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Throughout the world, a dark, primal aspect of humanity is not hard to find. It is silent, usually never more than a whisper until it is too late, and can be as dangerous as poison. It is jealousy. Jealousy can destroy friendships, relationships, and even alliances. William Shakespeare undoubtedly knew the significance of this ugly part of human nature when writing his play Othello.
By examining the three central male characters in this play – Lago, Othello, and Cassio – Shakespeare illustrates the causes, immediate effects, and the ever-lasting bitterness that can result by allowing one to fall prey to this self-destructive affliction.
By following closely these three characters and the results of their attitudes and actions, Shakespeare presents support to the idea that the more an individual allows oneself to associate with jealousy, the more and more likely that the individual is to do harm to both those whom they love, as well as to their own person.
It is everyone’s responsibility to avoid jealousy at any cost; however, many people shun this responsibility and allow themselves to propagate this vice. Nevertheless, whilst one can choose to dodge the responsibility of living jealousy-free life, one cannot dodge its consequences thereafter.
The best thing is that, when one makes a choice, he/she chooses the consequences also and this is what Othello and Lago painfully learns later. On the other hand, living a principled life pays as in the case of Cassio. Othello and Lago are punished for their jealousy, while Cassio is rewarded for living a principled life.
Othello is the protagonist in this story. Despite the fact that he is a great storyteller and a trained soldier, he has let these good qualities and reputation to be “stained with jealousy and making emotional decisions” (Bradley Para. 4). His jealous traits become pronounced after marrying Desdemona.
After Lago plots to stain Cassio’s reputation by staging an attack at the bar, Othello comes in and sacks Cassio immediately without consultations. He says, “Cassio, I love thee / But never more be officer of mine” (Shakespeare 36). This is immature, irrational, and emotional decision; Othello should at least do some investigations before firing Cassio. To some extent this is insensitive and selfishness which resonates well with jealousy.
Due to jealousy, Othello does not trust his wife and he is even willing to kill her based on unfounded hearsays. After finding Cassio in his house, he gullibly believes Lago’s lies that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona. Othello’s jealousy consumes him making him withdraw from his wife. He says, “I will deny thee nothing / Whereon, I do beseech thee, grant me this / To leave me but a little to myself” (Shakespeare 49).
The reason why he wants to be left alone is that he cannot contain his jealousy. Human beings are bound to make mistakes occasionally; however, Othello behaves as though he is holier that thou and this is why he cannot understand Desdemona. Othello is not perfect either and the reason he acts the way he acts is that he is jealous; not that Desdemona cannot match his ‘principles’.
Finally, Othello’s jealousy hits climax when he kills his wife. Even though Lago is a schemer and is out to ruin Othello’s life, he realizes how jealous Othello is and warns him, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock” (Shakespeare 57).
Surely, this ‘green-eyed monster’ is lurking around the corner, waiting for the right time to pounce on Othello. He confesses, “When I shall turn the business of my soul/ The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt / Away at once with love or jealousy” (Shakespeare 58). The business of ‘his soul’ is to kill his wife for he questions her ‘revolt’. This tells it all and to cap it all he says he is done with her regardless of whether what he had for her was ‘love or jealousy.’
Nevertheless, as aforementioned, when one makes a decision, he/she chooses the consequences also. The immediate effects of Othello’s choice to believe every lie he hears and harbor jealousy is the breakdown of his marriage. The effects affect Othello’s life together with those around him. The long-lasting effect cum rewards of Othello’s decisions is guilt and eventually, death. After smothering his wife, he realizes that she is innocent and she did not give Cassio her handkerchief; Lago had planned everything.
Even if Othello does not die, this guilt will be long lasting and heavy to bear. However, the ultimate rewards of jealousy finally catch up with Othello as he kills himself. He says, “I took by the throat the circumcised dog / And smote him, thus” (Shakespeare 67). The ‘circumcised dog’ here is his wrong decisions and jealousy and to ‘smote it’ he has to die and thus gets rewards of jealousy, a dark, primal aspect of humanity.
Lago is the most flagitious character in this play. He is out to hurt everyone and settle scores as he enjoys people’s suffering. Surely, is not hard to find jealousy amongst human kinds. First, it is his wife; he thinks she has cheated on him by sleeping with Othello.
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He says, “It is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets / He has done my office” (Shakespeare 87). This is uncalled for as he cannot justify his claims and due to jealousy coupled with timidity, he kills Emilia, his wife. Then it comes to Cassio, after Cassio’s appointment, Lago’s jealousy is obvious.
He says, “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place/ One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife/ As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practice” (Shakespeare 29). This description is harsh and can only stem from jealousy. According to Mabillard, Othello knows Lago is not a competent man and that is why he prefers Cassio to him (Para. 5).
After arriving in Cyprus, Lago plots how to eliminate Cassio to further his plans of ruining Othello. His plans work out well and Cassio is fired; however, he does not get the post left vacant by Cassio.
He arranges Cassio to meet with Desdemona only to reveal this to Othello. Despite the fact that he knows about Cassio’s meeting with Desdemona, he says, “Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it/ That he would steal away so guilty-like/ Seeing you coming” (Shakespeare 65). This is hypocrisy fuelled by jealousy. He has planned all these and he should defend Cassio better were it not for his jealousy.
Surely, jealousy would do anything. Apparently, Lago has been pushing Emilia to steal Desdemona’s handkerchief to use it as a proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. After he gets the handkerchief, he hurriedly places it in Cassio’s house. This gives him a foothold to accuse Desdemona of infidelity. When Othello asks for proof of infidelity, Lago vows that has seen “Cassio wipe his beard with her handkerchief” (Shakespeare 99). This is heinous act founded on jealousy.
Nothing can match Lago’s jealousy and wickedness. He seems to enjoy every bit of other people’s sufferings. Even after getting Cassio out of his job and straining Othello’s marriage, he is not satiated. He still wants Cassio dead and this is why he tells Roderigo to ambush Cassio and kill him. He tells Roderigo, “…by making him incapable of Othello’s place/ knocking out his brains” (Shakespeare 65). This is the far jealousy and wickedness can get.
However, killing to Lago is not an issue; he kills his wife and now is planning the death of Cassio. Nevertheless, there is prize for jealousy and Lago has to pay it fully. Othello attacks Lago and wounds him badly and this is the reward of jealousy and wickedness. People attract what they are, Lago is wicked; consequently, he attracts wickedness (Bradley Para. 9).
Cassio is a principled and he has no bad intentions whatsoever. Throughout the play, He lives by his principles and does not allow himself to be drawn into wickedness or jealousy. Due to his goodness, he is rewarded. First, Othello prefers him to Lago and trusts him with the coveted post of a lieutenant albeit inexperienced. The only time Cassio attacks someone is when he attacks Roderigo in self-defense.
After long time of remaining loyal to his work maintaining good relationship with everyone, he is rewarded with the post of Othello. Lodovico arrives with reveals that Cassio has been appointed as he says, “May be the letter moved him / For, as I think, they do command him home / Deputing Cassio in his government” (Shakespeare 203). This is a reward of goodness and living a principled life.
Surely, Shakespeare knew well about the primal nature of human beings characterized by jealousy. He knew for sure that, those who are jealous and wicked receive wickedness in return and those living by good principles receive good rewards in turn. Nature has way of regulating these events and it rewards everyone according to his/her actions without favoritism. Othello is gullible and full of jealousy.
He cannot trust his wife and this is why he accuses her of infidelity and finally kills her. He confesses that he really does not know what he feels for her is love or jealousy; however, jealousy takes precedence and he kills Desdemona based on unfounded accusations of infidelity. Lago on the other side is an epitome of extreme human wickedness. He is out to settle scores and hurt everyone around him.
This makes him kill Emilia; plots to ruin Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio. Nevertheless, due to their wickedness, Othello and Lago receive rewards of death and hurt respectively. Cassio on the other side receives good rewards due to his good principles. Shakespeare’s message here is, “do not be deceived, you reap what you plant” (Mabillard Para. 11).
Bradley, Alex. “Shakespeare: Othello.” Nd. Web.
Mabillard, Amanda. “The Moral Enigma of Shakespeare’s Othello.” 2009. Web. <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/othello/othelloessay1.html>.
Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” Furness, Horace. (Ed.). Philadelphia; J. B. Lippincott Co. 1886.