Term Paper: Jealousy in Othello

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[. . .] That fact may have had the most emotional impact on me as a reader/viewer: all these good people were brought down toward Iago's low level. He went on a complete power trip, destroying everything that was good around him, and then just walked away. It was almost like watching a serial killer by proxy in action. His disregard for others is immense. As Hassel (2001) points out, when Iago first tries to suggest to Roderigo that Desdemona might have an affair, and with Cassio, Roderigo says, "I cannot believe that in her; she's full of most blessed condition." Iago suggests that a virtuous woman never would have married Othello: "If she had been blessed, she would never have loved the Moor. Blessed pudding!"

The extent to which Iago feeds Othello's jealousy is shown by the way Othello's jealousy grows throughout the play. In act III he considers whether Iago's hints about Desdemona and Iago might be true. His first reaction is to say, "If I do prove her haggard, / Though that her jesses were my dear heart strings, / I'ld whistle her off, and let her down the wind / To prey at fortune" (3.3. 260-263). The falconry metaphor suggests that he cannot control her, he will release her, risking that she might not return to her (Carson, PAGE). By the end of the play, however, his jealousy has grown so much that it overtakes his better qualities. He accepts the handkerchief as evidence of her infidelity without considering other explanations, and acts in such a rage that he kills her. The viewer has to wonder if he would have gone to such extremes without Iago's prodding and behind-scenes manipulation even if Desdemona had truly been unfaithful to him.

The thing that was most surprising about this play was that Othello himself did not seem to see Iago for what he was. In his life, Othello was surrounded by powerful people. His father-in-law was a powerful man, and when he had to defend his marriage to Desdemona, he did so in front of powerful people without flinching. He had to learn how to get along in a new society and culture, one apparently very different from the one in which he had grown up, so one would think he was good at reading people. It seems unlikely that he was promoted in the military on merit alone. As an outsider, he must have been looked at very closely, and he must have read situations very well. But when it came to Iago, he seemed to be blind.

According to Evans (2001), "Flattery and false friendship were topics that preoccupied many people during the Renaissance, a period in which private connections were even more important than today in determining a person's economic success, social status, and even his deeper sense of self-worth." Nevertheless, Othello was fooled. It isn't as if Iago cleverly hid the kind of person he was. He tells the audience openly of his plans. But Othello values trust and fidelity, and Iago manages to appear to him to be a trusted and loyal friend. Iago uses that trust to learn the weaknesses of Iago, and uses the very trait in Iago that allowed Iago to fool Othello -- the value he holds in trust -- and uses it against him, shaking his trust in his wife to the point that Othello kills her.

The belief of the day, at a time when people could cross class boundaries more freely than ever before in order to improve themselves, was that flatterers could be quite dangerous, using other people for their own ends, and that those who were most skillful at it would never be detected by their victims until it was too late (Evans, PAGE).

Perhaps that was Othello's final, tragic flaw. Perhaps he did actually get ahead on his charm, wit and ability to tell a good story as well as his respected ability to lead men into battle and return victorious. Perhaps, as someone outside the culture within which he lived, he never saw Iago for the jealous, power-hungry, treacherous flatterer he was until it was too late.


Carson, Ricks. 1997. "Shakespeare's Othello. Explicator:37.

Evans, Robert C. 2001. "Flattery in Shakespeare's Othello: The Relevance of Plutarch and Sir Thomas Elyot."

Comparative Drama:35.

Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. 2001. " Intercession, Detraction and Just Judgment in Othello. Comparative Drama:35.

Weller, Philip. 2002. "Othello," at Clicknotes.com. Accessed via the Internet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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