Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of jealousy in ‘Othello’ Essay

Shakespeare uses jealousy as a central theme throughout the play, without this aggressive and destructive emotion, there would be no solid plot. Shakespeare demonstrates how terrifying jealousy can be and that its has perhaps unnatural qualities.

Shakespeare often refers to jealousy as a devouring emotion,

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“O beware, my lord of jealousy!

It is the green eyed monster which doth mock,

The meat it feeds on.”

Shakespeare uses this to give the emotion a sense of being devoured or devouring. This fits in extremely well with Iago’s description of Othello as being “eaten up with passion.” This suggests exactly how strong Othello’s monumental jealousy really is, once Othello becomes convinced that his wife is unfaithful Iago continues to feed his jealousy which causes Othello to indeed behave like a monster. However, its dramatic irony that Iago says this to Othello. The audience knows that Iago is perhaps the one “eaten up,” with jealousy and Othello is none the wiser to this.

However unlike Othello, Iago has a different forms of jealousy he holds; the form of personal and professional jealousy. This is linked to a feeling of envy which sets the play in motion. Iago says that hatred and jealousy “gnaw at his inwards” like poison, however his ultimate aim is to poison Cassio and Othello and make them suffer as he is. He believes that he has been “cuckolded,” by his wife Emilia “For I fear Cassio with my nightcap too.” However we are never told if Iago’ suspicions are true yet jealousy seems to absorb him until he has destroyed everything in his way. As an audience we feel that Iago uses jealousy to rationalise his devilment like Othello does, however unlike Othello, Iago is cool and calculated when he decides to act upon his suspicions. This is perhaps an emphasises how unnatural the emotion of jealousy can be as Iago begins to use the emotion to his advantage.

When an audience looks further into Othello’s jealousy, in between Othello’s lines we soon discover that perhaps he is the nobler man then Iago; Iago’s language is rough and coarse throughout the play whereas Othello speaks in Iambic pentameter in several of his soliloquy’s, and Othello speaks with a soft tone throughout even after he’s killed Desdemona and realised how wrong he was about his beloved wife. Othello constantly asked Iago for proof before he acted upon his suspicions; this proof eventually comes in the form of the handkerchief a multiple metaphor for the whole play. The handkerchiefs meaning changed throughout the play, initially Othello gives the handkerchief to Desdemona as a token of their love its ironic that it’s the handkerchief that eventually destroys their love. Something so small and insignificant turns out to be the downfall of Othello and Desdemona.

As an audience we are led to feel that Othello’s jealousy is motivated not by hatred but by affection to his love Desdemona. This is different to Iago’s jealousy he is motivated by Cassio’s promotion and the feeling he’s been ‘cuckolded’ by Cassio. Despite this the Othello and Iago do have a similarity they are both led by possessiveness. Both men become jealous because they have lost something that they hold dear to them. In spite of this both Emilia and Desdemona insist they are faithful to both their men, Emilia even describes jealousy as “monstrous” an emotion that destroys love, honour and nobility to those who it affects.

It seems that within the play the nature of jealousy is not one to gain contentment. Iago seems to continue plotting against Cassio even after publicly humiliating him in Cyprus and Iago is not content on disturbing Othello’s mind but continues until Desdemona is dead. Shakespeare uses jealousy to display how terrifying an average man can become when jealousy takes its firm grip on both Othello who destroys his wife, and Iago who is ultimately responsible for the death of Desdemona.

Jealousy seems to take more of a hold on Othello then Iago, Othello’s opening speech within the sagittary is clear and is purposeful. He shows his authority within the lines there is reference to ‘danger’ and ‘beauty’.

“Keep up your swords your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,”

Othello demonstrates his authority; he is calm in the chaos. As an audience Othello’s sophisticated language early on in the play suggests he will be a hero of the play and carry a very important role throughout. Othello then uses his sophisticated and powerful language, again within the Senate, not only to defend his marriage with Desdemona, but also to enable him to stay with Desdemona; if Othello had not spoken to convincingly the “Bloody book of law,” may deprive him of his most beautiful wife. Each of Othello’s long speeches could be compared to a poem, expressing the nobility and romance that we come to expect from the tragic protagonist. As Othello leaves the Senate, the Senator of Venice describes Othello as being “much fairer then black,” Othello’s language impresses the Senator and Brabantio

When Othello begins to see his wife thorough Iago’s eyes jealousy kicks in and he becomes corrupted by Iago’s jealousy. This is noticeable in his language Othello’s smooth calm and technical language, such as the iambic pentameter in his first soliloquy seems to disappear as the jealousy grows. In Act 4 Scene 1 Othello says;

“Lie with her, lie on her? We say lie on her,

when they belie her! Lie with her, zounds! That’s fulsome!

Handkerchief! Confessions! Handkerchief!

To confess, and be hanged for his labour!

First to be hanged, and then to confess: I tremble at it,. Nature

would not invest herself in such shadowing passion

without some instruction. Its not words that shakes

me thus. Pish! Noses, ears and lips. Is’t possible?

Confess handkerchief! O devil!”

Previously in all of Othello’s speeches he spoke in the 1st or 3rd person this demonstrated to the audience his nobility and security, whereas the use of pronouns in this speech suggest his insecurity. Also towards the end of the speech O “Pish! Noses ears and lips.” We struggle to make sense of Othello’s language, these lines demonstrate that jealousy has not only degraded his attitude but has broken down a strong willed man’s language.

Shakespeare uses jealousy in Othello to demonstrate just how powerful the emotion can be within our lives. Jealousy results in the downfall of one man and almost all of those around him. Shakespeare integrates the emotion into the play almost as if it had been experienced by himself, this allows the audience of ‘Othello’ to have empathy and relate to the characters. This is a strong dramatic device which draws the audience into the play to observe first hand the jealous destruction of Othello, through his own and Iago’s emotion.

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