William Shakespeare's use of imagery and metaphors is significant in conveying meaning, as it helps to establish the dramatic and emotional atmosphere of the play and reinforce the main themes. “Shakespeare's Othello has provoked extensive interpretive response on how this murder is brought about. Some critics exonerate Othello of any blame, others see Iago as an honest realist, and a third camp sees Othello and Iago as sharing responsibility” (Macaulay). It is through character analysis that an insightful interpretation of the significance of all the swirling emotions involved in Othello can be examined.
The protagonist, Othello, personifies greatness and weakness in its purest form. Othello is a general in the Veniceian army but what differentiates Othello from his surroundings is that he is a Black man who is constantly referred to as Moor. Shakespeare depicts Othello as honorable, intelligent, and skilled at the art of war but lacking the social graces of upper class society. Although Othello is respected and honored on the battlefield, it is social interaction and respect that he lacks. This in turn creates a social isolation and longing for closeness and meaningful relationships, leaving Othello susceptible to Desdemona’s love and Iago‘s attacks. This lack of social understanding and misplaced trust within his social circle are what ultimately brings about the tragedy of this play.
A contributor to Othello’s rise in social class as well as his demise, was his beloved wife, Desdemona. Desdemona is the daughter of a prominent senator who wishes nothing more than for his daughter to marry into the right social class. Wed in secrecy, Othello and Desdemona’s marriage is at hazard from the beginning. Infatuated with Othello, Desdemona finds him to be exotic and through his immensely entertaining stories of his embellished world, she is won by his charm. For Othello, Desdemona represents purity, innocence’s and most importantly a connection to upper class society which Othello desperately longs to be apart of. Ironically, the society Othello desires to be accepted by, views him as nothing more then a mere guard dog; a guard dog that is black, of lower class standing and most importantly not fit to marry a lady as beloved as Desdemona. This places stress on Othello’s heart and mind and is a staging point for the antagonist, Iago to begin his attack on Othello.
Shakespeare paints the antagonist Iago as a realist and speaker of half truths. Iago’s character is not completely wrong in his view of society, it is just that he has become an extremist in his point of view that leads to a burning hatred for the world and especially Othello. Through his extreme beliefs his nature has been molded to seek power and achieve it by any means necessary. Iago is made to be a reprehensible villain but through his acts of treachery he exhibits the most poetic and polished gift of language. Iago’s conspiring behavior is not completely understood but several possible motivators are implied as reasons for his actions.
Iago’s manipulative and cunning behavior can be contributed to an accumulated effect of jealousy. Iago was overlooked by Othello and lost the promotion of lieutenant to Cassio. This is the first of many reasons that Iago truly abhors Othello. Iago feels inferior to Cassios privileged upbringing and detest his unqualified status over him. Iago feels overqualified for the job of lieutenant and can not make sense of Othello’s choice in Cassio. Another motive would appear to be the belief that Othello and Cassio had committed adultery with his wife. Although, this point is highly suspicious and more likely a fabricated fact, it gives Iago reason and confidence to act against Othello. A third possible motive for Iago’s betrayal is the difference status and power. The simple fact that Othello is a Black man with power infuriates Iago. All of these motives stem from want and envy contributing to another character possessed by jealously.
Through envy Iago despises Othello and through jealousy, Othello creates death and destruction in his path. Othello’s destruction is essentially influenced by others but primarily his death is caused by his own tainted actions of jealousy and insecurity. Othello’s air becomes poisoned by a conspiring Iago which in turn breeds jealousy into Othello’s mind and heart. This poisonous feeling turns Othello into a mad man and he indirectly causes the murder of the entire cast. Throughout Othello, constant discussion of poison is referred to by Iago, “The Moor already changes with my poison: Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons“ (3.3.322). Shakespeare uses this metaphor of poison to appropriately define Iago’s character. Iago shares the same characteristics of poison as toxic and fatal. Iago's use of language is a primary weapon in manipulating Othello, “O, beware, my lord, of Jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster” (3.3.165). Shakespeare has the uncanny ability to compose plays full of humanities rawest of emotions. Throughout Othello, there are many themes interwoven to describe the author’s perspective of the true nature of the soul. Three themes critical to the play are doubt versus trust, monstrous imagery and the consequences of jealously. Shakespeare’s usage of the uncontrollable emotion, jealousy, ties flawlessly with the emotion of love. Because of the intense emotions that are involved, Shakespeare has made it possible for audiences to identify as well as sympathize with each character. Othello’s tragedy is not the fault of a single villain or Othello, but is the result of the ignorance and envious delusions mankind suffers from. Jealousy is an emotion that every character demonstrates in the play, but its effects vary from character to character. Iago’s jealousy leads him down a path of betrayal and treachery and for Othello it proves to be the most potent and ultimately leads to the tragic ending of the play. Shakespeare’s tragic play depict mans nature and emotions at its worst; jealousy, deceit, treachery, and murderous revenge all conceived in the names of justified rationale and love.
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Bell, Millicent. “Othello's Jealousy.” The Yale Review v. 85 (April 1997) p. 120-36. Willson Web. 14 June. 2007 . Macaulay Marcia. “When Chaos Is Come Again: Narrative and Narrative Analysis in Othello.” Style (DeKalb, III.) v. 39 no. 3 (Fall 2005) p. 259-76. Willson Web. 14 June. 2007 . Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert Yanni. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 2004. 209-219.