Othello is the title of the character and play that we all studied earlier this semester. However, it is Othello the character that I intend to discuss. Othello is the husband to the beautiful and innocent Desdemona, whom he murders because the villainous and honest Iago has misled him. A Moorish general in Venice, a society plagued with racism and where adultery is neither condemned nor approved of, Othello is in the midst of a society that will hinder and not support his progress.
The central theme of the drama is the alteration of a noble lover to a raving killer, under the influence of the deliberate connivance of his aide, Iago, who convinces him that his wife is having a love affair with another officer named Cassio.
Unable to trust the falsely corrupted Desdemona – he lacks the essential element of love and it is this absence of trust that causes Othello to disintegrate morally. This destructiveness extends to his own suicide, when his error of judging Desdemona to be an adulteress fails him. Our closely woven relationship with this traumatised and gullible Othello causes us to suffer with him, as he experiences emotional agonies, such as the destruction of his once reputable nobility, character and marriage to the young Desdemona.
Through Act II, Scene I, Othello presents himself to us as a grandly positive and content character,
“It gives me wonder great as my content
To see you here before me. O my soul’s joy!”
(Act II, Scene II).
At this stage in the play Othello has also assembled his character to impose on us an impression, that he is a noble and prominent figure in the Venetian establishment, and respected military man and a loving husband. He carries himself with an impressive dignity while frankly delighting in his young wife’s unconditional love, which he values above the “seas worth”, (Act II, Scene I). When the couple defend their marriage against the prejudiced Brabantio, father to Desdemona, who associates Othello with witchcraft, (because Othello is black), in Act I, Scene III, it becomes evident that the couple share an unconditional love for one another.
However, in the second half of the play Othello abandons this perfect love, for a blind and unfounded jealousy too strong to act in a just manner. He loses all faith not only in Desdemona, but especially himself,
“That’s he that was Othello; Here I am.”
(Act V, Scene II).
Othello says this subsequently, as a result of materialising his now hopeless spirit – it was led to this through the work of a conniving Iago. When he rejects her love and trust in Act V, Scene II, when about to kill her, he allows an incurable self-centeredness to overtake his misled mind.
After collapsing in Act IV, Scene I, Othello can only babble as he falls to the feet of Iago in a trance. This event illustrates and enhances the sad fact that Othello has fallen to the intentions of Iago. Othello recovers his wits, but from this occurrence he has only one goal – to kill Desdemona and her alleged lover, Cassio. With this intent it becomes painfully obvious that Othello now possesses the resentful will held by Iago, who despises Othello, and associates him initially to bestial sex acts, shadowed by a vile racism. “I hate the Moor”, is plain and to the point, and “an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe”, (Act I, Scenes I-II), creates a feeling of disgust.
Nonetheless, as the play procedes, Othello even comes to resemble the villain in his speech, using staccato or broken repetitions and he also makes an unhealthy habit of using violent, sexual and animal imagery,
“I’ll chop her into messes,” and;
“I will be found most cunning in my patience”
(Act IV, Scene I), are appropriate examples.
In Act IV, Scene II Othello indulges in a great exaggeration of his jealousy when he believes Desdemona to be a prostitute, and Emila, the wife of Iago t be her pimp,
“She says enough; yet she’s a simple bawd
That cannot say as much. This is a subtle whore,
A closet lock and key of villainous secrets,
And yet she’ll kneel and pray; I have seen her do’t.”
(Act IV, Scene II).
In the end though, Othello still manages to contemplate his love for his wife when he sees her asleep. Sadly as a demonstration of his foully motivated ambition he kills her with a coolness which is frightening. His reaction to the discovery of her true innocence is, however, in stark contrast. He recognises that he is no longer noble, for he calls himself: “He that was Othello”, in Act V, Scene II. Othello also equates himself to the heathens he used to slaughter and kill himself.
Iago can effect this extraordinary response only because Othello is lacking in trust. This lack is implicit in the Moor’s situation from the start, for he cannot partake of the social cohesion that encourages and reinforces trust between humans. The fact that he is in effect an alien in Venice – he is black, a mercenary soldier in a very biased society. I feel it is this insecurity that forbids the entrance of trust into Othello’s environment.
Importantly, Othello, once distracted, is not capable of appreciating Desdemona; he knows enough of Venice to see its prejudice, but he does not recognise her amazing courage in opposing it. Like Macbeth, Othello has succeeded as a soldier, and is accordingly left with a dignity and pride but misunderstands the world outside the military one.
With his suicide Othello acknowledges his fault, but his final recognition of Desdemona’s goodness offers us some kind of consoling sense that is dying he retrieves some of his once dominant nobility.
Othello has returned to sanity too late, but at least that provides us with some reconciliation. Finally, Othello’s fate shows us that a noble person may fall to the depths of savagery, but a small dose of humanity may still remain. This commentary of Othello the character is brief, but I hope it has made you appreciate and discover some aspects of the multi-dimensional character of Othello.