English Literature: The Tragedy Othello Brought On Himself

Publicat deIoana Ioana

In life, everyone needs to be able to trust one another and not fear deception. Unfortunately, some take advantage of others’ faith in them, but this can usually be prevented if the trusting use a little scrutiny before believing a lie. Well remembered is the treachery of Othello’s ancient, Iago, in the play Othello, by William Shakespeare. Though the misfortunes which befall the characters throughout the play can often be traced back to the deeds of Iago, in the end, it is Othello himself who brings the great tragedy of the play with his naive and jealous personality.

From the very first lines of the play to the very last, Iago cunningly devises schemes that will ultimately end in harm to his superior, Othello. In trying to get Othello in trouble he tells Desdemona’s father of her elopement with Othello. The Moor, Othello, is unaffected by Iago’s meddling and is sent to Cyprus as commander-in-chief of Venice’s armed forces. Once in Cyprus, Iago develops his master plan: to make Othello believe his new wife is committing adultery with his new lieutenant, Michael Cassio. To
place this illusion in Othello’s mind, Iago only uses scanty evidence, letting Othello’s brain make the desired connections. He begins by telling Othello: “Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio” (3.3.199). Othello is miffed by this accusation of Desdemona’s infidelity with no proof, but Iago mentions a dream Cassio had in which he talked of his feelings for Desdemona in his sleep. Othello readily accepts this lie as true, though he is still skeptical. Providing further “proof”, Iago merely mentions “. . . a handkerchief/–I am sure it was your wife’s–did I today/See Cassio wipe his beard with” (3.3.437-439). This is all Othello needs to hear to fully believe that his wife, his true love, is cheating on him. From that scene on, Othello is without reason and only acts irrationally, especially towards Desdemona. Iago continues to further the lie by having Othello listen to Cassio talk freely about his mistress, Bianca, while Othello thinks the mistress is Desdemona. Though Iago has ingeniously executed his deception, Othello really has no evidence but the word of his trusted ancient, one he perhaps trusts too much.

Iago cleverly manipulates and uses events to his advantage, but it takes Othello to make connections where none exist, to see coincidences as proof of a fantasy. Iago himself states: “‘Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream;/ And this may help to thicken other proofs/ That do demonstrate thinly” (3.3.430-432). Even though Iago does say “that do demonstrate thinly” [emphasis added], hearing of Cassio’s alleged dream is enough to make Othello declare “I’ll tear [Desdemona] to pieces” (3.3. 433). It is really Othello’s vulnerability to jealousy and his wrongful faith in Iago that lead to the final tragedy of him murdering Desdemona and then committing suicide. He is ready to kill both Desdemona and Cassio solely on the grounds that Iago said they had wronged him. Iago does get Othello to overhear Cassio talking frankly about his mistress, whom Othello believes to be Desdemona, but this scene only serves to further his anger and jealousy, not create it. In even another scene, Iago again downplays the gravity of Desdemona’s supposed actions by saying “Why, then [the handkerchief] ’tis hers, my lord; and being hers,/ She may, I think, bestow ‘t on any man” (4.1.12-13), meaning Othello should not be upset that Cassio has Desdemona’s handkerchief. Othello will hear nothing of this though, as he is already resigned to thinking his wife is a whore.

In the end, it is Othello who does not give anyone a chance to prove him wrong in believing in his wife’s infidelity, and therefore he is the only one responsible for the resulting deaths. Othello refuses to discuss what he heard with Desdemona, though the foundation of a good marriage is communication. He does not give Desdemona a chance to defend herself against the outright lies, justifying his actions: “I’ll not expostulate/ with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again. . .” (4.1.192-193). When he finally does confront her, Othello will not accept anything she says, though it is all the truth. Othello is simply too stubborn, blinded by his jealousy that has turned into rage. Desdemona’s own servant, Emilia, assures Othello that nothing has ever happened between his wife and Cassio, and that she has heard “. . . Each syllable that breath made up between them” (4.2.5), yet Othello cannot believe her because he is so irrational. He even admits in the midst of his anger that “O, the world hath not a sweeter creature [than Desdemona]” (4.1.174), yet Othello still lets his jealousy and irrational thoughts get the better of him. After he has suffocated Desdemona, he explains to Emilia, “But that I did proceed upon just grounds/ To this extremity. Thy husband knew it all” (5.2.143-144). Othello basically admits his only proof of any adultery was the words of her husband Iago, “My friend, thy husband, honest, honest Iago” (5.2.66-67). Once Othello finds that all he had been led to believe was lies, he commits suicide, having realized his stupidity and faithlessness in his own wife whom he truly did love.

It is perhaps Iago himself that says it best when he states: “I told him what I thought, and told no more/ Than what he found himself was apt and true” (5.2.183-184). Othello brought misfortune onto himself. He did not have to accept outright Iago’s lies; he could have been more skeptical, waiting for more tangible evidence. Once Othello believes Iago though, he becomes blind to all reason, and only hears what he wants to hear, creating his own proof of Desdemona’s adulterous actions from hearsay. Othello is the one who murders Desdemona, with his own motives, and his own proof. Othello is also the one that kills himself when he realizes how naive and jealous he was. This is a great lesson to all about the power of mistrust and deception. If one lets mere gossip get the better of him, it is only the misery that will follow that can he be sure of.

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