, 1225). How can one who hates those he surrounds himself with hold such a reputation among them? Personally, I believe he didn't always hate them. Love and jealousy are some of the most common causes of erratic and impulsive behavior. I believe that Iago did enjoy the others, but he is first and foremost a narcissist and advocate for himself. He wants things to go his way and needs the attention to be upon him. When Othello became happily married and Cassio was promoted, it leaves Iago without the attention he craves. In consequence of this, he feels that he must manipulate the situation in order to get the control back. Now that I have gotten older, I understand how it feels when another is promoted over you, and how it feels when someone is too content in their love life to pay any mind to your friendship. I also understand what it feels like when I believe that a lover prefers the company of another. These experiences cause me to understand Iago more than I had ever before. Iago was a simple case of a man who needed to be alpha male and the only way that was possible was to take out the other characters in the play. However, it is better to be content and not let your mind or emotions control your deeds.
Although Iago is the most interesting and multi-dimensional character, I learned in class that it is important to also question why the other characters never suspected Iago. Although his protagonists are painted as heroic and practically flawless, Shakespeare twisted their lives around in fates that we, as readers, feel that they do not deserve. Throughout the story I wondered if he related more to Othello or Iago. My group-member RJ believed that he related more to othello. Although Othello was honest and passionate, he was manipulated by his trusted and beloved assistant, and it led to his undoing. Shakespeare was surrounded by those in the theatre world. Perhaps he felt that his fate was more controlled by those around him, and that they also pretended to care about him. However, like Othello, they were simultaneously trying to make sure that he wasn't successful in his life. On the other hand, I believe he related more to Iago, who was a mastermind and loved to control things. As a playwright/director, one must love to make things happen that should never occur and change the fates of others. It was his way of controlling the world without the whole messy death and jail time part.
Another thing that I did not understand before now were the allusions to sex. When Iago and Roderigo are outside of Brabantio's house, Iago puts out a vivid picture to Desdemona's father. He explains that “an old black ram/ is tupping your white ewe” and that Desdemona is “making a beast with two backs” (1189-90). This reading is the first time that I have ever laughed throughout one of Shakespeare's plays. Perhaps the next time I read Othello, I will understand the scene with the clown on the musician (1220).
Othello is a story of passion and of emotion so raw that it completely runs the character's lives. Iago was fueled by what he felt to be injustice and jealousy, Desdemona was fueled by love and the need to please her husband, Othello by jealousy so much so that he could not think straight, and Cassio was fueled by his need for reputation and the shame he felt. Had any one of these character ignored what their heart was telling them and instead listened to reason, the story and outcome would have been completely different. However, we are human and emotions twist us and make us who we are. So, although this story is a love story, let's remember it for what it was: a tragedy of too much heart, but not enough thought. A mistake we can all learn from.
Meyer, Michael, ed. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. Print. Shakespeare, William. “Othello” Meyer 1187-1267s. Print.