How Jealousy Leads Towards The Tragedy In Othello
Throughout the Elizabethan Era, it was very common to have all white communities. Those of power were also usually white, and it was extremely frowned upon to have interracial relationships. Before the play begins, the audience are unaware of Othello’s ethnicity. The first time we get an insight of his appearance is through Iago and Roderigo talking derogatively about him in a rant given by Iago. Roderigo states ‘what a full fortune does the thick-lips owe’. Without any previous idea on what the main character looks like, we are immediately presented with an insult suggesting that Othello is negroid. This phrase comes a part of a rant given by Iago about him not receiving Lieutenant and what he is going to do about it. This is a crucial part of the play as it not only hints at the start of Iago’s jealousy feud, but also foreshadows how the rest of the play will unravel. Iago’s spite and deceitfulness is uncovered to the audience and shows the side of his character that no-one else will encounter apart from Roderigo. The strict Venetian society views exploited through Iago’s character significantly suggests how black people are seen. It is clear that the societies are, to an extent, accepting of black people as long as there is no interference with those individuals’ lives. If unaffected by with black people, venetians were often willing to accept them as part of society. Brabantio is an excellent example of this. Before he is informed about his daughter being married to the Moor, Brabantio showed interest in Othello’s life; “Her father loved me, oft invited me, still questioned me the story of my life from year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes, that I have passed.” We can clearly see interest on Brabantio’s behalf was shown and that there was no known prejudices nor problem against Othello.
The specific beliefs of interracial marriage are portrayed through Iago in an attempt to exclude Othello from society and are further reinforced through Brabantio. This can evidentially be seen in “very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe” stated by Iago. This not only hints the start of his plan to control Othello, but the jealousy slowly arising within him that, we can assume, is only going strengthen. The dehumanization created through the animal imagery, again, refers to Othello’s ethnicity by portraying him as “an old black ram” and creating the contrast to Desdemona who is definitively referenced as a ‘white ewe’. At this point, Brabantio’s opinion on Othello immediately changes. We can interpret this instantaneous switch in views as the reaction of a society when realising the interaction of a family member with an ‘outsider’. We could argue that these beliefs are preconceived and subconsciously what we automatically think and try to bury. Brabantio immediately accuses Othello of witchcraft after Iago proclaims Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. He expresses dehumanizing venetian beliefs that no one would voluntarily fall in love with a black person and it would only occur through witchcraft. This is evident in ‘The wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation, would ever have, t’ incur a general mock, Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom Of such a thing as thou — to fear, not to delight. Judge me the world if ’tis not gross in sense that thou hast practiced on her with foul charms, Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals that weakens motion”. Brabantio also proclaims that those of colour are to be feared and not loved again to exclude Othello from their society and also to portray an animalistic nature. This strengthens the beliefs of society and how it is unnatural for a white woman to be in a relationship with a black man regardless of his position and power. Throughout this whole scene, there is constant reminders of Othello’s blackness to the audience. It is unlikely that there is not a comment regarding Othello and his ethnicity.
Through these constant comments, as an audience we are led to create our own negative stereotypes of the animal Othello is made out to be, but are later proved wrong when we learn that Othello’s true nature completely defies the stereotypes/assumptions we are led to believe through Iago. We expect Othello to be malicious, snide and *** when in reality he is the complete opposite. We are shown a respectful, polite and hardworking character who respects and utilises his power for the greater benefit of himself and his peers. This could be a significant starting point of the “Green- eyed monster” coming to life in Iago. The animosity shown towards Othello may be due to the resentment of not getting Lieutenant or the envy that Othello is of a higher status. The Venetian views are clearly shown through the character of Iago in this situation because black people at that time were uninvolved in society and stuck to themselves, with white privilege being at a high. Iago, being a white male, is jealous that a black person has more power over a society he is believed not to belong to as an outsider. It was unnatural in that time period for an outsider to become a figure of authority. Within a monarchy, it is normal for the authoritive figure to be part of the new generations. This perspective potentially could’ve been adapted in Iago in relation to Othello having power over Iago. The disgust at the thought of his wife supposedly cheating on him with a black man also would be a huge drive in his jealousy. Again, we can interpret Iago depicting Othello as a negative character who stole Iago’s possession from him because he has the capability to do so. Throughout the play, Othello and Iago both partake in activities that are bad. The majority of the play is based on Iago being deceitful and planning immoral activities, yet the focus and accentuation is on Othello. In reality, Othello’s wrongdoings are most likely less substantial than Iago’s, yet Iago’s are still brushed off. What distinguishes the two characters apart is their ethnicities.
Religiously, light is good and dark is evil. This relates to Othello being black and therefore evil, whereas Iago being white is naturally good. Similar to the “old black ram” and “white ewe” imagery, the juxtaposition between white and black and good and evil highlights the blackness of Othello automatically being worse than the white individual despite the situation. These oppressed views exploited through Iago means that Othello is constantly surrounded and reminded of the outsider he supposedly is. It is at this point that we see a distinct theme of hegemony. Unfortunately, these perceptions eventually feed into Othello’s perception of himself and his capabilities. This is a significant point of Othello’s insecurity and weakness being displayed as this is the point in which Iago’s mission is nearly complete. He was able to work his way into Othello’s mind by feeding him the supposed social norms that not only results in Othello questioning his position, but also his marriage. Before this point, Othello was unaware of these prejudices and hatred towards him. When Iago claims Desdemona is being unfaithful to Othello because of his skin colour, he talks in disbelief; “nor from mine own weak merits will I draw/ The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt/For she had eyes, and chose me”. Yet then goes on to say “and yet how nature erring from itself’. This shows that subconsciously, Othello thinks it’s natural for Desdemona to favour men of her own race. Iago’s response of “Her will, recoiling to her better judgment/May fall to match you with her country forms/and happily repent”. This shows that Iago is suggesting Desdemona compares Othello to the white men in society and regrets being married to him. It is at this point that the hegemony caused by Iago leads to Othello believing that his wife is cheating on him.
Linguistically, the play uses iambic pentameter, enjambment and prose to show the difference in positions between Iago and Othello within their society. Othello, in his speeches, often uses both iambic pentameter and enjambment. Often in plays, those of a higher position speak in iambic pentameter. Many of Othello’s speeches are developed and explanatory which could be interpreted as him acknowledging being an outsider and feeling obliged to explain himself in every situation, as well as speaking respectfully to those around him. Iago on the other hand often uses speeches with a lot of caesura. This suggests that his conversations are usually blunt. Being a white man in a white society brings its privileges, one of those being already being accepted within the community and therefore not having to explain yourself or think carefully about what you will say. Shakespeare purposely chose to use a black man and remind us of this “to exhibit the racial inequalities of the time, as well as bringing to light the defamation of black people who overcame adversity and achieved success in Renaissance society” through Othello’s such struggles of and perspectives throughout the entirety of the play.
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