Othello's Love turning to hate
In William Shakespeare’s Othello we are told the story of how our main character Othello is entangled into a web of deceit, dishonesty and with the intervention of his “honest” Ensign Iago, eventually his own downfall - Othello's Love turning to hate introduction. In the very beginning of the play, we are introduced to Othello’s character: a man of gentle dignity, courage, modesty and respectfulness.
As the play progresses, especially in the last few scenes of Act three and throughout Act four, we are shown different ways in which Othello- ” the moor” is corrupted and manipulated by Iago and how this affects his speech and actions and how his general behaviour takes a conflicting turn as he responds to those around him Interestingly the title character is not introduced in person or even by name in this initial converse, the reason for which is perhaps to create a sense of unpredictability, especially as the single reference to the target of Iago’s plot is ‘his Moorship’.
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An Elizabethan audience would generally have expected the moor (foreigner) to be the villain of the play; even in other Shakespeare plays black is closely associated with evil, including in reference to skin colour. Shakespeare would have needed to use this technique both to intrigue the audience and to develop the characters away from the clarity of distinction between villain and hero previously seen, if the audience had not questioned the villainy of Iago they might not have developed an empathy for his character and free willed spirit, which is essential for recognising the depth of character in the play.
Othello is a puzzling character, who in the first half of the play is alleged as a noble, wise leader, and whose style of dealing with Brabantio’s insults is an example for all men, yet who becomes in the second half a ruthless murderer. While it is difficult to argue that Othello is noble in Acts IV-V, it is also hard to say that he has brought the dreadful ending upon himself, because clearly Iago must take much of the credit for Othello’s change. The Moor, perhaps, should be seen as a multifaceted being, who himself cannot decide who he is or what he stands for.
There is a convincing case for saying that Othello is noble, and little more than the tragic victim of a devilish Iago. He is perceived by all in Venice as a man of great wisdom and sound judgement, and is entrusted by the Duke with the important mission against the Turks. Towards the end of the play, the Venetian envoy, Lodovico, can hardly believe that a man with a reputation such as Othello has can strike his wife: “Is this the noble Moor who our full senate Call all in all sufficient? This the nature Whom passion could not shake? whose solid virtue The shot of accident nor dart of chance Could neither graze nor pierce?
Iago, too, says in a soliloquy, one of those times in the play when he clearly reveals his true self and his honest opinions to the audience: “The Moor… is of a constant, loving, noble nature, And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona A most dear husband. ” Iago perceives that Othello and Desdemona would live happily together if not for his undoing. It is unlikely that his judgement of Othello’s character here could be inaccurate. He is a sharp judge of human nature: it is thanks to his delicate manipulation of Othello’s and Cassio’s characters that he is able to carry out such a implausible plan.
Iago also highlights the weakness in Othello’s character which he will exploit to drive his master to ruin: “The Moor is of a free and open nature That thinks men honest that but seem to be so. ” Far from being a vice, such lack of caution is an indication of a good nature and noble character. What Othello does lack is a certain worldliness to control this naivety, a result of his being a soldier rather than a noble. Iago is very clever in his manipulation of Othello, introducing doubt into his mind in a way that is so compelling that even the audience marvels at his cunning.
His hesitancy, his make-believe friendship, his invisibly measured temptation of Othello into his trap, his perfect sense of timing, his brilliant exploitation of the inherent insecurities in an aged, emotional outsider, would be convincing to all but the least trustful of persons. Nor, for all of this, does Othello accuse his wife out of hand: “I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove. ” Iago, again with great skill, frames Cassio and Desdemona with extraordinary incidental evidence, from the deceptive conversation with Cassio that Othello is made to overhear to the planting of the handkerchief on Cassio.
After such mastery on the part of Iago, it is quite understandable that Othello should be convinced of his wife’s guilt, despite her protestations of innocence – after all, what rational cause does Iago have to “hate the Moor”? Besides, Desdemona’s protestations are self-defeating because of her clumsy use of language – “what ignorant sin have I committed! “, she exclaims, unaware that ‘committed’ carries adulterous connotations: he sees in her replies a caustic sarcasm and relish, that reinforce his conviction of her guilt. However, she could not possibly have committed adultery within the timing of the play.
By the end of the play Iago’s cunning has transformed a noble man into a pitiless, emotional wreck, of whom Desdemona can truly say: “My lord is not my lord. ” Another reason explaining why this scene is significant to the rest of the play, in terms of Iago’s methods to destroy Othello is the ability of Iago to raise questions suggesting Casio’s involvement in Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. He asks these short questions insinuating about Desdemona’s infidelity so that Othello starts to question his own knowledge of his relationship with Desdemona.
After Iago’s string of short questions: “Honest, my Lord? , and along with his deliberately vague responses: “My Lord, for aught I know”, we can clearly see the tension and anxiety building up in Othello, when he screams: “Think, my Lord! ” This shows the dramatic importance of how Iago’s character has the ability to manipulate other characters; in particular, Othello. It is wrong however to view Othello as a victim. From the very beginning of the play the audience is presented with an insecure and proud man for which characteristics Iago instinctively hates him, though he is unable to put his feelings into words.
It is by having these vices brought to the surface by Iago that Othello falls. It is Othello’s insecurity about his race and his age – “Haply, for I am black… / Or for I am declined / Into the vale of years” – that brings about a violent and unfounded jealousy in him concerning Desdemona. To call the absolute trust Othello has in the false Iago a proof of his nobility, when this trust is at the expense of trust in the honest Desdemona, is truly to distort the meaning of the word. It is little excuse to blame this irregularity in Othello on the fact that he is not well aware of his new wife.
Othello does not truly love Desdemona for who she is, and from the beginning it is obvious that he is unaware of the true meaning of love: “She loved me for the dangers I had passed And I loved her that she did pity them. ” As Othello himself admits, his love for Desdemona has come about because she is interested in him, and because, he tells her, “[thou] art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet”. Once he has discovered her ‘infidelity’, she is shown to be little more than an object to him: “I had been happy if the general camp, Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body, So I had nothing known.
He finds it a terrible blow to his self-confidence that he should have been made a cuckold, and it is a need to restore his pride which leads him to commit the murder, even though he might justify the act with some fake argument: “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. ” Even when, poised to commit the crime, he recoils from the idea, it is only because he sees what a wonderful status symbol his beautiful wife is: “Yet I’ll not shed her blood, Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow And smooth as monumental alabaster. ”
From the beginning of the play, Othello is proud of having a beautiful wife, and his noble, confident arrogance recurs throughout: “Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it / Without a prompter,” he tells Brabantio; “She wished / That heaven had made her such a man,” he says of Desdemona’s admiration for him; “Zounds, if I once stir, / Or do but lift this arm, the best of you / shall sink in my rebuke,” he says at the scene of the brawl. Once made aware of his wife’s unfaithfulness, he perceives himself as a tragic hero fighting against the whole world.
The murder of Desdemona, and his suicide, are to his mind the end to a life of importance. Othello, in truth, is a intricate human being, a mix of nobility as well as savage. The imagination that gives him the potential for greatness also lead him into egoism. The malice of Iago undoes him, but only because of the weaknesses already there in his character. Othello himself is confused by who he is. At heart, though, he is a good man, and in the final stage is prepared to recognise his fateful error. Othello, though not perfect, is noble, and his behaviour is the action “Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, / Perplexed in the extreme.
When Othello begins his story of how he and Desdemona fell in love, he does not boast at all. He tells an honest account of how Desdemona began to love him for his personality, not because he had bewitched her. To protest his innocence he says to the Senate “Rude am I in my speech, And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace”, to show that he has little charm which he could have bewitched her with. There are no extravagant claims or complications in his story so it seems unlikely that it would be untrue. We begin to see him as a truthful, modest man who is treated unfairly for his race.
The speech in this scene is a chance for the audience to judge his character fairly. So first we see Othello being presented as a disliked figure, but this is by two people with not a great amount of authority. We then meet Othello and he presents himself as a generally pleasant person. We realise nobody sees him as a fit husband to Desdemona, but as a respected military leader. Despite Brabantio, Roderigo and Iago’s efforts, Othello is presented as an innocent, honest man who is an unfortunate victim of prejudice.