In William Shakespeare’s 1604 morality play, “The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice”, the playwright presents the audience with a marriage which possesses many flaws, such a jealousy, racial difference, and social standing. One may suggest that jealousy is the biggest flaw for the marriage, because it has on the couple throughout the play.
This complex emotion encompasses a widespread of feelings, ranging from anger, to fear and suspicion, and can be both inherent and instigated by other parties. This essay will aim to the view that jealousy is the main cause of the destruction of the marriage between Othello and Desdemona.
In the given extract from Act 3 Scene 3, the audience witnesses Iago, the play’s antagonist and Othello’s nemesis, introduce the idea of jealousy to Othello. Iago uses highly figurative language, depicting jealousy as a “green-eyed monster”. The idiom used by Iago alludes to the colour of cat’s eyes being green, and when the animal eats their prey, they torture and tease it first, indicating the taunting nature that jealousy upholds.
When this is considered, the remark foreshadows Othello’s future in the play, being tormented by jealousy, and subsequently coming to an early demise. Iago’s metaphorical language with the reference to a “green-eyed monster” and also when he says “that cuckold lives in bliss”, allows both the idea of jealousy and infidelity to employ lifelike qualities, which in turn amplifies the extent of Othello’s resent towards his wife, and thus his marriage.
According to an Aristotelian tragedy, the protagonist, the tragic hero, should possess a hamartia, which usually leads them to their subsequent downfall. Along with this, the tragic hero may have a nemesis who strives to exploit their hamartia and use it against them for personal benefit. Regarding Othello, the tragic hero’s hamartia is thought to be the character’s jealous when faced with the prospect of an adulterous wife, which is highly manipulated by Iago, acting as the play’s nemesis.
This is evident at the end of the extract where Othello says, “no Iago, I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; and on the proof, there is no more.” Shakespeare purposefully uses the adverb “when”, in order to convey the idea that Othello expects the have his faith shaken by Iago, highlighting his jealous mindset.
This is further emphasized due to the playwright’s consistent use of caesura. The breaking up of the line directly links to the breaking up of Othello’s trust and faith in his wife. With Iago inciting Othello’s jealousy, the audience can clearly see how this complex emotion can be considered the main factor towards the destruction of Othello’s marriage.
In a similar fashion, at the end of Act 3 Scene 3, the audience can see how Othello begins to lose his self-control when says, “Damn her lewd minx! O damn her, damn her!” The repetition of perdition upon Desdemona, relates to the religious ideals of the 17th century. The year before ‘Othello’ was first performed, Elizabeth I died, after ruling the country as a Protestant state.
With religion taking a dominant stance within society, the audience would be able to relate to the anger which Othello feels towards the prospect of Desdemona’s infidelity. However, one must question the role of women in religion, and if it is fair to hold women to certain expectations, and not men. With women being expected to remain chaste before marriage, and then remain devout to their God and then their husband, women could not show any form of sexuality or promiscuity, or they would be shunned by society.
Thus, the idea of Desdemona committing adultery with Cassio would have deeply disgusted the Shakespearean audience, forcing them to condone with Othello’s “[damnation]” of his wife. With this, one could suggest how religion allows Othello to make sense of the situation, leading him to the subsequent solution of murdering her.
Furthermore, Othello reveals to the audience his plans to punish his wife, “to furnish me with some swift means of death for the fair devil.” The alliterative ‘f’ places an emphasis on what he has just said and consolidates his plan to murder his wife due to her adulterous actions. The jealousy which resides within him has began to contort his once open-hearted and trusting love for his wife, turning it into a vengeful and violent hatred for her, leading to the destruction of their marriage, and eventually their lives.
Emilia, Desdemona’s maid, implores the protagonist to have faith in his wife, “I durst my lord, to wager she is honest, lay down my soul at stake.” Emilia’s willingness to “lay down [her] soul,” emphasises her dedication and trust towards Desdemona, forcing one to question why Othello does not possess these feelings to his own wife. Othello clearly disregards this plea from Emilia as he responds, “bid her come hither. Go.”
His imperative and almost monosyllabic tone reveals how he has strayed far from rational thinking and has his mindset on punishing his wife for her suspected infidelity. The jealousy which resides within Othello causes a shift in his mindset, thus destroying his marriage, leaving only one clear path in his mind, which is to serve “justice” and “sacrifice” Desdemona for all of mankind.
This completely deluded thought of serving moral justice fully exerts his narcissistic and jealous mentality, giving a reason for the utter ruin of the marriage between himself and Desdemona.
Othello’s actions throughout the play, going from a loving and trusting husband, to a vengeful and aggressive enemy, all derive from is inherent jealousy that he inhabits. Along with this, Othello’s experience of social insecurity heightens the dominance of Othello’s jealousy within his mind, causing the destruction of his marriage and the subsequent demise of the pair.