Explore how Shakespeare examines the themes if jealousy and deception in Othello the play and Othello the character. Sana Thomas Jealousy and Deception are both continuous themes running through out Shakespeare’s Othello. Indeed, it is jealousy that provides the fuel for the plot and deception that leads to the classic downfall of the ‘hero’ as is common in Shakespeare tragedies. However, it is a theme of hate that the play opens. It is a hate of inveterate anger. It is a hate that is bound up with envy hanging on a strained thread waiting to snap.
In The Tragedy of Othello, William Shakespeare tells the tale of the “noble Moor” whose honour and innocence bring about his downfall. Shakespeare writes of the power of jealousy, and the art of masterful deception and trickery. The story primarily takes place in Cyprus, during a war between the people of Venice and the invading Turks. In this play Shakespeare shows the feeling of Othello’s embittered right-hand man, Iago. Iago’s resentment erupts at his being passed over for a promotion to the position of Othello’s lieutenant.
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He vows to retaliate against Othello by proceeding to manipulate his friends, enemies, and family into doing his bidding without any of them realizing. He leads Othello to believe that his new wife, the innocent Desdemona, is committing adultery with his newly promoted officer Michael Cassio. After a seed of jealousy has been planted, Othello’s mind takes its course in determining the true outcome, with a few more prompts from Iago. The chain of events that proceeded to follow is one that not only ends his own life, but also the life of his wife What is deception? Deception is a wrongful act, to ‘deceive another, illusion, or fraud’.
Deception, however, may be used with good intentions instinctively to protect someone from getting distressed. An example of deception with good intent is when in Act 1 Desdemona hides her relationship with Othello from her father, questioning whether he will approve due to Othello’s race. Her father, the Venetian senator Brabantio says, “O, she deceives me/Past thought! ” (1. 1. 163-164). The act of deception on Desdemona’s part toward her father was to protect him from intricate truths. She discerned that her father would eventually find out the truth, but she felt that by concealing her relationship with Othello, she would be delaying he inevitable pain which her father was going to feel when he learnt it. Since Desdemona loved her father, her deception was done with only good hearted intentions. Desdemona displays her courage in marrying Othello even after the objections of her father, Brabantio. However, ultimately what is at stake for Desdemona is not triumphing over her father but loving her husband. Her exposition of the reasons she loves Othello defines her essential character, as a woman of loyalty and fidelity to him Desdemona remains loyal to her husband throughout the play.
An example of her loyalty is when Roderigo, who is desperately in love with her, expresses his jealousy of her marriage to Othello by exclaiming, “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe [own] / If he can carry’t thus! ” (1. 1. 66-67) and gets rejected. After Desdemona makes it clear that she loves and honours her husband, Brabantio remains vindictive, and bitterly warns Othello that Desdemona may turn out to be a slut: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: / She has deceived her father, and may thee” (1. 3. 292-293).
This is the first seed to jealously was planted into Othello’s mind not by Iago, but by Brabantio. Shakespeare uses Brabantio here to warn the audience and caution Othello about the forthcoming events. Shakespeare intends Iago, who has more lines in the play than Othello, to be the ‘tragic villain’ who strives to cause chaos and catastrophe for his own ends. “I am not what I am (1. 1. 66)”. At the very start of the play, even before the audience witness him stir up with his fallacious lies, he confesses his falseness and deception.
This is perhaps the only bit in the play where “honest Iago” speaks honestly. The play opens in the middle of an argument. The deception begins when he blatantly lies to Brabantio, telling him that Othello has bewitched his daughter into marrying him: “an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe (1. 1. 89)”. The language Iago uses to address Brabantio here is vulgar and discourteous. The fact that he takes no heed that Brabantio is of a higher status than him is intended to provoke and aggravate him, so that he will impart his rage when confronting Othello.
This confirms the audience’s suspicion of Iago being cold, conniving and calculated. As part of the audience, I believe that the handkerchief introduced in Act 3 symbolizes deceit for which it is used. It is this handkerchief Othello had given Desdemona as a wedding present and a token of the couple’s eternal fidelity that acts as a catalyst to the unpleasant and poignant changes in the play: the “napkin is too little (3. 3. 287)”. Othello demands “ocular proof (3. 3. 360)” from Iago that his wife Desdemona was committing adultery with Cassio: “Villain, be sure to prove my love a whore (3. . 360)”, Does Othello’s insistence on proof suggest that this jealous husband is a nobler man? Iago must only deceive Othello by telling him that the handkerchief he so lovingly gave his wife is not in his wife’s possession but in Cassio’s: “a hankerchief/did I see Cassio wipe his beard with (3. 3. 440). “The fact that she lost it inadvertently and was unable to produce it when Othello demanded her to “fetch me the handkerchief (3. 4. 85)” is one of the poignant moments of the play. The audience almost wants to cry out, as if to help Othello, “Iago has it! But no further interpretation is needed because the central interpretive moment of the play has already taken place when Othello has said, “I am abus’d, and my relief/ Must be to loathe her (3. 3. 267-268). ” Iago knows that he has now trapped Othello by deceiving him. He will “in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin,/ and let him find it (3. 3. 321-322). ” Though the handkerchief is a mere “trifle,” a thing “light as air,” it will be “to the jealous confirmations strong/ As proofs of holy writ (3. 3. 323-324). ” Jealousy in Othello appears in many forms.
Shakespeare personifies jealousy as “a monster” “begot on itself, born on itself (3. 4. 115)”. And it is a ” green-eyed monster” that feeds on destruction and devastation. There is a strong sense of devouring and being devoured in this imagery used, which fits Iago’s description of Othello being “eaten up with passion”. These lines suggest the exact quality of Othello’s monumental jealousy. Once he becomes convinced that his wife is unfaithful, his jealousy does indeed feed on itself leading him to behave monstrously. The handkerchief, which was used for deceit, also, I feel, symbolizes jealousy.
Bianca, a high class courtesan, who beds with Cassio, gets caught up in the jealousy revolving around the napkin. Her jealousy mirrors Othello’s weakly: “This is some token from a newer friend/To the felt absence now I feel a cause (3. 4. 175)”. The degree of jealousy here is different, as each jealous incident in the play varies in it impact and magnitude. Here the level of envy is mild, but even still, does not go unnoticed: “You are jealous now/That this is from some mistress (3. 4. 179). His relationship with another woman does not drive Bianca to homicide or insanity, but merely makes her uncomfortable and insecure.
The argument is quickly settled “‘Tis very good; I must be circumstanc’d (3. 4. 195)”. Jealousy in Othello is Iago’s jealousy of both Othello and Cassio’s status. Othello posses Iago’s ultimate desired status, and Cassio was right-hand man, who was picked over him for a promotion. Here, the jealousy is dangerously high manoeuvring him to go to extreme lengths to sabotage them both. For Iago, envy becomes hate stirred with revenge with dangerous consequences, as he ruins both of them with the same lie, unintentionally leading to the death of an innocent Desdemona, and his wife Emilia.
Perhaps the most significant jealous character, without which the events would have not unfolded the way it had, is Othello. It is Othello’s public insecurity that makes him jealous of Cassio and allows him to falsely believe that his wife Desdemona had committed adultery with him. The character of Othello is pulled toward what he terms Cassio’s courtly and aristocratic beauty which Iago describes by saying, “he hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly. What is fascinating about Shakespeare’s Othello is the way in which jealousy between the major characters is sexualized. Perhaps what makes Othello so disturbing is how quickly this sexualized jealousy turns into hate. For Othello and Iago love becomes hate, and hate becomes love and the distinction between these two feelings is constantly being blurred. The changes which take due to the “monster” that is jealousy is particularly evident in Othello as he changes from the proud, eloquent, deceive leader in
Act 1 to the petty, irrational, jealous, pathologically suspicious and emotionally unstable man at the end of the play. In spite of Othello’s ‘free and open nature’ which even Iago admits to, Othello still sees himself as lacking in age, colour and social graces when compared to Cassio: “Haply for I am black /And have not those soft parts of conversation /That chamberers have, or for I am declined/ Into the vale of years. ” These insecurities which Othello identifies makes him more susceptible to suspicion and jealousy and acting out Iago’s well crafted plan of vengeance.
Once Iago has planted the seed in Othello’s mind that Desdemona is quite capable of deception, and having witnessed Desdemona deceive her own father, Othello broken-heartedly and falsely believes and begins to look for reasons for her infidelity, finding his age, race, colour and lack of social graces as culprits. I feel that Shakespeare has focused on jealousy and deceit with many characters, for the aid of the audience. They are now able to compare the extent of the jealous and deceitful acts for characters’ baring different places in society. This ranges from the common prostitute, to the noble Moor of Venice.