Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper
Othello: Good and Evil, A Classic Battle
Othello, as he appears in the Shakespeare play of the same name, is a Moorish general in the service of the city of Venice. He is well known by the people of Venice as an honorable soldier and a worthy leader. In this play we are presented with a classic struggle between good and evil. Othello’s ancient, Iago, a cunning, untrustworthy, coveting servant, and Iago’s henchman Roderigo, the scorned suitor of Othello’s wife, Desdemona, represent evil. Good is fully represented within Desdemona a forgiving, honest, and innocent person and is also represented in the good Cassio who starts the play as Othello’s Lieutenant, a likable and trustworthy soldier. Desdemona and Cassio fight to please Othello and stay in his good graces while Iago poisons the Moor’s mind against the two in an attempt to win the lieutenancy and punish those he feels have wronged him.
From the start of the play we are well aware of Iago’s scheming ability and his hostility for Othello. Iago uses the weaknesses of Othello, specifically jealousy and his devotion to his morals and the standing he has worked hard for, to overcome the opposition and grounding force in Othello’s life, the good Desdemona. Iago has been appointed to the position of ancient, or servant, to Othello instead of the more prestigious position of lieutenant. Michael Cassio a man with a good deal of education but little experience as compared to the battle hardened Iago, has been promoted to this post. Iago feels betrayed because he considers himself more qualified than Cassio to serve as lieutenant. Iago then explains his plans for Othello to Roderigo, “O, sir, content you. / I follow him to serve my turn upon him (Act I, Scene I)”. Iago intends to have revenge for the promotion of Cassio over himself, an action he perceives as a slight against himself by Othello. Iago takes for granted that Othello thinks of him as an honest and loyal man and uses this to his advantage. Roderigo, a former suitor of Desdemona, is used by Iago as a lackey and tool someone to do the nasty and hard work, such as attacking Cassio. Roderigo is naively unsuspecting and believes that Iago works for him and with him not to meet his own ends and then dispose of Roderigo as he sees fit. Iago convinces Roderigo to tell Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, about Othello and Desdemona’s elopement. Iago continues his plot successfully, making fools of the others, and reaping rewards upon himself. Except for his simple henchman Roderigo, no one is aware of Iago’s plans. In fact Iago has convinced the others, Othello, Cassio, and Desdemona that he is an honest man loyal to his superiors and a friend to all. Emilia, Iago’s wife, is also unaware of her husband’s truly evil intent and becomes a pawn in her husband’s excellently and brilliantly executed scheme of revenge. The fact that Othello himself views Iago as trustworthy and honest gives Iago an easy and perfectly unsuspecting victim for his schemes. When Othello is summoned to fight at Cyprus he entrusts his wife’s well being to the crafty Iago and sets out to battle.
As the play shifts from Venice to Cyprus, and Othello emerges victorious from the battle that is settled by the sinking of the enemy during the storm, there is an interesting contrast. Venice, a respectful and honorable town is overshadowed by the war torn villages of Cyprus. It could be said that Venice represents good or more specifically, Desdemona, and that Cyprus represents the evil that is constantly shown in Iago. Desdemona, the young bride, has been taken from her peaceful setting, conveyed by Iago in fact, and brought onto the grounds of evil. Iago commits the greatest of his acts of deceit in Cyprus. The opportunity to attack Othello through Desdemona is one temptation that Iago cannot resist. He creates the impression that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio in order to stir the jealousy within Othello. Iago feigns friendship to Cassio and plies him with drink to the point where he may be instigated to fight by the dishonest Roderigo. During the proceeding Iago confides to Montano, an official of Cyprus, that Cassio is often drunk and lies awake for hours if he does not drink. When asked to tell of the fight and the actions of Cassio, he again plays the friend. “I would rather have this tongue cut from my mouth/ Than it should offense to Michael Cassio.” (Act 2, Sc. 3) He proclaims all the while hoping that Cassio will come out much worse for this encounter, and come out worse he does when Othello strips him of his lieutenancy.
With Cassio no longer in the position of lieutenant, Iago finds the opportunity to more effectively interact with and manipulate Othello. This new interaction is very important because it is the point in the play where Iago begins to establish his manipulation of Othello. Cassio, after prompting and advice from his pseudo friend, Iago, feels that it is necessary to seek the help of Desdemona in order to regain his position of lieutenant and therefore meets with her, in private, to discuss this possibility. Iago and Othello enter the scene just after Cassio leaves, and Iago makes it seem, to Othello that Cassio has left because he does not want to be seen in the courtship of Desdemona. Iago remarks: “Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it That he would steal away so guilty-like, Seeing your coming.” (Act 3, Sc. 3) He succeeds in planting a seed of doubt in the noble Moor’s mind while at the same time reaffirming, in Othello’s eyes, his honesty and loyalty by protecting and supposedly thinking the best of Cassio. When Desdemona leaves, after greeting her lord and reaffirming his doubt by arguing for Cassio, note that she does this out of the kindness of her heart and not for the love Iago accuses and Othello doubts, Iago again takes opportunity as he sees it. He attempts and succeeds to strengthen Othello’s views of honesty and trust in his character by saying, ironically from a readers prospective, “Men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they might seem none! ” (Act 3, Sc. 3). This cleverness by Iago works upon one of the tragic flaws of Othello. Othello has a tendency to take everything he is told, by someone he trusts, at face value without questioning the circumstances. Iago wonders why someone would pretend to be something they are not, while in fact that is the exact thing he represents.
Iago continues to prey upon Othello’s anxiety and doubt. He takes advantage of these feelings by being blunt with Othello about his wife Desdemona and her suspected unfaithfulness. Iago suggests that she is having sexual relations with other men, possibly, and most likely, Cassio, and then continues the conversation as if nothing has happened. This suggestion puts Othello into a state of such emotional turmoil that he is lost in a trance. Iago’s control over Othello is so strong now that he convinces him to consider getting rid of Desdemona and even suggests methods of killing her. Iago, so proud of his accomplishments, says aside: “Work on. My med’cine work!/ Thus credulous fools are caught,/ And many worthy and chaste dames even thus,/ All guiltless, meet reproach.” (Act 4, Sc. 1) Othello in this state commits his first act of violence against Desdemona, after she again pleads for him to restore to Cassio his lieutenancy, by hitting her. This shows Othello’s other tragic flaw. He has made himself susceptible to Iago and the jealousy within him begins to lead to his demise and the destruction of others. By his actions, hitting Desdemona, stripping Cassio of his rank, Othello has isolated himself from everyone except Iago. This gives Iago the perfect opportunity to complete his scheme. Iago does not tolerate any interference in his plans; he murders Roderigo after he has failed to do as Iago instructed and threatens to bring the whole plan crashing down. Finally, Othello, so infuriated by the lies told to him by Iago murders his wife. Desdemona, the representative of good, is faithful and loyal to the last. She goes as far as to blame her death on herself rather than tarnish Othello. Iago’s wife, Emilia, poor pawn that she has been, becomes the ultimate undoing of Iago. After her true moral center and strength is shown by her revealing Iago’s plot to Othello, Iago kills her. This, the murder of his own wife, is one of the acts that most obviously shows the true evil that Iago represents.
Othello finally realizes that he has been fooled into murder: “I look down towards his feet — but that’s a fable If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.” (Act 5, Sc. 2) He attacks the restrained Iago, trying to redeem his act of killing the pure and innocent Desdemona by killing her opposite the evil Iago. Othello begs for forgiveness from Cassio, who has somehow survived Iago’s plotting, and then he commits suicide. Cassio is made commander of Cyprus and Iago is turned over to him for the punishment that he so justly deserves. In the end loyalty and kindness wins through promoting Cassio back to his rank and higher while Iago is condemned to die. Though it was a fierce battle with many tragic deaths, good is the victor and evil finds itself once again reaping no rewards but punishment instead.