An Exploration of Friendship in Shakespeare's Othello

Categories: Othello

Friendship, a complex and multifaceted bond, serves as a cornerstone in human relationships. In William Shakespeare's play Othello, the dynamics of friendship are explored with a keen eye, revealing the delicate interplay of trust, loyalty, and honesty. As the narrative unfolds, these friendships face tumultuous challenges that lead to tragic outcomes. This essay delves into the nuanced causes of friendship problems depicted in Othello, examining the themes of distrust, selfishness, and jealousy that contribute to the unraveling of these profound connections.

The Erosion of Trust: Othello and Cassio's Fractured Friendship

Shakespeare masterfully portrays the corrosive impact of distrust within friendships, a theme exemplified in the relationship between Othello and Cassio. Initially characterized by loyalty and honesty, their bond crumbles under the weight of Iago's insidious manipulation. Seeds of doubt planted by Iago take root in Othello's mind, causing him to question Cassio's allegiance. The fragility of trust becomes evident as Iago's convincing words, devoid of tangible evidence, poison Othello's thoughts.

One notable instance is when Iago employs intense imagery to suggest an illicit affair between Cassio and Desdemona:

"It is impossible you should see this, Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, As salt as wolves in pride, and fools as gross As ignorance made drunk.

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" (3.3.402-405)

Othello, succumbing to Iago's manipulation, reacts with intense anger, paving the way for tragic consequences. The lack of trust is further underscored when Othello, without allowing Cassio to defend himself, dismisses him from his position as lieutenant, based solely on Iago's deceitful words.

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The aftermath of the fight between Cassio and Roderigo also highlights Othello's distrust in Cassio. Othello, influenced by Iago's cunning, perceives Cassio's involvement as a major flaw. Even when Cassio is inebriated, Othello hastily dismisses him from his position:

"I know, Iago, Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, Making it light to Cassio. Cassio, I love thee; But never more be an officer of mine." (2.3.225-228)

This announcement is made while Cassio is still drunk, denying him the opportunity to defend himself in full consciousness. The lack of trust in the relationship between Othello and Cassio becomes a catalyst for tragic and sorrowful events.

Selfish Motivations Unveiled: Iago's Machinations

Selfishness emerges as a pervasive cause of strife in Othello's world, embodied by the cunning character of Iago. His relationships, including that with his wife Emilia, are tainted by self-serving motives. Iago's manipulation of Emilia, exploiting her loyalty for his gain, is exemplified when he convinces her to obtain Desdemona's handkerchief:

"I am glad I have found this napkin; This was her first remembrance from the Moor. My wayward husband hath a hundred times Woo'd me to steal it..." (3.3.290-293)

Moreover, Iago's callous use of the term "wench" to refer to Emilia reveals his disdain for women, further highlighting his selfish nature. Iago's exploitation of his friend Roderigo, advising him to send gifts to Desdemona under false pretenses, showcases the extent of his selfishness and callous disregard for others' emotions.

Iago's selfish desires extend to his relationship with Roderigo, whom he uses to further his own agenda:

"Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; For I mine own gained knowledge should profane If I would time expend with such a snipe But for my sport and profit." (1.3.372-375)

Iago's selfishness leads him to use Roderigo to his benefit and advantage, disregarding the damage and emotional stress it inflicts on Roderigo. This exploitation ultimately leads to tragic consequences for Roderigo.

The Consuming Flames of Jealousy

Jealousy, a potent force, emerges as a destructive element in Othello's friendships. Iago's envy of Othello's high rank and Cassio's appointment as lieutenant fuels his malevolent actions. Iago's insatiable desire for power and position drives him to manipulate Othello, creating a web of deceit that ultimately leads to tragic events.

Iago's jealousy reaches its pinnacle when he plots to poison Othello's joy:

"Rouse him, Make after him, poison his delight, Proclaim him in the streets, Incense her kinsmen, And though he in a fertile climate dwell, Plague him with flies..." (1.1.69-73)

Similarly, Iago's resentment towards Cassio for attaining the lieutenant position intensifies his jealousy. His vengeful plot against both Othello and Cassio is fueled by the belief that they have wronged him by overlooking his worth.

"…the better shall my purpose work on him. Cassio's a proper man, Let me see now: To get his place, and to plump up my will In double knavery - How, how?- Let's see:- …" (1.3.380-384)

It is now evident that Iago's jealousy and desire for revenge drive his actions throughout the play, causing irreparable damage to the friendships he manipulates.

Conclusion: Unraveling the Threads of Friendship in Othello

Shakespeare's Othello, a masterful exploration of human relationships, unravels the intricate threads that bind friendships together. The lack of trust, selfish motivations, and the corrosive nature of jealousy serve as catalysts for the tragic events that befall the characters. Othello's portrayal of these timeless themes provides a profound understanding of the complexities inherent in human connections. As the characters grapple with their own flaws and the external forces that assail their friendships, the play stands as a timeless testament to the fragility and resilience of human bonds.

Through the lens of Othello's friendships, Shakespeare invites readers to reflect on the intricacies of trust, the dangers of selfish motivations, and the destructive power of jealousy. In this exploration, the play transcends its time, offering a timeless commentary on the human condition and the fragility of the bonds that shape our lives.

Updated: Jan 10, 2024
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An Exploration of Friendship in Shakespeare's Othello. (2016, Jul 31). Retrieved from

An Exploration of Friendship in Shakespeare's Othello essay
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