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My Perception Of William Shakespeares Othello Essay

, Research Paper Humanities 202 April 12, 1996 My Perception of William Shakespeare’s Othello Othello, by William Shakespeare, is perhaps not as exciting as a ravishingly sexy poster

, Research Paper

Humanities 202

April 12, 1996

My Perception of William Shakespeare’s Othello

Othello, by William Shakespeare, is perhaps not as exciting as a ravishingly sexy poster

of Laurence Fishburne and Irene Jacob. Yet, with its intoxicating mix of love, sexual passion

and the deadly power of jealousy, Shakespeare has created an erotic thriller based on a human

emotion that people are all familiar with. It all depends on how those people receive it. There is

an extraordinary fusion of characters’ with different passions in this tragedy. Every character is

motivated by a different desire. Shakespeare mesmerizes the reader by manipulating his

characters abilities to perceive and discern what is happening in reality. It is this

misinterpretation of reality that leads to the erroneous perceptions that each character holds.

After reading this tragedy, the depth of Shakespeare’s characters continue to raise many

questions in the minds of the reader. The way I percieve the character of Othello and what

concerns me, is that Othello is able to make such a quick transition from love to hate of

Desdemona. In Act 3, Scene 3, Othello states, “If she be false, O, then heaven mocks itself! I’ll

not believe ‘t.” (lines 294-295) Yet only a couple hundred lines later he says, “I’ll tear her to

pieces” (line 447) and says that his mind will never change from the “tyrannous hate” (line 464)

he now harbors. Does Othello make the transition just because he is so successfully manipulated

by Iago? Or is there something particular about his character which makes him make this quick

change? I believe that “jealousy” is too simple of a term to describe Othello. I think that Othello’s

rapid change from love to hate for Desdemona is fostered partly by an inferiority complex. He

appears to be insecure in his love for Desdemona (as well as in his position in Venetian society).

Othello’s race and age (”Haply, for I am black . . . for I am declined into the vale of years,” 3.3.

279-282) and his position as a soldier contribute to his feelings of inadequacy.

Othello admits to Desdemona that he doesn’t have “those soft parts of conversation”

possessed by well-bred Venetian noblemen, those to which (as a senator’s daughter) she has

become acclimated (3.3.280-281). Othello’s speech (1.3.130-172) also conveys his feeling that

Desdemona loves him for his exploits and achievements rather than for his mind. Othello

apparently feels a constant responsibility to prove to Desdemona (through his heroic deeds) that

he is worthy of her love.It is my opinion that Othello is a man governed by a subconscious need

or impulse to believe ideas rather than reason. In believing Iago’s lie, Othello apparently is

controlled by his aforementioned inferiority complex — his feeling that he just doesn’t measure

up to (young, suave, and of course, white) nobleman Michael Cassio in Desdemona’s mind.

Othello is more naturally predisposed to believe this “idea” rather than to engage in rational

discourse in an attempt to find the real logic of the situation.

It is also unclear weather or not the position of soldier and that of husband can be

percieved as two seperate role’s. Yet the two seem inextricably intertwined. Military operations

are Othello’s primary priority. Othello had been a soldier since he was seven years old (” …since

these arms of mine had seven years’ pith…..they have us’d/ Their dearest action in the tented field”

1.3.83-85). So Othello was not a newcomer to the battlefield. Yet, Othello encounters a

battlefield the likes of which he has never seen when he marries Desdemona and enters Venetian

society — the rules are different, the enemy has more cunning, and words are used for weapons.

Military service and marriage are not incompatible — Othello has the potential to make a perfectly

suitable husband (as well as lover) to Desdemona. Othello only self-destructs because he and his

inferiority complex fall victim to the duplicitous and vengeful Iago on society’s battlefield.

Perhaps Othello’s precipitous change from ordered general to chaotic killer occurs

because he is black. Africans were starting to appear in London at the time of Shakespeare and

were viewed with suspicion, to say the least. It is not inconceivable that Shakespeare exploited

this popular fear of the nature of these black Africans and portrayed Othello as a vengeful savage.

Is Othello a noble minority with jealousy as his single fatal flaw, or is he an over-reacher whose

pride causes his ultimate downfall? I don’t believe he is truely either. He is an outsider who has

tried to believe he has been fully integrated in a society he really knows only tolerates him. He

could hardly believe that Desdemona would love him from the beginning, and it actually makes

more sense to him that she would love Casio than that she loves him. Iago plays on this insecurity

by presenting his lies as more believable than reality.

Othello’s flaw is that he loves Desdemona blindly and unrealistically. For that reason,

Iago knows that such a naive man as Othello who loves his wife in this way can be corrupted. In

Act 2, Scene 3, Iago speaks of Othello’s relationship with Desdemona and joyously proclaims

that Othello’s “soul is so enfetter’d to her love/ That she my make, unmake, do what she list,/

Even as her appetite shall play the god/ With his weak function”(351-54). Iago is absolutely

determined to pervert this man who has declared that he will deny his wife nothing. Iago is

certain that Othello can be corrupted simply because of his idealistic love for Desdemona.

Othello’s inclination to trust Iago is easily perceived, as I have already noted (” The Moor

already changes with my poison” (3.3.325). Iago almost assumes here the role of a Frankenstein-

kind of doctor, creating and delighting in the making of a monster. Readers hearts respond

greatly to the final breakdown of Othello’s once ordered existance as he desperately clings to the

one thing that seems certain to him: Iago’s sincere friendship: “O brave Iago, honest and just,/

Thou hast such noble sense..”(5.1.31-32). In this tragedy, Othello is torn by a terrible dilemma,

whether he can trust his new bride or whether he can trust his ensign. Why does he choose to

trust the latter? Time after time, Othello fails to see through the machinations of Iago. Othello

trusts too easily. Iago is a military man; Othello is used to dealing with men on the battlefield,

men whom he must trust and, moreover, Iago has a well known reputation for honesty.

In order to disguise his deep disappointment and conceal his plans for revenge, Iago

begins early in the play to reinforce his image as an honest, loyal soldier. In Act 1, Scene 2, for

example, in a bit of boasting, Iago says that ” in the trade of war I have slain men,/Yet do I hold it

very stuff o’ th’ conscience/ To do no contrived murder. I lack iniquity…”(1-3). This is an

outright lie, but he has just come onstage with Othello, and he is saying this for his generals

benefit, posing as the rough and ready, good hearted soldier. In the same speech, he alludes to

having had the opportunity to kill Roderigo, a man who has said evil things about Othello: “Nine

or ten times/I’d thought to have yerk’d him here under the ribs”(4-5). Clearly to me, Iago is lying

about what he would actullly have done, yet he wants to show that he is a loyal man of action,

but one who would not kill impulsively. This, he is sure, will appeal to Othello, a professional

military man. It is precisely this sort of behavior which secures Iago’s preputaion for cool,

controlled honesty.

Othello needs to trust people; it is his nature; that is why he suffers such terrible agony

when he must try to choose between the alleged honesty of Iago and the honesty of Desdemona.

Desperately, Othello needs to trust his wife; in Act 3, Scene 3, he cries, “If she be false, O then

heaven mocks itself!/ I’ll not believe ‘t”(278-79). This is overwhelming evidence that he does

need to believe her, just as in many of his other speeches, there are similar, parallel expressions

of his need to believe Iago. Basically, one of the first qualities that comes to mind when

assesssing a man as complex as Othello is his openness, his trustfullness. Speaking of Iago,

Othello says that Iago is a man of honesty and trust; “to his conveyance I assign my

wife”(1.3.286). Othello has no reason to distrust Iago at this point; it is evident that he also

trusts his wife, since he assigns her to the care of another man.

Later in the same act and scene, Barbantio suggests that Desdemona deceived him and

may just as easily decieve Othello, and Othello’s reply is very significant: “My life upon her

faith!” (295). His faith in Desdemona is not only dramatically important for the later, tragic

reversal, but signigicant here because of its actuality. He deeply loves and trusts his young and

beautiful wife, despite the fact that he is an aging man and might be expected, normally, to be a

little suspicious of , if not his wife, of other men, and he is not. In fact, Othello’s “free and open

nature” is the very reason that Othello is such an easy prey for Iago. Iago knows that Othello is,

by nature, neither overly introspective nor overly interested in the motivations of others.

This “innocence” of Othello, that is, this simple directness of charcter that is so dominant

an element of his personality is a perception which deserves more consideration. Particularly I

would note his “inocence” early in the play, perhaps best evidenced in Act 1, Scene 3, when

Othello, defending himself against Barbantio’s ravings, says quitely and simply that he is “rude”

(meaning ” unpolished,” “simple,” or “unsophisticated”) in his speech, and that he is not “bless’d

with the soft phrase of peace”(82). Clearly, he does not try to assume a pose that might seem

overly impressive, it would be unnatural for a man such as Othello.

In addition to this play’s being a tragedy of multiple dimensions, it is also a love story.

The tale of a man who loved excessively but “lov’d not wisely” (5.2.346). Numerous instances of

Othello’s love for Desdemona have been noted. I feel that some these lines of poetic sensitivity

are being used by Shakespeare to convey to the reader Othello’s perception of love and faith in

Desdemona. In Act 2, Scene 1, Othello exaults, “O my soul’s joy!/If after every tempest come

such calms…”(186-87). Here, he evidences both the passion and potential violence of his love.

And, a few lines latter he says, “If it were now to die,/ ‘Twere now to be most happy…”(191-92).

This speech is beautiful and heartfelt and is clear-cut proof for the audience of his deep, sincere

love for his young bride. In addition, the speech should be noted because of Shakespeare’s

embellishing it with the ironic overtones of death.

Finally, I must deal with Ohello’s true flaws and, of these, perhaps the most major

concern is the fact that he is able to deceive himself: Othello believes he is a man who judges by

the facts. In the past, this may have been true, but after Iago has infected him with a jealousy that

overpowers all reason, Othello is doomed. Even when Iago made his initial overtures suggesting

Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello was firmly convinced that he was not a man to be self-deceived.

Im Act 3, Scene 3, Othello says, “I’ll see before I’ll doubt; when I doubt, prove;/ And on the proof,

there is no more but this,/ Away at once with love or jealousy!” (190-92). Othello will find,

tragically, that it is not as easy as he thinks to make a choice between love and jealousy.

Desdemona is a complicated character On the one hand she is a strong minded, tough

young woman who decides to marry a man who’s a lot older, and black. And she loves him

genuinely and passionately.On the other hand she seems very weak and rather soft, why doesn’t

she stand up to Othello ? She is the ever-present representation of all that Othello has attained as

a civilized and Christian man; in attaining her, he attains the heights from which the tragedy

requires that he must fall. Othello’s love for Desdemona continues and creates ever-new

deceptions until the final climactic murder is accomplished. And even as he kills Desdemona,

after he has decided that she must die, he deceives himself that he is killing her as a duty, as it

were, not as revenge. In his words, he kills her “else she’ll betray more men” (5.2.6). Evem at the

end, he does not realize his true motivation for the murder of the women he loves.

I should add that Iago’s plot to make Othello jealous (and thus murderous, and thus

destroy himself) is surprisingly easy, in part because Iago is a master manipulater, and in part

because Othello finds him easy to believe (He was so thrilled she loved him he could hardly

believe it). The plot is filled out by the fact that Iago also wants to destroy his rival for

promotion, Cassio, so he makes him part of the lie; and that Iago has been exploiting Roderigo

by pretending to help him, so he involves him in the plotting. The excessive vulgarity of Iago’s

can be found throughout the play, beginning as early as Act 1, Scene 1, when he urges Roderigo

to inflame Desdemona’s father with hatred for Othello. “Make after him,” he says, meaning

Barbantio, “poison his delight, Proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kinsmen,/ And, though

he in a fertile climate dwell,/ Plaque him with flies” (68-71).

This is harsh language, indicating a openness to only evil emotions. Yet, to his general,

to Othello, Iago’s venomous language is even worse. Exciting Othello’s imagination, he says in

the “temptation scene” words that are highly effective: “Would you,….behold her topp’d?” (395-

96). He asks Othello to envision the handsome Cassio charming Othello’s young bride. In this

entire scene, Iago knows, instinctively, the kind of remark that eill inrcrease Othello’s suspicion

without giving the impression that he wishes to do so.

Yet, when all is said and done, Iago fascinates me. And perhaps this is true because great

evil can somehow manipulate and captivate my attention. This is certainly, a tribute to

Shakespeares genius that despite everything evil which Iago accomplishes, the playwright never

lets the reader forget that Iago is a human being, not an abstraction. Iago’s jealousy is similar to

jealousies the readers have had, except that he is wildly jealous; his passion is ours, except that

he is immoral, ruthless, and savage. Finally, Othello is black and middle aged.Desdemona is

white, young and beautiful. The state of Venice needs Othello- but they don’t like him.Iago

needs Othello and that is why Iago hates him. So, with every character holding individual

motivations and desires. Shakespeare has created his own reality, which can simply be percieved

as extraordinary.

Work Cited

Alexander, Peter. Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.

361

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