The tragedy Othello, was written in a time of great racial tensions in England. According to Eldred Jones, in 1600 just three years before Othello was written, Queen Elizabeth proclaimed an order for the transportation of all “negars and blackmoores” out of the country . It is in this manner that Shakespeare began the masterpiece of Othello, a drama about a noble black Arab general, Othello, who falls in love with and marries, Desdemona, a young white daughter of a senator. In the tragedy not only is Othello susceptible to weaknesses but so is every major character .
The tragedy reminds humans that even one’s good nature can be taken advantage of for the worse. In Shakespeare’s Othello, characters are strongly affected by their influential emotions of love, jealousy, and hate which ultimately lead to chaos and tragedy in the end. All the relationships in the play demonstrate the vulnerability involved with love. Each of the relationships in Othello portrays insecurities in each person, except Iago. In fact, all of the relationships with one character, Iago, are focused around him and his devilish plot for the demise of Othello.
However, most of the relationships in Othello bring about unintentional frustrations and vulnerabilities. The marriages in Othello are the most important relationships involving vulnerability because they bring out the best hopes and attitudes, and the worst fears and emotions in each character. Shakespeare, in designing Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, shows that although one can truly love a person, the need for human control can destroy any relationship causing heartbreak. From the very beginning, Othello faces a dilemma of vulnerability because of his marriage.
In his essay, Eldred Jones has concluded with this by stating that Othello made himself available to public criticism and assaults on his character by marrying a young white girl. Furthermore, the couple’s constant struggle over power and control makes them susceptible to destruction of their happiness. Othello seeks complete control over his wife, Desdemona: “O curse of marriage. That we can call these delicate creatures ours, And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad And live upon the vapour of a dungeon. Then keep a corner in the thing I love”(61).
Othello is clearly showing that he sees Desdemona’s love, faithfulness and submissions as criteria for his manhood. His feelings demonstrate how vulnerable people can become in putting their self-value in another person. Shakespeare, in developing the power struggle of Othello’s marriage, reminds the audience that to control a person fully only brings about turmoil. Love is the most powerful emotion and ironically the emotion that leads to the most vulnerability. Loves of all kinds are tested in the tragedy and ultimately all fail to rectify the horrible situation.
Marital love for Othello and Desdemona serve as both a heaven and a hell on earth. As Othello portrays by saying, “If I were now to die ‘Twere now to be most happy; for I fear My soul hath her content so absolute That not another comfort like unto Succeeds in unknown fate” (34). Such a statement gives mixed messages suggesting happiness yet weariness about the future. Susan Snyder has cited the same irony in Othello’s statement ” Othello celebrate his peak of joy, yet so markedly his invocations of death and fear make us apprehensive” (24).
Jealousy is a key factor to Iago’s cruel behaviour throughout the play. The two adversarial relationships in the play develop out of Iago’s master plan to destroy any happiness Othello has. Iago gets into the hearts and minds of his colleagues so he can use psychological and emotional control over them. The only explanation Iago gives for his behavior is “I am not, what I am”(5). Shakespeare uses the character, Iago, to show that it is dangerous to believe any individual completely.
The eagerness of Othello and Roderigo to accept Iago’s lies shows that they found some strange type of comfort in what e was saying. From the start of the play, Iago’s scheming ability is shown when he convinces Roderigo to tell about Othello and Desdemonda’s elopement to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio. Confidentially Iago continues his plot successfully, making fools of others, and himself being rewarded. Except Roderigo, no one is aware of Iago’s plans. This is because Iago pretends to be an honest man, loyal to his superiors.
The fact that Othello himself views Iago as trustworthy and honest gives the evil within Iago a perfect unsuspecting victim for his schemes. It is this jealousy, and the ignorance of Othello that lead to the downfall of Desdemona; the one truly good natured character in the play. Hate, which comes in a form of injustice and racism, whether hidden or public, is what Othello must deal with constantly. Brabantio proclaims to Othello and the senate, ” A maiden never bold. to fall in love with what she feared to look on”(17).
Such harsh words from Brabantio, Othello’s father-in-law, no doubt damages Othello’s pride and feelings. Yet, he must encounter them with the utmost respect and honor. It is in this atmosphere that Othello must thrive. Eldred Jones has stated this well saying, “Brabantio, gnoring the facts angrily classes Othello with bond slaves and pagans. Brabantio reflects popular prejudices” (42). For these reasons, Othello is weary; he is always seen as an outsider despite constant effort and service to Venice.
Shakespeare sets the tragedy of Othello in type of hostile environment to enable an audience to understand the unfairness and struggles that a person like Othello would have to cope with in real life. Hate and jealously are a response to insecurities felt over the beloved of each character. In turn, all the emotions bring total destruction to any peace f mind or happiness that any of the major characters may have. By the end of the drama, Othello, the once loving husband, has become a green-eyed monster.
He is so filled with jealousy that he does not even listen to Emilia’s repeated denial of an affair between Desdemona and Cassio. He kills Desdemona, then afterwards kills himself due to regret and shame. Anthony Barthelemy claims, ” In other word the play undoes what it does: It turns a heroic Moor into a villainous Moor… “(2). This is exactly what Shakespeare wanted to prove, that love can turn to hate and admiration can turn to jealousy. Most importantly, Shakespeare demonstrated that everything good in life may turn into something bad.
Shakespeare, through Othello, reminds humans how vulnerable they truly are and how ones emotions can seriously overcome ones reason and intellect. Othello descends from a status of happiness and prosperity to a sense of guilt and ultimately death. The classic battle between the deceitful forces of evil and the innocence of good, is very evident throughout the play, and the effects of the emotions that the characters deal with such as love, jealousy and hate, turns the play into a horrible tragedy.