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Othello- the Importance of War

By nats94 May 26, 2012 1031 Words
OTHELLO ESSAY- IMPORTANCE OF WAR

Othello is a man of war- it is all he has ever known and he has now proved himself a worthy soldier, which has given rise to the status he holds. His tales of battles and hardship are the determining factor in Desdemona’s initial adoration towards him. And without his heroic achievements in war, Othello remains an ‘outsider’ in the society of Venice. Therefore war essentially defines him as a character, and becomes highly important throughout the play. In both the extracts we see Othello as a man dominated by war, who acts with the approach of a soldier, all the time being manipulated by Iago in a ‘psychological’ war.

In Act one, scene three, Othello presents himself as a soldier, and acknowledges that he is used to the hardships of military life “the tyrant custom…Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war my thrice-driven bed of down”. Othello would have traditionally been an outsider in Venetian society due to his race, however his remarkable life history sets him apart and gains him respect- without his military background Othello would most likely have been considered as ‘just another’ Moor, so we can see how essential and defining war is to his character, without he would be a cast aside. By undertaking “these present wars against the Ottomites”, he places his familiar military role over that of his new found role as Desdemona’s husband. He does not seek her advice on an upheaval to Cyprus, but simply assumes that he is the commander in the relationship, as he would be on the battlefield. We also see that Othello places little importance on loyalty, but rather focuses more on military conquests, for he is in fact sent to fight his own people. From this we can see that war dominates his mind- the professional is more important than the personal. Essentially he is a mercenary, and it can be argued that he is seen as expendable by the Venetians, as a “substitute of most allowed sufficiency” is available, but is not used. However he feels the need to bring Desdemona with him “I crave fit disposition for my wife”, but alas he does not realise the dangers of removing themselves from the civilised environment of Venice and placing themselves in the hands of Iago. The symbolism of war is also important as the battle between the Turks and the Venetians signifies the transition from Venice to Cyprus, and therefore it represents the chaos that is to come. We also view Othello as heroic, knowing that he has often survived the hardships of war. This heroic façade is one that is essential for tragedy, as we eventually see Othello crumble.

In contrast to passage one, act three scene three shows us that Othello’s mind has been reversed- he allows personal thoughts to encroach on his professional ones “farewell the tranquil mind!” as his attention is now dominated by Desdemona’s actions. He is so distraught by Iago’s claims of an adulterous Desdemona that he is prepared to cast aside his military career “Farewell the plumèd troops and the big wars that makes ambition virtue!” Othello connects his worrying with the loss of military glory, of honor and manhood, and he is so distressed that he is willing to fling aside what is fundamentally the basis of his character- and this action is based on accusations that are nothing more than assumptions. This also reveals how he approaches personal matters in the manner of a soldier- he acts first, and then asks questions later. This rash decision making is played upon by Iago, as he simply uses a single line “Is’t possible, my lord?” as a catalyst for other panicked thoughts by Othello. Iago uses this technique and many more to wage a psychological war within Othello’s mind.

Throughout the play as a whole, war is the enigmatic coating that surrounds Othello and lends him charisma. Initially Othello’s tales of war and exoticism are what draws Desdemona to him “she loved me for the dangers I had passed”. However, because of Othello’s military background, he is inexperienced in dealing with relationships and cannot detach from the role of military general, and when faced with the accusations against Desdemona, he responds with the manner of a soldier. Essentially, he acts before he thinks, and instead of being judicious and fair, he responds rashly. On the battlefield this would not be a negative trait, as one does not necessarily have the time to contemplate decisions, but it is harmful to his marriage with Desdemona, his friendship with Cassio and his reputation, and it is one of the flaws that leads to his downfall. During the play it is the men of war who dominate the women- initially Emilia’s loyalty is to Iago, she speaks of how she would do “nothing but to please his fantasy”, although towards the mid-point of the play she realises her mistakes and instead turns her loyalty towards Desdemona. Desdemona also has little say in this environment, and makes a disastrous mistake by involving herself in the soldierly business of Cassio. War is also a connection between the characters- Othello trusts Iago as he has fought alongside him, and therefore he cannot trust Desdemona in this way, Iago of course uses this to his advantage. However the real battleground of the play is the mind. Many view Othello as an war allegory as it is possible to see Iago's manipulations as the strategic planning of a general, individual victories as minor battles, and the three resulting deaths the casualties of psychological combat.

The idea of war in Othello remains important as in extract one and two, and throughout the entire play as a whole, we can see that war has dominated Othello’s life, and now dictates his character. Othello’s many experiences of war bring him Desdemona’s love, but unfortunately it is those same experiences which take that love from him. The whole time a ‘psychological war’ is played by Iago, and this becomes the central point of the play, as he uses Othello’s soldierly instincts against him to manipulate and bring about his downfall.

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