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Othello and Desdemona in “Othello” by Shakespeare Essay

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2022

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Spoken by and to whom Citation
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster” Iago to Othello (3.3.165-166)
“Trifles light as air / Are to the jealous confirmations strong / As proofs of holy writ.” Iago’s soliloquy (3.3.323-325)
“But jealous souls will not be answered so. / They are not ever jealous for the cause, / But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself.” Emilia to Desdemona (3.4.159-162)
“O curse of marriage, / That we can call these delicate creatures ours, / And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad, / And live upon the vapors of a dungeon, / Than keep a corner of the thing I love / For others’ uses.” Othello’s soliloquy (3.3.268-270)
“Why, why is this? / Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy, / to follow still the changes of the moon With fresh suspicions?/ No; to be once in doubt Is once to be resolved: / exchange me for a goat, when I shall turn the business of my soul to such exsufflicate and blown surmises, / matching thy inference. / ‘Tis not to make me jealous to say my wife is fair, / feeds well, loves company, / is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well; / where virtue is, these are more virtuous: / nor from mine own weak merits / will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt; / for she had eyes, and chose me. / 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!” Othello to Iago (3.3.176-191)
“Speak of me as I am; / nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice: / then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; / Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought perplex’d in the extreme” Othello’s soliloquy (5.2.341-345)

Othello and Desdemona: Relationship Built on Jealousy

The plot of Shakespeare’s 1603 tragedy revolves around two main characters: Othello, a Moorish general drafted to the Venetian army, and Iago, who disguises himself as Othello’s friend but is treacherous. As a black man in 16th century Venice, Othello finds himself in an unlikely romance and later, a secret marriage with Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy senator. By tying a knot with someone so racially different, the woman defies social expectations and goes against her family. This essay will discuss why the relationship between Othello and Desdemona was doomed from the start and how their tragic fate relates to the topic of jealousy.

First, as in his other tragedies, Shakespeare puts his characters in a hostile milieu or at least, in an environment that does not foster their aspirations. Othello is already somewhat disadvantaged: despite his high social status, he doubts Desdemona’s motives and whether the entire venture was nothing more than a youthful rebellion. His insecurities allow Iago to manipulate him and play with his feelings. The deceptive ensign warns Othello about the dangers of being jealous by saying “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster” (3.3.165-166). At the same time, he makes a conscious effort to destroy his lord’s marriage by leaving Desdemona’s handkerchief in her former lover’s bedroom, for “trifles light as air / are to the jealous confirmations strong / as proofs of holy writ” (3.3.323-325). Thus, Othello and Desdemona confront external forces seeking to harm their love.

Yet, the two lovers could arguably handle fate’s shenanigans had they, not such personal qualities that doomed their romance before it even began. “Othello” is a prime example of Shakespeare employing his preferred writing method. The author gives each character a fatal flaw that develops gradually throughout the play and has a detrimental impact on the outcome. Jealousy is Othello’s fatal flaw, which only gets fueled by his wife’s past, her unapologetic acceptance of her actions, and Iago’s deception. Emilia notices this about Desdemona’s husband and asks her to be wary since “jealous souls will not be answered so. / They are not ever jealous for the cause, / But jealous for they’re jealous” (3.4.159-162). Interestingly enough, Othello seems to be aware of his weaknesses. In one of his soliloquies, he ponders the nature of marriage with sadness and anger: “O curse of marriage, / That we can call these delicate creatures ours, / And not their appetites!” (3.3.268-270). Later, he even confesses to Iago that while his jealous thoughts are tormenting him, he will not give in to the adversity because he loves his wife: “Why, why is this? Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions?” (3.3.177-179). For a moment, Othello is positive about Desdemona’s feelings, “for she had eyes and chose me” (3.3.188-190). This, however, does not prevent him from smothering his wife when jealousy blinds him, and in his final hours, he hates to be remembered as someone who was “easily jealous” (5.2.395).

In his works, Shakespeare quite often discussed the topic of jealousy and the rich palette of emotions tied to this phenomenon. In the context of “Othello,” it was compelling to examine jealousy from two perspectives. First, Othello’s jealousy is fueled by his environment and societal pressure: he is not sure that such a noble and beautiful woman chose him for who he is, and Iago’s games are not helping. Second, Othello’s controlling tendencies and Desdemona’s tenacity clash and lead to a conflict. Othello fights an unequal battle against his jealousy but inevitably succumbs to it, which results in both characters’ death.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William, and Edward Pechter. Othello (Norton Critical Editions). Second, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

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