Jealousy as a destructive feeling is a basis of the plot for many novels and plays. One of the most well-known among them is “Othello” by William Shakespeare. It displays how blind and deaf an affected man can be towards himself and other people, even those whom he loves. A play in this sense has many advantages over other types of art because it makes a reader participate in the action and personally experience the feelings of characters. In the play Shakespeare describes jealousy so cogently, that many generations of readers get convinced of its hidden danger.
Othello is a Moor (this word was used in Medieval Europe to define Muslim population of Spain and North Africa) who is glorified due to his military leadership. He makes acquaintance with a young and beautiful girl Desdemona. Being impressed by his fame, Desdemona falls in love with Othello, and they secretly get married. Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, appeals to the Doge of Venice (an Italian city where the action takes place) as he thinks that Othello has enchanted his daughter. However, Othello manages to convince everyone that it was Desdemona’s free will to marry him, and then he leaves Venice to command a distant garrison.
Othello’s assistant Iago and a nobleman Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona and even has made a suicide attempt, make a plot. They want to remove Othello and occupy his place. Iago persuades Othello that Desdemona and Cassio, Othello’s young subordinate, are lovers. Iago starts talking to Cassio about his girlfriend walking across the yard where Othello is hiding. The Moor, who can hear only some phrases, gets an impression that they are speaking about his wife. He starts believing Iago and grows jealous of Desdemona. To make Othello absolutely sure about Desdemona’s infidelity Iago secretly puts a handkerchief which was Othello’s present to Cassio’s things. Othello finds this “betrayal evidence”. Iago advises him to kill Desdemona while asleep. Instead of this Othello orders him to kill Cassio. Having adjudicated her in advance, Othello accuses Desdemona. He listens neither to her nor to Emilia, Iago’s wife, who tells him about Desdemona’s innocence.
When Desdemona goes to bed, the Moor tells her everything he knows about her betrayal. The wife denies the accusations, and Othello, shocked by her mendacity, strangles her. After this Iago, Cassio, Emilia and other people enter the room. Emilia uncovers Iago’s conspiracy, so Iago kills her, and then he is arrested. Othello, unable to forgive himself for Desdemona’s murder, commits suicide.
Othello’s main tragedy is not so much jealousy as credulity. William Shakespeare, writing an elegy about the death of Richard Burbage who first impersonated Othello, mentioned a “grieved Moor” (Potter 12). A grieved Moor, not a jealous one! Othello is disappointed and unhappy because of his action, and this feature is emphasized by Shakespeare. Everything he did he did for honor, and this helps us understand the very nature of jealousy as a feeling.
The essence of Othello’s jealousy is very controversial. Critics, following racial prejudices, distort Shakespeare’s idea. They assert that in the very Othello’s nature there is a hidden barbarian, and civilization is only an external casing. The casing is gradually falling, baring instincts irremovable by culture.
All these figments are disproved by the text of the tragedy. Othello’s Moorish origin is not a central point of the play. Seeing Othello insulting Desdemona, the senate legate Lodovico asks if it is the same noble Moor who is considered as the most honorable person by the senate. Othello’s attacks of epilepsy show that his soul is shocked (Vozar 184). Such terrible changes are frequent in Shakespeare’s plays. Let us recall internal and external metamorphoses of Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, for instance. So, Othello had no hidden wild passions, they are just critics’ fantasy. Thoughtful reading of the text uncovers many-sided artistic analysis of jealousy and its demonstration on the example of Othello.
Othello’s jealousy has features of contempt. His hatred of Cassio is enhanced by Iago’s speculations, which depicts Cassio as a vile man boldly boasting of the victory over Desdemona. The order to kill Cassio is the result of Othello’s disgust for the sneaky traitor. Also his hate of Desdemona is growing due to awareness of her mendacity. The more she denies her infidelity, the more outraged becomes Othello. Thinking of killing Desdemona, he treats his plan as an act of justice. Being blinded by his jealousy, Othello loses the ability of rational thinking. Neither Emilia’s arguments nor Desdemona’s words before her death can persuade him, they only amplify his anger.
Another disproof of Othello’s barbarian passion as the main reason for killing his wife is the final monologue of the play. This decision comes to him after long contemplations during which he convinces himself of judgment necessity. He tells Desdemona about his intention to kill her several times, making her confess to the sins. This illustrates one more feature of Shakespeare’s tragedies – the author does not look for excuses for sins. Differently from other writers, evil is never attractive in Shakespeare’s plays. Vice versa, Shakespeare induces maximal reader’s aversion to sins. Feelings of his heroes are natural, passions and suffering may cause madness, but these feelings belong to ordinary people. Othello does not have any pathological distortions of normal human nature; his soul is just temporarily corrupted by jealousy.
“Othello” is not just a tragedy depicting jealousy. It describes a collision of two worlds – a world of an absolute cynic and manipulator Iago, and the second world including all the rest of characters. Iago is a complete egotist, a man who considers his own private interests to be the highest. Iago is a supporter of the typical Machiavelli’s motto: the end justifies the means. That is why his methods are based on deception and meanness. Iago can be treated as a lessened copy of a “perfect man” described by Machiavelli and typical for the Renaissance epoch. Othello is a complete, radical opposition to Iago. He is internally clean, with the feeling of duty to people and morality. His motivation looks ridiculous to Iago; the very existence of people with such motivations is dangerous for “Iagos”. A good comment on personalities of Othello and Iago is given in the opera “Othello” by Giuseppe Verdi. Othello’s arias are accompanied by solemn and dramatic music, while Iago’s singing is insinuating and hypnotic.
The roots of Othello’s jealousy are in his love to people. He is open and sincere to other people, including Iago. And he is loved by other characters. This is mutual respect of people who appreciate honor and nobility. How can Iago defeat such a person? He can outdo Othello only by lowering him to his level of immorality. Iago knows human weaknesses very well and can easily use them. That is his talent. He is everyone’s friend, rendering small services and not asking for anything instead. Being comfortable for everyone, he manipulates the trust of people, using it in his own interests. Othello gets on this hook. Iago starts with confused hints – and the Moor’s attention is attracted. Since then he is Iago’s victim, being guided through a chain of provocations. Finally, he comes to a state when he is unable to think adequately. In such a condition a man is easy to manipulate, what Iago does masterly. Only an occasion brings Iago to justice. All the noble people are defeated. Desdemona and Emilia are killed, Cassio is wounded, and Othello commits suicide.
The trust of noble people to each other is their power, but at the same time it is their weakness. As soon as a villain is able to use it, he can destroy all of them. Jealousy is a direct consequence of this trust loss. Also we can look at the problem of jealousy from philosophical point of view. Jealousy is always inextricably connected to love. This principle was described by a Greek philosopher Heraclitus 26 centuries ago who argues that oppositions, like love and jealousy, tend to unite. The stronger is love, the more powerful is jealousy. As Othello’s love is extremely strong, his jealousy destroys his life and lives of people, close to him.
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Othello’s jealousy went far beyond the borders of Shakespeare’s play. British psychiatrists gave the name of “Othello syndrome” to pathological jealousy (Buss 73). They treat jealousy as a part of the struggle for survival. But sometimes this normal instinctive feeling gets out of the person’s control, becoming psychopathological. In this case, jealousy leads to formation of obsessions, which cause socially dangerous and destructive behavior. Besides, modern sociologists use such a term as “home Othello”. It concerns domestic jealousy, which we can often see in daily life. Its consequences are not so much tragic, but anyway they can negatively influence the lives of both the person who is jealous, and the one to whom it is directed.
In conclusion, the destructive nature of jealousy is obvious, but its danger can be underestimated by people who know about it from theoretical journal articles. Masterpieces such as Shakespeare’s “Othello” make the spectator sense these feelings. The viewer empathizes with the characters, getting their experience not to repeat the mistakes. This way the art helps us to avoid abnormal actions in real life.
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