Shakespearean writing are ones of which, with a few strokes of a pen, can achieve more than novelists can achieve in a full length novel. Shakespeare’s writing is complex and includes great measures of love, hatred, loyalty, deception and betrayal. These traits of his texts are all evident in Othello. In Act 1, Othello is perceived as a noble moor. With Shakespeare’s invention of the manipulating and cunning Iago, the multi-layered use of Othello’s mothers handkerchief, and Othello’s past military training being resurfaced due to Iago’s lies, all lead Othello to his demise. Deception and betrayal are two of Iago’s worst traits when he is outranked by Cassio. Iago’s capacity for cruelty appears limitless, and no motivation he gives for his actions seems enough to explain the incredible destruction he wreaks on the lives of the people he knows best. His bitterness in not succeeding on becoming lieutenant is not a sufficient enough reason to match his countless acts of evil machinations.
Iago uses a subtle approach when provoking Othello to become untrustworthy of Desdemona. He is able to hurt Othello successfully because he understands him so much. He grows closer to Othello as the plot progresses. In Act 2, scene 1 Iago states, “The moor, howbeit that I endure him not, is of constant, loving, noble nature”. These 3 adjectives indicate his awareness of Othello’s character. As Iago therefore continues to explain that he knows the noble moor would be a deserving husband of his wife, but then uses this knowledge to his power to play with Othello’s thoughts, using his strong love for Desdemona as a portal to self-destruction for all of those he knows best. He makes this statement in soliloquy after Othello and the entire company land on Cyprus. He is able to acknowledge that Othello is a worthy noble man, however, Iago reveals how evil and manipulating he can be, by wanting to utterly destroy Othello’s life and reputation.
He is subbed when Othello gives the lieutenant’s position to Cassio. In return he makes ridiculous excuses that Othello slept with his wife Emilia, as another reason for revenge. It is all because of Iago’s cunning and evil power that he ruins these lives for his own sadistic pleasure. The noble moor is led to become the enraged murder when manipulative Iago tells Othello that Desdemona has given his mother’s handkerchief to Cassio. Act 3 Scene 3 is the beginning of Othello’s “handkerchief plot”, a seemingly insignificant event that becomes the means in which Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, Emilia and even Iago himself are completely undone.
The handkerchief symbolizes love and with the manipulation of Iago, great depths of anger and untrustworthiness. Othello tells Desdemona that an Egyptian witch gave it to his mother, and it serves as a love charm. “Make it a darling like your precious eye. To lose’t or to give’t away were such a prediction as nothing else could match” Othello tells Desdemona. Othello’s simile here is an alarming one as it is evident that if Desdemona was to be unfaithful, the superstitious purposes can be equated in value for a precious bodily organ.
Shakespeare cleverly allows this item to move amongst characters in the novel before Othello demands evidence of his wife’s disloyalty to him. Iago has already planned out his scheme before confronting Othello. “Tell me but this, have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief, spotted with strawberries in your wife’s hand?” Iago uses this rhetorical question as a persuasive technique to make his point more believable. He explains to Othello that earlier that day he seen Cassio wipe his mouth with the handkerchief. We know that Cassio has not seen the item, and it is in Iago’s pocket whilst he asks this question. Othello is so blinded by jealousy that he accepts Iago’s lie as the strongest possible evidence.
Although he forgets Desdemona tried to bind his head with it at dinner. Through this imagery and plot device we see that the importance of the handkerchief assists the noble moor in becoming the enraged murderer in scene 5. Scene 5 sees the story unfold and the main characters undone. Othello enters the room as he hovers over Desdemona whilst he tries to prepare himself to kill her. “It is the cause; it is the cause, my soul, let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause”. This use of repetition implies Othello’s constant thought process and how he knows in his mind she has done wrong. He feels as though he must put an end to her betrayal and disloyalty, if not for himself, but for future men she may do it to.
His past military training makes the killing of his wife second nature, a routine manoeuvre that’s sees the horrible deed carried out far easier than the circumstances should have allowed. “Out, strumpet! Weep’st thou for him to my face?” Desdemona is questioned by Othello, asking if she is calling for Cassio right to his face. “Down, strumpet!”. Othello proceeds to call Desdemona a whore on numerous occasions. This dramatic visualization enforces the idea that Othello has been greatly manipulated.
Iago’s words have pushed him to the extent that he can no longer see Desdemona the way he once used too. His second nature of killing and military training is evident when he does not give Desdemona that chance to say a last prayer. He tells her, “It is too late”, as he smoothers her with the pillow they once both lay on together. This cruel and unfair treatment comes from what he knows best. If in danger, you must protect yourself. Although he was not in physical harm, his heart was in a much deeper pain. He used his unique skills as his defence mechanism to kill.
Othello has been considered one of the most painful of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It explores the collapse of a proud, honourable man, the killing of a beautiful, dedicated woman, and the unreasoning hate of a “motiveless” villain. The text has evoked terror and pity in audiences throughout the centuries. Othello however holds a power that is perhaps more abrupt and strongly felt for operating on the personal, human plane.
Courtney from Study Moose
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