Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ is the study of how a seemingly successful Venetian general, is skilfully manipulated by the cunning Iago, who by exploiting Othello’s insecurities transforms his identity into a jealous murderer. At the beginning of the play, Othello’s identity is that of an assiduous black general who fought exceptionally hard to gain respect in a white dominated society. In marrying Desdemona, Othello adds to his identity by being a lover and husband and his identity is portrayed to be interconnected to his love for Desdemona.
Iago is jealous of Othello’s high standing and greatly respected identity and therefore undermines Othello’s confidence in his wives faithfulness and turns his identity into an irrational jealously. Shakespeare utilises a number of key techniques in ‘Othello,’ to indicate the extent of Othello’s identity changes. These changes are effectively conveyed to the audience through the contrast of Othello’s outward appearance with his affable interior. They are further exemplified through the themes of love and jealously and via alterations in Othello’s language, as Othello’s confidence in Desdemona is slowly undermined.
In the first Act of the play, Othello’s identity is shaped by a variety of negative images which promote the stereotype of the black African slave in a white dominated society. Although these images are not a true reflection of Othello’s identity, Shakespeare has very effectively done this in order to accentuate how Othello’s identity slowly changes throughout the play to reflect the initial images presented to the audience. In Act One, Othello is not once referred to by his actual name.
Rather, he is referred to as “he,” “him,” and the derogatory terms “thick-lips” and a “Barbary horse. ” Shakespeare makes use of this technique to establish Othello’s displeasing physical identity. Brabantio also describes Othello as a “sooty bosom,” whom his daughter Desdemona would never have agreed to marry without the use of witch craft and magic charms, “If she in chains of magic were not bound, whether a maid so tender, fair and happy, so opposite to marriage that she shunn’d. Contrastingly, Othello’s elevated status in Venetian society, reflected in his high naval position, demonstrates an identity that is greatly respected, so much so that not even the accusations of Brabantio affect his status. This is clearly demonstrated when the duke says, “Your son in law is far more fair than black,” thus signifying that Othello’s black skin hides an amiable interior. However, as Othello’s confidence in Desdemona is undermined, Othello is driven to the verge of insanity and his identity begins to reflect the negative images initially presented in the first act.
This is achieved through the use of imagery, in which Othello is likened to the devil, “And what delight shall she have to look on the devil. ” By the end of the play, Othello’s ‘blackness’ starts to show and his identity changes from a “War like moor,” to a man characterised by wrath and irrationality. In ‘Othello,’ love acts as a binding force between Othello and his wife Desdemona, and the initial impression portrayed by Shakespeare to the audience is of Othello as a romantic who has complete faith in his wife.
Othello’s identity is shaped by his infatuation of Desdemona, “My soul hath her content so absolute that not another comfort like to this succeeds in unknown fate. ” The link between Othello’s identity and his love for Desdemona is further accentuated in, “But I do love thee; and when I love thee not, Chaos is come again. ” However as Iago’s manipulative plan takes shape, Othello grows insecure about his relationship and he begins to question why he married, “Why did I marry? Othello changes from a confident, in control, self-assured man into a doubtful man weakened by his love for Desdemona. His wives supposed infidelity leaves Othello a tormented broken man who is unable to go on living.
Jealously is the most corrupting and destructive of emotions, which when instilled in Othello, drives him to insanity and causes substantial changes to his identity throughout the play. Initially, Othello claims not to be a jealous man, “Do you think I’d make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions? He possesses a “free and open nature,” and this exceptional vulnerability allows Iago to manipulate Othello’s trusting character and twist his love for Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy, “O beware, my lord, of jealously: It is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on. ” As soon as Iago launches his deceptive plan and jealously is roused within Othello, it becomes so self-intensifying that he is taken over by an uncontrollable irrationality and his ability to make coherent decisions is over-ridded.
Othello’s identity is transformed from a self-assured man into an envious persona and this is cemented in, “Trifles light as air, are to the jealous confirmations, strong as proofs of holy writ. There is a significant change in identity, “The Moor already changes with my poison,” from a smart, sensible person, to one characterised by jealously. A distinct transformation in Othello’s language is used to demonstrate how Othello’s identity changes substantially throughout the course of the play.
The identity of Othello is closely aligned to his marriage with Desdemona and he feels that his status in society has been elevated because he is a black man married to a high class Venetian women. As Othello’s marriage is demoralised, Othello’s identity undergoes change and these changes are strongly emphasized through Othello’s choice of language. Initially, Othello is an idealist and romantic who generally speaks in verse throughout the play, “It gives me wonder great as my content to see you here before me. ” His language is quixotic and heightened conveying an affectionate persona; one profoundly linked with his flourishing marriage.
However, once Othello is made aware of Desdemona’s ‘infidelity,’ their relationship is put under immense strain and Othello grows increasingly stressed, confused and angry. This is reflected in a change in language, which moves from polite and eloquent at the beginning of the play, to aggressive and exceedingly visual, “I’ll tear her to pieces. ” This alteration in language portrays a character change, from a gentleman, to a violent and belligerent person. By the end of the play Othello’s identity transformation is so substantial, he is unrecognisable, “My lord is not my lord. Othello is no longer the man he used to be.
Shakespeare successfully conveys changes to Othello’s identity throughout the course of the play through the contrast of his outwards appearance with his amiable inner identity. His identity changes are further enhanced by the accentuation of the bond between himself and his wife and the devastating effects the weakening of this bond has on him. The destructive force of jealously and Othello’s naive view on marriage are additionally used to show how Othello moves from a confident, strong and highly regarded naval officer to someone completely broken by his love of another.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 November 2016
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