Essay, Research Paper: Othello And Jealousy

Shakespeare: Othello

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Throughout Shakespeare’s Othello, the major theme of jealousy is apparent.
According to Microsoft Bookshelf, jealousy, by definition, means “resentful or
bitter in rivalry.” The tragedy Othello focuses on the doom of Othello and the
other major characters as a result of jealousy. The theme of jealousy is
prominent throughout the play as it motivates the characters’ actions. In
Shakespeare’s Othello, jealousy is portrayed through the major characters of
Iago and Othello. It utterly corrupts their lives because it causes Iago to show
his true self, which in turn triggers Othello to undergo an absolute conversion
that destroys the lives of their friends. Iago, “most honest” (I, iii, 7) in
the eyes of his companions, is, in fact, truly the opposite. His feelings of
jealousy uncovers his actual self. D.R. Godfrey concludes this after hearing
Iago state that he “ha’ look’d upon the world for four times seven
years” (I, iii, 311-2). In his essay, Godfrey explains that Iago “has
arrived at one of the great seven year...critical stages” (421) of his life,
causing him to become “jealous, embittered, ... [and] vengeful.” (421).
Iago’s dupe, Roderigo, is the only person, in fact, to know this previously;
Iago tells Roderigo that he is “not what [he is]” (I, i, 69). He possesses
this jealousy because he is distressed that Othello chose Michael Cassio, a
“valiant” (II, i, 98), “Florentine...arithmetician” (I, i, 19-20), over
himself for the position of lieutenancy. Jealousy “divorces [Iago]...from
rationality”, Godfrey states (418). This loss of rational causes Iago to
“make a life of jealousy” (III, iii, 204) and plots to destroy Othello.
Although Iago has a reputation of being “full of love and honesty” (III,
iii, 138), he is responsible for destroying many lives and is considered
“perhaps one of the most villainous characters in all literature” (Godfrey
422). Iago alludes to Othello that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful with
Cassio. Iago initially intends to hurt Othello and make him regret appointing
Cassio as his lieutenant; however, he ends up hurting others in the process.
Iago’s jealousy causes his true character, one of “vicious[ness]” (Godfrey
421), to become noticeable. This, in turn, creates a new Othello to emerge, one
“utterly possessed, calling out for blood and vengeance” (Godfrey 418).
Othello, considered by A.C. Bradley one of “the most romantic figure[s] among
Shakespeare’s heroes” (1) and a “dignified” (2) “poet” (1), quickly
becomes entranced by Iago’s “vengeful[ness]” (Godfrey, 421). Othello,
placing entire confidence in Iago’s honesty, has been “moved by the warnings
of [his]...honest...friend” (Bradley 3). At first, Othello does not believe
Iago; but his “degradation is complete” (Godfrey 418) by the end of the
“Temptation Scene” (III, iii). Even though Iago produces a minimal amount of
proof, a “handkerchief that Iago may have seen Cassio wipe his beard with, and
Cassio’s alleged...dreams” (Godfrey 418), Othello is completely “possessed
by the madness of jealousy” (Godfrey 419). He immediately “passes sentence[s]
of death” (Godfrey 418) to Cassio and Desdemona, deciding that Desdemona
should die “some swift means of death” (III, iii, 479). One can tell that
Iago’s jealousy has, in fact, corrupted Othello. This great poet (Bradley 1),
Othello, previously had spoken of Desdemona, his wife, as “wondrous” (I,
iii, 160) and “Heaven[ly]” (I, iii, 258); after hearing from Iago that
Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair, his tone changes and begins to speak
like Iago. He begins to use “gross, animal imagery” (Rocchino 3-9-00) to
make references to his wife and women in general. For example, he calls
Desdemona a “haggard” (III, iii, 261), while also labeling her derogatory
names like “lewd minx” (III, iii, 487) and “whore” (IV, ii, 99).
Although Othello is most affected by Iago’s jealousy, the repercussions on
others are very evident. Othello’s jealousy destroys his love through his
hatred. He can no longer have doubts about his wife’s guilt; therefore, he
must finally act against it by “assuming the mask of impersonal justice”
(Godfrey 420). He must “kill” (V, ii, 32) Desdemona. Even though Desdemona
tries to tell him the truth, Othello is completely irrational, refusing to
listen (V, ii). Emilia, too, is murdered as a repercussion of Iago’s jealousy.
When she states the truth that she “found by fortune [the handkerchief] and
did give it to [her] husband” (V, ii, 225), Iago, calling her a “villainous
whore” (V, ii, 227), stabs Emilia from behind, murdering her. Othello then
seriously wounds Iago with his “sword of Spain” (V, ii, 252). He does not
want to kill Iago because it is “happiness to die” (V, ii, 289). Instead, he
wants him to live a life of suffering. As the truth comes out about Iago’s
deception, Othello realizes the damage he has caused by believing Iago, which
led to the deaths of Roderigo, Desdemona, and Emilia. He then “smote[s]
him[self]” (V, ii, 355), resulting in his immediate death. The punishments
are, according to Godfrey, “justified” (423) in that the “destroyer is by
himself destroyed” (423). Because the major theme of jealousy is apparent
throughout Shakespeare’s Othello, one realizes that the play focuses on the
doom of Othello and the other major characters as a result of this jealousy. The
theme of jealousy is prominent throughout the play as it motivates the
characters’ actions. The major characters of Iago and Othello clearly possess
this jealousy and show how it affects them. Iago is forced to expose his actual
nature and Othello undergoes a total transformation from a normal human to a
spiteful monster. Obviously, jealousy does cause people to change in horrific
ways.
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