Othello Essay, Research Paper
In his play Othello, Shakespeare uses many elements to enhance the tragedy of the piece. He uses Desdemona as the ultimate innocent victim and he uses true love to arouse our pity. However, most important is the way in which he uses the journey from order to chaos to allow us to trace how the tragedy progresses. He uses the physical journey from Venice to Cyprus, Othello s emotional disintegration, and the fall of Iago s plan to show how the play falls into chaos and from there into tragedy.
The change of setting from Venice to Cyprus brings the characters physically from order into chaos. Venice is a city ruled by law and government (Desdemona s father is a Senator). Iago attempts to cause trouble for Othello but fails because no one takes action against Othello, rather the case is settled in a court of law through weighing the evidence and passing judgment. Another example of Venice s order can be seen in what Brabantio says to Iago and Roderigo. What tell st thou me of robbing? This is Venice. (I.i.102-3) Brabantio is saying that in Venice chaos has no place. When the characters move from Venice to Cyprus, they are no longer ruled by order. Cyprus is not as secure as Venice. It is an outpost to the city, surrounded by water and vulnerable to assault. There are no courts or senators. The only authority is vested in Othello, the governor. (Bradely) Thus, in moving from Venice to Cyprus, the characters are physically moving from order into chaos. This sets up the more abstract or emotional journeys into chaos.
Othello is the most obvious character to undergo this change or journey. He is the governor of Cyprus and his importance in Venice is clear; he can appoint officers, converse with chief citizens, and marry the daughter of a Senator. This is the basis of Othello s paradox- as a heroic officer of the military, he is powerful. But as a black man in a white man s society, he is vulnerable.
Roderigo- Signior, it is the Moor.
Barbantio- Down with him.
[They draw their swords]
Othello- Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.
Good signior, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons. (I.ii.289-96)
Othello is able to forestall a battle simply with words, showing his power and importance. However, the way in which others speak of him shows the lack of respects for his race, and the resulting vulnerability. Often, he is not Othello but is rather The Moor . This vulnerability allows for Othello s fall into chaos. He is the epitome of order, but when Iago plants the seeds of doubt regarding Desdemona s fidelity, his emotions become chaotic. He says to Iago, I do not think but Desdemona s honest…And yet, how nature erring from itself- (III.iii.265-7) His emotions have risen beyond control when he hits Desdemona in front of Lodovico.
Othello- [striking her] Devil!
Desdemona- I have not deserved this.
Lodovico- My Lord, this would not be believed in Venice,
Though I should swear I saw t. Tis very much.
Make her amends. She weeps.
Othello- O devil, devil!
If that the earth could teem with woman s tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.
Out of my sight! ( )
We see that Othello is so chaotic emotionally that he doesn t know how to conduct himself in public. Finally, at the apex of his internal chaos, he kills his wife, who in reality he truly loves. He does this because his doubt (triggered by Iago) has made his once organized emotions so disorderly that he can t find his true feelings. Othello s race is somewhat of an indicator of his decent into chaos. Moors in Elizabethan theatre were stereotypically coarse, violent, lustful, and cunning villains. (Al-Amin) As Othello s decent begins, he is eloquent, the hero rather than the villain. As the play progresses, he becomes the stereotypical Moor, violent and governed by his passions. His language, previously so noble and eloquent, is reduced to phrases like goats and monkeys! (IV.i.265) Indeed, as Iago says to Lodovico, He is much changed. (IV.i.270)
Iago plots his revenge against Othello, but even the best laid plans can fall into chaos. Iago s plan goes wrong in two ways-two ways that meet up and cause Iago s downfall. The first way that his plan becomes chaotic is in his lies. Honest Iago at first exacts revenge by merely adding innuendoes to the truth and leaving out certain facts. Although it is treacherous, it is a simple and orderly plan. As he begins to rely on lies to further his plan, it becomes chaotic. After Cassio and Roderigo s brawl, Iago recounts the incident truthfully, merely leaving out the fact that he was the one who got Cassio drunk. Montano and myself being in speech, / There comes a fellow crying out for help, /And Cassio following him with determined sword/ To execute upon him. After he and Othello see Cassio with Desdemona, Iago plants seeds of doubt in Othello s mind with minimal falsehood. He says was it Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it/ that he would steal away so guilty like, / Seeing your coming. ( ) However, after he has the handkerchief stolen, he sinks into outright lies, saying things like She gave it him, and/ He hath giv n it his whore. (IV.i.195-6) As his plan begins to rely more on lies, it becomes chaotic and more risky for Iago. The second way in which his plan slips into chaos in in respect to luck. His plan was simple and somewhat well organized, then it becomes solely dependent on luck. When Othello observes Cassio and Iago s conversation, it is pure luck that he only sees and doesn t hear. In this and other instances, his plan could easily have been revealed. One such instance is when Roderigo almost sees through his plot. Roderigo comes close to accusing Iago, saying I do not find/ That thou deal st just with me. (IV.ii.203-4) In the final chaotic scene, full of confessions and confrontations, Iago s lies and luck run out. He is taken away and tortured. As a sort of catharsis, when Iago is taken away, it is an act of the law, and thus a return to order.
In conclusion, Othello contrasts order and chaos in order to emphasize the tragedy. As Othello begins to abandon reason and language, chaos takes over. His world becomes ruled by chaotic emotions, with order pushed to one side. This chaos rushes him into tragedy, and once he has sunk into chaos, he is unable to stop his fate from taking him over. Iago suffers a similar fate and the setting of the play emphasizes both of their falls.