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Othello

By nkalla Oct 20, 2010 1233 Words
Essay examining the role of deception in the play, as seen through the action of the main characters: Othello, Iago, and Desdemona. Othello is, at heart, a play about deception, and the emotional turmoil and mental anguish it can cause. Although Iago aptly demonstrates all that is evil through his malevolent manipulation of others, he is not the only practitioner of deception in the play. Othello himself can also be regarded as a study in deception, albeit of a much more subtle variety than that of the gleefully fiendish Iago; for Othello engages in self-deception – less obvious, but eventually just as destructive. Indeed, the only character above reproach is the guileless Desdemona; enmeshed in a web of steel through the deception of others, she nevertheless continues in her sweetly innocent way, ultimately attaining a heroic stature through her refusal, in sharp juxtaposition to Othello and Iago, to blame others for her suffering. Othello is an outsider in Venetian society. He is a black man among white men, and a soldier among civilians. To the Venetians, he is simply ' the Moor' (I,iii,47), a description that neatly encapsulates his state as a foreigner. The term is indelibly associated with negative racial connotations – Iago describes Othello as ' an old black ram' (I,i,88) and ' the devil' (I,i,91), while Rodrigo calls him ' gross' and 'lascivious' (I,i,126). Othello, while unaware of the slanders of Iago, is only too aware of his precious position in the Venetian power structure. Hence, he creates for himself a new identity, a new sense of self that transcends the one-dimensionality of 'the Moor'. He cannot change his origins – although as he lets Iago know (I,ii,19-24) he is descended from 'men of royal siege' - but he can fill his persona with something uniquely Othello, to lose the negative connotations of 'the Moor' and create for himself a unique identity. He attempts this in his wooing of Desdemona – his new identity is the ' story of (his) life' (I,iii,129) , and it is so intensely moving and personal that Desdemona is entranced. Ironically, there is a sense that Othello feels threatened by Desdemona's enthusiasm: she would 'listen with a greedy ear' to devour (his)discourse'(I,iii,150) , and Othello feels compelled to concoct even more fantastical tales: 'of the cannibals that each other eat, /the Anthropophagi, and men whose heads/ do grow beneath their shoulders' (I,iii,143-145). Othello's attempt to break the shackles of being 'the Moor' has resulted in the construction of an elaborate façade of self-deception; he has constructed a new identity, but one somewhat removed from the flesh-and-bone Othello. This dissonance is evident if we compare his proposed 'round unvarnish'd tale' (I,iii,90) with the elaborate travelogue he finally delivers in lines 128-170. He is insistently self-dramatising, but curiously uncertain of his true worth; and it is this uncertainty that allows Iago to breed the 'green-eyed monster' of jealousy in his mind. Iago is a master of deception. He appears frank and honest to all the other characters and it is only to the audience that he reveals his innermost thoughts. Roderigo knows some of what Iago plans, and supposedly why he plans it; but his knowledge is kept limited by Iago. Iago works through subtle hints and allusions, and exploits his 'honest' reputation ruthlessly. However, even the seemingly cocksure Iago is not immune to the 'monster' of jealousy; indeed, he too is infected by it 'like a poisonous mineral' (II,i,292) . Unlike Othello, however, Iago recognises his infection and the effect it has on himself. He does not delude himself about what he is, or what he plans to achieve. Ultimately, his peculiar brand of evil comes to nothing, his plans destroyed by the unforseen courage of his wife Emilia. His deception turns back on him and he is exposed as the petty man he is. The malevolence is still there, but the grand scale of evil is reduced to the flailing of an embittered human being. On another level, the play deals with the deception of the senses – both of sight and sound. Othello demands from Iago 'ocular proof' (III,iii,366) of his wife's infidelity, but his vision, corrupted by the 'green-ey'd monster' (III,iii,170), is satisfied by mere 'imputation and strong circumstance'(III,iii,412). Iago's trickery in convincing Othello that his conversation with Cassio (followed by the fortuitous arrival of Bianca) in IV, i, 97-157 concerns the seduction of Desdemona, illustrates the extent to which Othello's senses have been deluded and corrupted. Othello eavesdrops over the conversation between Iago and Cassio, but interprets the words to suit the state of his diseased mind: 'Do you triumph, Roman? Do you triumph?' (IV,i,118). He cannot see or hear for himself, and must rely on the false information 'fed' to him. And this occurs shortly after his body has been reduced to the fit (IV,i,43) in which all his senses are confused and jangled. Indeed, his greatest fear has been physically realised: 'perdition catch my soul/But I do love thee, and when I love thee not/Chaos is come again.' (III,iii,91-93) When Emilia vouches steadfastly for her mistress' chastity, the poison in Othello's ears dismisses her evidence as the ignorance of a ' simple bawd' (IV,ii,20). The ultimate deception takes place in the soft, slow death scene of Desdemona. Othello is instinctively drawn towards Desdemona's beauty, but in a perverse self-delusion, comes to see himself as a personification of 'justice' , killing Desdemona 'else she'll betray more men' (V,ii,6). Iago's slanders have poisoned Othello's senses, and the evil of the deception results in the tragedy of Desdemona's death. If Iago is a portrait of evil, then Desdemona must be the definitive embodiment of chaste beauty. She forsakes friends, family and wealth in Venice to spend her life with the man to whom she 'consecrated' her 'soul and fortunes'(I,iii,254) . She loves Othello with all her mind, body and soul. Despite Othello's fears, she loves him, not an exotic image of the 'extravagant and wheeling stranger of here and everywhere' because she claims that she 'saw Othello's visage in his mind' (I,iii,252) . She is innocent, and completely without sophistication, and ultimately, a pawn to be exploited in Iago's obsessive plans. She bears all her tribulations with meekness, patience and without complaint, and remains committed to her husband even as she dies: 'Commend me to my kind Lord, O farewell!' (V,ii,126). She, alone, of all the characters, eschews intrigue and deception; her life is as pure and honest as her love for Othello. Some though, will take the side of Brabantio and see her treachery to him and his family. She does after all, deceive her father (I,iii,293), and elopes, escorted only by 'a knave of common hire' (I,i,125) to the arms of her beloved Othello; and there has been no inkling of the love suit Othello has pursued within Brabantio's own house. It is, perhaps, the weak point in Desdemona's character, but it may be excused by the overwhelming power of her love for Othello.

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