William Shakespeare’s “Othello: The Moor of Venice,” is full of deception, jealousy, and guilt. The title character, Othello, newly married to Desdemona and respected despite his differences for his strength of character and his valiant efforts on behalf of the Venetian state. Othello’s character changes drastically when his servant Iago, fueled by hatred for Othello, manipulates Othello’s thoughts to create the impression that Desdemona is unfaithful with friend and fellow soldier Michael Cassio.
Othello’s actions become defined by his jealousy, which contrasts so notably from the Othello presented at the beginning of the play, that the jealousy becomes a character in itself. When the play begins, the reader is introduced to Iago and Roderigo, who knowing of Othello’s nuptials to Desdemona attempt to sabotage the romance by appealing to her father. Iago’s hatred of his master is first introduced; it will be the driving force behind the events of the demise of Othello and Desdemona.
The reason for Iago’s hatred is difficult to pinpoint, though in the first act he implies that Othello’s having passed him over for lieutenantship. However, his case against Othello appears to be due to a deeper hatred so much so that he manipulates everyone around him to bring about the downfall of his master. In this first scene, Iago and Roderigo’s speech is peppered with derogatory references to Othello’s racial difference. In this first section, he is not called “Othello” but rather “the Moor” (I. i. 57), “the thick-lips” (I. i. 66), “an old black ram” (I. i. 88), and “a Barbary horse” (I. i. 113).
At later points throughout the play, Iago makes again makes reference to Othello’s race, implying an animalistic nature and that Desdemona’s attraction to him is a novelty fueled by lust rather than mutual love and understanding, “Her eye must be fed, and what delight shall she have to look on the devil? When the blood is made dull with the act of sport, there should be a game to inflame it and to give satiety a fresh appetite, loveliness in favor, sympathy in years, manners and beauties.
All which the Moor is defective in (II. i. 204). Despite Othello’s status as a general his race, his difference from the white Venetians with whom he works, is a matter of disdain for Iago and something his virtues are constantly trying to overshadow. Othello is everything he is in spite of his race, and perhaps Iago’s jealousy of Othello’s ability to overcome his difference is enough to his hatred of the Moor. Iago recognizes that his best tool against Othello is the love and trust Othello has in Desdemona.
He manipulates in such as way as to ingratiate himself even further to Othello as his plan requires his close oversight and well placed lies, “Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me/ For making him egregiously an ass/ And practicing upon his peace and quiet/ Even to madness (II. i. 235). ” Once the idea of distrust is in Othello’s mind, his jealousy begins to emerge more clearly as a singular character than Othello himself had.
In the beginning of the play, while other characters such as Iago characters and motives were being built through dialogue and monologues, Othello’s character is built in the reader’s mind by the impressions, which the other characters have of him. He is simply spoken and humble almost to a point of subservience. His love for Desdemona is a matter of like wills coming together. Despite Iago’s assertions to Othello’s animal nature (apparently owing only to his darker skin), Othello is the most restrained of all the characters. However, as the seeds of Iago’s manipulation are planted and harvested the change in Othello is startling.
Though a soldier of note, Othello never exhibits any notion of violence until his jealousy takes over his reason. Iago realizes this and is able to manipulate not only his words and imply the worst to Othello but also the actions of others. His exchange with Cassio while Othello hides in the enclave is possibly the best example of his manipulation and the extent to which doubt and jealousy have overtaken Othello’s character. Cassio, speaking of the woman Bianca who has strong affections for him, shows all the characteristics of a man speaking to a woman.
Othello, whose beliefs are led the whole way by Iago’s seeds of doubt, automatically assigns the role of woman to Desdemona. When Cassio laughs in disdain over Iago’s question of whether Cassio has affections for Bianca other than physical, Othello interprets the laughter as directed at him, “So, so, so, so! They laugh that win! (IV. i. 110). ” Iago’s manipulation is so complete that Othello resolves to settle the perceived betrayal through murdering Desdemona and having someone else take care of Cassio, “Ay, let her rot and perish and be damned tonight, for she shall not live. No, my heart is turned to stone” (IV. i. 140).
It is a show of Iago’s power over Othello that not only does he lead Othello to this conclusion but also tells how Othello should murder Desdemona, “Do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated” (IV. i. 159). This scene is illustrative of the power which jealousy now has over Othello; his motives and reasoning are now presented to the reader through Othello’s own words and actions. His jealousy becomes the character, not Othello the man. He begins to see his love for Desdemona as the destructor, never suspecting Iago’s manipulations until it is too late, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars,/ It is the cause” (V. ii. 1-3). Despite Desdemona’s protests, the jealousy has taken such a deep root into his mind that even her pleas and explanations do not touch cause him to waiver in his desire to kill her. When he finds out that Iago masterminded the entire saga and that he had killed Desdemona in vain we see the return of his gentleness, though not his calm. The jealousy created madness in Othello; this madness, though the jealousy is shown to be unfounded, unsettles Othello’s character. When he kills himself, Othello is still no longer his old self, though also no longer a jealous man.
He is merely a broken man, Iago though caught accomplished his wish to destroy the Moor. Once jealousy takes root in Othello’s mind it begins to alter his character in such a way that the Othello of the beginning of the play and the Othello at the end are almost opposites. As this jealousy is increasingly agitated by Iago’s unfolding drama the reader and, I daresay the other characters who hold Othello so close to their affections, lose more and more the man whose loyalty and strength of mind and body overcame any objections to his differences.
While the rest of the characters remain unwavering in their defining features, Othello is like three characters in one. First, there is the Othello who is the strong and steadfast servant of Venice who is a celebrated and trusted general, whose love for Desdemona is unquestioned even by the heads of state. Second, there is Othello enraged and broken by falsely based jealousies. Finally, even as knowing of her innocence restores his faith and love in Desdemona, his guilt causes a third incarnation of the man and character.