Essay, Research Paper: Othello And Desdemona

Shakespeare: Othello

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In Shakespeare’s play Othello, Iago is the antagonist. That is, he is the
villain in the play Othello. He is the person who causes an action to occur
which affects the other characters in the play. This action may not necessarily
be a good thing. Iago is the catalyst for Othello’s change. He is the reason
behind Othello’s changing views of his wife Desdemona, which results in the
deaths of many of the characters in this tragedy. In order to understand the
role Iago plays in destroying Othello, it is important to understand how Iago
uses other characters in Othello to set his devious plot into motion. Iago
successfully manipulates the characters involved to further his evil plans. He
does this in such a way that the majority of the characters’ perceptions of
each other change dramatically. Thus leading to Othello’s transformation and
Othello’s changing views and behaviour towards his beloved wife Desdemona.
Iago firstly uses Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman, in love with Desdemona and
then Cassio in the process of annihilating Othello. Cassio is Othello’s
Lieutenant. Other characters Iago exploit include his own wife Emilia and
Desdemona herself. Iago goes to a lot of trouble to conquer Othello. When
Iago’s interaction with the other characters is understood then it can be
perfectly recognised, acknowledged and understood how Iago causes Othello’s
perceptions of Desdemona to change so drastically and quickly. Roderigo is the
first fall under Iago’s spell of manipulation. Roderigo is convinced that Iago
is genuine and does everything Iago tells him to. Iago easily convinces Roderigo
to tell Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, of Desdemona’s elopement with a
‘moor’. Iago and Roderigo tell Brabantio of Othello’s marriage to
Desdemona who rushes over to Othello to unsuccessfully reclaim his daughter.
“An old black ram Is tupping your white ewe.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 90).
Brabantio’s perceptions of both his daughter and Othello have changed. Later
on Iago uses Desdemona’s deceit towards her father as a way of changing
Othello’s perception of Desdemona. He repeats the words Brabantio used “She
has deceived her father and may thee.”(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 289). Through this
quote Iago tries to convince Othello that Desdemona has or could commit adultery
seeing though she has already deceived her father in marrying Othello. This is
one of the very first things that start Othello’s downfall. Iago is skilfully
feeding Othello with lies in which Othello will eventually believe in. Iago
handles Cassio in a more slightly delicate way. Iago’s basic plot is to make
Othello believe Desdemona is having an affair with Desdemona. “Cassio’s a
proper man: let me see now; To get his place and to plume up my will In double
knavery. How? How? Let’s see. After some time, to abuse Othello’s ears That
he is too familiar with his wife...” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 374-378). This
quote explains how Iago pretends to be Cassio’s best friend, giving him advice
when Othello dismisses him from his office. In actual fact, it was Iago who
planned this misfortune and uses it for his own benefit. “For whiles this
honest fool Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes, And she for him pleads
strongly to the Moor, I’ll pour pestilence into his ear: That she repeals him
for her body’s lust; And by how much she strives to do him good, She shall
undo her credit with the Moor. So I will turn her virtue into pitch, And out of
her own goodness make the net That shall enmesh them all.” (Act 2, Scene 3,
Line 320-329). In this part of Iago’s soliloquy, Iago explains how he has
given advice to Cassio to go to Desdemona and ask her to plead his case to
Othello so that he will regain his position as Othello’s lieutenant as
possible. Now as Desdemona speaks about Cassio to Othello, Iago will be
continually telling Othello lies of Desdemona’s infidelity with Cassio. This
is the next step Iago takes to further his plan. He makes it appear as though
Cassio and Desdemona are involved together, having an affair. Othello does not
believe Iago. “I do not think but Desdemona’s honest. (Act 3, Scene 3, Line
228). He tells Iago that he is not a jealous man. Othello confidently says that
Desdemona is faithful to him and he will not doubt her without any proof.
Nonetheless, a tiny seed of doubt has been sowed into Othello’s head. Iago’s
plan is working. Othello is beginning to feel the effects of jealousy and tries
to stop the jealous thoughts, which is evident in the following quote. “No,
Iago, I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; And on the proof, there is
no more but this: Away at once with love or jealousy!” (Act 3, Scene 3, Line
192-194). Iago will continue to feed many lies of Desdemona’s fidelity into
Othello’s head until it results in Othello’s destruction along with many
others. As Iago continues to inform Othello of Desdemona and Cassio’s supposed
meetings, Othello begins to believe Iago’s stories and his jealous nature is
shown. Iago’s next plan of action involves the beloved handkerchief, which was
presented to Desdemona as one of Othello’s first gifts to her in their days of
wooing. This is a key feature in Othello’s changing perceptions of Desdemona.
“I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin And let him find it. Trifles
light as air Are to the jealous confirmations strong As proofs of holy writ.
This may do something. The Moor already changes with my poison...” (Act 3,
Scene 3, Line 322-326). Here Iago tells of how wife Emilia has picked up the
lost handkerchief and given it to Iago who has continually asked her to steal it
from Desdemona. With this handkerchief, Iago sets up Cassio. Iago plans to place
the handkerchief so that Cassio finds it and then tell Othello Desdemona has
given the handkerchief to Cassio as a sign of her affection and love for him.
Othello becomes enraged, overcome with grief and jealousy and vows revenge just
as Iago had predicted. Iago has noticed the change in Othello and knows that it
would not take much to push him over the edge. “Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn
her, damn her!” (Act 3, Scene 4, Line 476). This is the reaction Iago wants
from Othello. It shows how Othello’s perceptions of Desdemona have changed.
Through his sly and cunning ways Iago has dominated over Othello, has influenced
him in such a dangerous way that now Desdemona’s and Cassio’s lives are in
insecure. Othello has changed immensely and his treatment towards Desdemona at
this point in the storyline has notably changed. He tries to trick Desdemona
into admitting her crime by asking about the handkerchief. The handkerchief is
not produced and so Othello believes in more of what Iago has told him. Othello
speaks to Desdemona using words with ambiguous meanings. While he is implying
one thing, Desdemona thinks he is talking about something else. “This argues
fruitfulness and liberal heart. Hot, hot, and moist.” (Act 3, Scene 4, Line
34-35). Desdemona does not think much of his words. What is said is what she
believes it to mean. Othello however, is referring to her adulterous, lecherous
nature. Othello speaks harshly to Desdemona as he questions the whereabouts of
the special handkerchief. This treatment of Desdemona shows Othello’s jealous
nature, which Emilia points out to Desdemona. Othello’s destruction is near,
as he becomes more and more jealous with each remark Iago makes. “Lie with
her? Lie on her? We say lie on her when they belie her. Lie with her! Zounds,
that’s fulsome! Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief! To confess and
be hanged for his labour. First to be hanged and then to confess. I tremble at
it. Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion without some
instruction. It is words that shakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips.
Is’t possible? – Confess? Handkerchief? Oh devil!” (Act 4, Scene 1, Line
35-41). In this little speech made by Othello, it can be clearly seen how Iago
has manipulated Othello into believing his words. Iago has implied that Cassio
has boast of sleeping with Desdemona, which has upset Othello terribly. Iago
gives Othello more proof of Desdemona and Cassio’s commitment to each other,
which enables Othello to become even more infuriated than he already is. Here
Iago speaks with Cassio of Bianca, Cassio’s mistress: “Now will I question
Cassio of Bianca, a housewife that by selling her desires Buys herself bread and
clothes. It is a creature that dotes on Cassio; as ‘tis the strumpet’s
plague To beguile many and be beguiled by one. He when he hears of her, cannot
refrain From excess laughter. Here he comes. As he smile, Othello shall go mad;
And his unbookish jealousy must construe Poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures and
light behaviours Quite in the wrong.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 91-101). Iago
explains his plan in his soliloquy, which is to have Othello listen in on his
conversation with Cassio in hopes that what Othello believes he hears and sees,
will further destroy Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship. Othello
believes Iago is talking to Cassio about Desdemona and take everything the wrong
way. He is horrified of how Cassio is behaving whilst talking with Iago. Othello
is determined to kill Desdemona after what has witnessed. “Get me some poison,
Iago, this night. I’ll not expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty
unprovide my mind again – this night, Iago.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 92-94).
Othello has changed as a result of Iago’s wicked ways. He has changed to such
an extent that he can no longer live with this woman of unmoral behaviours and
pledges to assassinate her. Iago’s role in changing Othello’s observations
of Desdemona can be seen even more clearly when Othello strikes Desdemona.
Lodovico, an outsider, sees a distinct change in Othello and comments to Iago on
this who agrees wholeheartedly. “Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate
Call all-in-all sufficient? Is this the nature Whom passion could not shake?
Whose solid virtue The shot of accident nor dart of chance Could neither graze
nor pierce? He is much changed.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 254-259). This quote
shows Lodovico’s shock towards the change in Othello especially towards
Desdemona whom Othello once loved so dearly. Desdemona being the submissive
person that she is does nothing to defend herself. She takes everything Othello
throws her way. Desdemona loves Othello even after the way he has mistreated
her. Her love for him will not change. “Let nobody blame him; his scorn I
approve – “ (Act 4, Scene 3. Line 49). This line comes from a song Desdemona
sings but it represents Desdemona’s feelings towards Othello perfectly. She
won’t blame him for the way he treats her. Even on her death bed Desdemona
does not blame Othello for anything. In answer to Emilia’s question as to who
killed her, Desdemona replies, “Nobody; I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my
kind lord. O farewell.” (Act 5, Scene 2, Line 125-126). Othello’s view of
Desdemona may have changed due to the presence of an evil force, that being Iago,
but Desdemona still loves her husband and claims she was true to him.
Othello’s view of Desdemona, due to Iago’s meddling interference has changed
drastically into a perception, which is extremely far from the truth. Othello
now believes Desdemona is a strumpet, in other words, a prostitute, a whore. He
also believes Emilia is one too and that Emilia is protecting Desdemona and so
he speaks to both as though they were that type of women. “Was this fair
paper, this most goodly book, Made to write ‘whore’ upon? What committed!
Committed? O thou public commoner! I should make very forges of my cheeks That
would to cinders burn up modesty Did I but speak thy deeds. What committed!
Heavens stop the nose at it, and the moon winks; The bawdy wind, that kisses all
it meets, Is hushed within the hollow mine of earth And will not hear it. What
committed? Imprudent strumpet!” (Act 4, Scene 2, Line 70-79). Here Othello
calls Desdemona a whore to her face. He continually reinforces his belief that
Desdemona is unfaithful. His words are spoken in an aggressive harsh tone, which
shows how angry he is, and how much he has changed because of Iago’s
evil-minded ways. Later that night, Othello questions Desdemona again of her
adultery and Desdemona fears for her life. “And yet I fear you, for you’re
fatal then When your eyes roll so. Why I should not fear I know not. Since
guiltiness I know not, but yet I feel fear.” (Act 5, Scene 2, Line 37-39).
Desdemona reveals her fear of Othello and informs that she is guilty of nothing.
Othello does not believe her and kills her. This is what has become of Othello.
His mind has been clouded by bad judgement due to Iago’s corrupt plans.
Othello’s mind was contaminated by Iago whose aim was to destroy Othello along
with Cassio. Othello’s perception of Desdemona changed numerous times
throughout. In the beginning Othello loved Desdemona with all his heart and
would not let anyone take his love from him, including Brabantio, Desdemona’s
father. “She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished That heaven had made
her such a man. She thanked me, And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her, I
should but teach him how to tell my story, And that would woo her. Upon this
hint I spake; she loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that
she did pity them. “ (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 161-167). This speech made by
Othello, distinctly shows how he came to love Desdemona and she love him.
Othello’s perception of Desdemona starts to change with Iago’s interference.
Iago warns him to not be jealous. “O beware, my lord, of jealousy: it is the
green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.” (Act 3, Scene3, Line
167-169). Iago cunning advises Othello not to become jealous but at the same
time he is telling Othello lies to suggest Desdemona’s infidelity thus
manipulating Othello. Othello begins to believe in Iago and does not trust
himself to believe that Desdemona is in fact pure and virtuous. Othello’s
attitude and behaviours become worse as Iago feed him more and more lies. He
becomes distrusting of Desdemona and treats her poorly. Iago gradually pushes
Othello to the point of no return. He has basically total control of Othello and
Iago slyly prods Othello towards murdering Desdemona. “Ay, let her rot and
perish, and be damned tonight, for she shall not live. No, my heart is turned to
stone: I strike it and it hurts my hand. O, the world hath not a sweeter
creature! She might lie by an emperor’s side and command his tasks.” (Act 4,
Scene 1, Line 172-175). Here Othello explains what he must do with Iago
encouraging him on. He has changed from a man who is in control, who is
intelligent in making decisions into someone who is violent, harsh and
irrational. Iago has Othello right where he wants him. Othello believes
everything Iago has told him and thinks Iago is a great man for helping him.
Othello continues to believe that Desdemona is a whore right up until after
Desdemona’s death. After Desdemona’s death, Othello’s perceptions of
Desdemona changes once more when it is revealed that it was Iago who placed such
destructive thoughts into his mind. Iago was the mastermind behind all the
conflicts. Othello realises Desdemona’s innocence. He cannot forgive himself
for what he has done and so destroys his own life. “I kissed thee ere I killed
thee: no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.” (Act 5, Scene2,
Line 354-355). Othello speaks his last words, as he dies. His death a sign of
how much he was easily manipulated and deceived by a man whom he entrusted his
life too. Iago is, indeed, the catalyst of Othello’s changing perceptions,
observations and views of his wife Desdemona. He was the cause of the deaths of
many innocent men and women including Roderigo, Desdemona, Emilia and Othello.
Through deception and concealment of who and what kind of person he was, Iago
manage to destroy Othello by changing his perceptions of Desdemona. Early on
through Iago’s own words “I am not what I am” (Act1, Scene1, Line66) it
can be seen how Iago really is and how cunning he can be in deceiving people to
get what he wants. Hence, his role in destroying Othello and Desdemona is quite
a large role. If it hadn’t been for Iago Othello would not have begun to
become suspicious of Desdemona and their relationship would be as loving as ever
before. Also people would not have died as a result.
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