William Shakespeare: Othello’s Character
Q- Othello’s character
One of the most obvious focal point of disagreement in interpreting Othello is the character of Othello himself. To Swinburne, Othello was ‘the noblest man of man’s making’. T.S Eliot, on the other hand, spoke
unfavourably of his ‘cheering himself up; and come out with that celebrated critical term ‘Bovarysme’. And the dispute goes on.
Robert Heilman says:
“Othello is the least heroic of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. The need for justification, for a constant reconstruction of himself in acceptable terms, falls short of the achieved selfhood which can with pride into great errors and face up with humility to what has been done. All passions spent, Othello abscures his vision by trying to keep his virtue in focus”.
After 184 lines of these preliminaries, Othello at last enters; and the whole picture at once falls to pieces. Othello being an alien in Venice and the gulf of culture, race, and complexion- that exists between him and the Venetians, is an important factor in his tragedy. Paul Robinson was right in maintaining that,
Shakespeare mean’t Othello to be a ” black moor” from Africa…..But the colour is essentially secondary- except as it emphasizes the difference in culture. This is the important thing…. Shakespeare’s Othello has learned to live in a strange society, but he is not of it – as an easterner today might pick up western manners and not be western.
Othello is obviously and simply a black man but his soul and mind are so sublime that Desdemona,s love for him completely overlooks the blackness and she is attracted by the qualities of his personality. She saw visage in his mind – not in the skin and body. The blackness of Othello is stressed in order to highlight the purity and integrity of Desdemona’s love.
The dominent theme in Othello is jealousy. Is Othello also jealous? That he was jealous by nature or that he was not jealous by nature but that he was made to be so by Iago? Although Othello is a subject to vehemian passions when his jealousy aroused yet Shakespeare emphasises his self control in practical matter. Iago becomes the source of Othello’s Jealousy as he says:
“I put the moor,
At least into a Jealousy so strong,
That judgement cannot cure; which thing to do.”
In the third scene of Act III. Othello says in great love of Desdemona that if he do not love her there will be darkness and confusion in him. Iago wanted to aroused jealousy in Othello’s mind.
“O, beware jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock,
That meant it feed on.”
But Othello says:
” tis not to make me jealous,”
But he is still in a fix condition and bring to light that he is cool as cucumber.
” No Iago,
I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove,
And on the proof, there is no more but this:
Away at once with love or jealousy.”
That is to say that Othello is not jealous by nature and temperament. It is not easy to incite him to jealousy- not easily jealous and Iago exploits his truthfulness to plant bears the bitter fruit. Othello does not bread the poison of jealousy as the naturally Jealous husband do, but the poison is poured, into his ears and Othello is infected by the disease of jealousy. Iago plants doubt about Cassio in Othello’s mind.
Iago: Ha, I like no that
Oth: What does thou say?
Iago: Nothing, my lord, or if- I know not what.
Oth : Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?
Iago: Cassio my lord?… no, sure, i cannot think it,
That he would sneak away so guilty like,
Seeing your coming
Oth : …….I do believe ’twas he.
Othello was a newly married, he cannot have known much of Desdemona before his marriage. Moreover he is not an Italian nor even a European; he is totally ignorant of that thought and costomary morality of Venetian woman. And he had himself seen in Desdemona’s deception of her father how perfect an actress she could be. Iago succeeds in creating in Othello an impression that he is a wise and honest man and is the general’s greater well wisher. He says,
“Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio;
Wear your eye thus, nor jealous, nor secure”
Iag’s real purpose, of course, is to arouse the greatest curosity in Othello and he fully succeeds in this as Othello declares.
” If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jeasus were my dear heart – strings,
I’ll whistle her off; and let her down the wind,
To prey at fortune.”
That if he find Desdemona to be corrupt, he will discard her like an untamable hawk. Othello perhaps recall that Brabantio also told him to beware of Desdemona because if she could deceived her father, she could also deceived her husband.
‘ Look to her, Moor, have a quick eye to see:
She has deceiv’d her father, may do thee.’
Iago’s part in Othello’s tragedy must not be over- emphasized. He does not destroy Othello but merely awakens some latent traits and suspicions in his thought which he must effect his own destruction. Othello actually himself becomes the source of his self- destruction. Iago infuriates him against Desdemona and fully succeeds in it as Othello says:
“I’ll tear her all to pieces”
And after killing Desdemona he is informed by Emilia that Desdemona was a chaste and that it is Iago who became the source of his destruction. Now he is taken aback by these words and now he understands that Iago is the incarnation of devil, he also says in great frustration that he cannot kill him because he is a devil.
‘I look down upon his feet, but that’s a fable;
If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.’
In feeling so guilty he stabs himself in the end of the play and said to his dead wife Desdemona:
‘I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee, no way but this,
Killing myself to die upon a kiss
( fall, on the bed, and dies)
Our conclusion, therefore is that the mother of Othello’s jealousy is that Othello is not jealous but credulous and suggestible. That is he is both jealous and not jealous. His jealousy is not in born, but it is engendered in him by the power of evil working in the villain of play. That is why we sympathize deeply with the suffering and destruction of good people like Othello and Desdemona.