A Literary Analysis of the Jealousy in Othello by William Shakespeare
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago plots Othello’s destruction when he is passed over for a promotion. Iago tells Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him and provides circumstantial evidence for this. Othello becomes full of anger and jealousy and kills Desdemona. Othello later finds that Desdemona was not unfaithful and commits suicide. Jealousy appears many times in several characters of Othello. Jealousy leads to the ultimate downfall of several characters in Othello such as Roderigo, Othello, and Iago.
Roderigo shows jealousy throughout Othello, and is eventually killed by Iago, as a result. Roderigo is enlisted by Iago to help him in his plot to ruin Othello. Roderigo was a possible suitor for Desdemona until she married Othello on her own. This fills Roderigo with jealousy toward Othello. For this reason, Roderigo is eager to help Iago with his plan. He first helps Iago in telling Brabantio of Desdemona’s secret marriage to Othello. Roderigo rudely wakes Brabantio one night saying, “What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!” (1.1.78). He then provides assistance to Iago by starting a brawl in which Cassio wounds another man. As a result, Othello relieves Cassio of his command. Roderigo’s jealousy finally catches up with him when Iago asks him to kill Cassio. Iago tells him that Desdemona will sleep with him if he will kill Cassio. Roderigo’s selfishness is apparent and he attempts to kill Cassio. His attempt to kill Cassio fails when his mail shirt saves him. In the process, Roderigo is also wounded. Iago comes along later and finishes him off. Although he is not the only victim of jealousy in this play, Roderigo is eventually killed by this emotion.
Othello is also a victim of jealousy in this play. He is overcome with jealousy when Iago tells him of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. Othello falls right into Iago’s trap when he hears this news. Othello trusts Iago too much and becomes easily convinced of this accusation. All he can think about is getting revenge on Desdemona. Because of his jealousy, Othello is easily swayed into believing Iago’s flimsy evidence. Once presented with this evidence, Othello becomes furious with Desdemona. He ultimately decides that Desdemona must die and makes no attempt to speak with her about the accusation. He says to Iago, “Get me some poison, Iago, this night. I’ll not expostulate with her, / lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again. This night, Iago!” (4.1.186-87). This clearly expresses his rage and jealousy once finally convinced of Desdemona’s actions. Othello’s mind is taken over by jealousy and he becomes irrational. He states, “I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me!” (4.1.182). In the end, he realizes that jealousy gets the best of him, although it is too late.
Iago is the most jealous character in Othello. His jealousy results in the death of almost all the characters in this play. Othello passes over Iago for a promotion and Iago becomes furious. Iago develops an elaborate plan that will eventually bring him revenge on Othello. He starts out by recruiting Roderigo to help him. They break the news to Brabantio that his daughter secretly married Othello. He says to Roderigo, “Call up her father / Rouse him. Make after him, poison his delight” (1.1.68-69). Iago’s determination to bring down innocent people to get to Othello is displayed here. His next task is approaching Othello to tell him that Desdemona has been cheating on him with Cassio. Jealousy spreads to Othello as Iago’s plan starts taking effect. To provide evidence for this accusation, Iago plants a handkerchief of Desdemona’s in Cassio’s house. Othello’s anger and insecurity allow him to be persuaded very easily by this flimsy evidence that he believes proves Desdemona’s guilt. In order for this plan to work out, Iago had to kill his wife, Cassio, and Roderigo. Much like Roderigo and Othello, Iago’s’jealousy catches up with him and he is tortured to death for the murder of his wife.
Jealousy is an everpresent trait in Othello. It consumes several characters and eventually brings them to their untimely death. Roderigo’s jealousy brings about his own murder, Othello’s jealousy forces him to commit suicide, the ultimate act of selfishness and Iago’s jealousy affords him death by torture. Unfortunately, the wicked emotion, jealousy, not only resulted in the deaths of three of Othello’s main characters, it caused the untimely deaths of innocent characters as well.
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