Fear and Loathing in Venice

Shakespeare presents Othello in a way that highlights villainy and jealousy in normal, domestic circumstances that destroys the reputable.

  1. Topic sentence summaries
    1. Domestic scale – topic summary
    2. Reputation – topic summary
    3. Jealousy – topic summary
  2. Shakespeare’s other works showed the main conflict on a grander scale; Othello puts tragedy and intense villainy equal to that of other Shakespearean evils on a domestic scale.
    1. Compare to Macbeth, Hamlet, R&J
    2. Contemporary issues
    3. Shakespeare’s intent
  3. Jealousy is the most visible element to the audience; every major character exhibits a character flaw that manifests itself in a jealous conflict.
    1. Othello/Desdemona – Love
    2. Iago/Cassio – Rank
    3. Iago/Othello – Obedience
    4. Roderigo/Othello/Desdemona – Angst
  4. Though jealousy is the most recognizable conflict, reputation is the source of it. Characters stake the reputation, face damage to their reputation, and over-value reputation in this tragedy.
    1. Othello/Desdemona – Othello won Desdemona from his reputation in battle and “stole” her from Brabantio, who insinuated that she should defy Othello like she did himself.
    2. Iago/Othello
    3. Iago/Cassio
    4. Roderigo/Othello/Desdemona
  5. Both reputation and jealousy are supplemented by ironic moments where the audience may see true intentions of characters and the effect of subsequent conflicts.
    1. Othello believes Iago to be wise and honest, though this is just the image Iago wishes to cast to destroy Othello
    2. Iago warns Othello of the dangers of jealousy, though this is the main force behind Iago’s own plot to destroy him
    3. Iago forced Emilia, Desdemona’s friend, to do Iago’s bidding against Desdemona
    4. As a staple of Shakespearean theater, asides provide dramatic irony, allowing the audience to know everything behind everyone’s motives without the characters themselves knowing this
  6. Conclude
    1. Domestic scale
    2. Reputation
    3. Jealousy

Fear and loathing in Venice

Shakespeare presents Othello in a way that highlights villainy and jealousy in normal, domestic circumstances that destroys the reputable. The domestic scene is not a popular setting for Shakespeare, but in Othello he plays characters’ jealousy off each other to suit the tragic repercussions of insatiable, calamitous value in reputation in a small-scale setting of a young military officer’s domestic life.

Shakespeare’s other works showed the main conflict on a grander scale; no kings, dukes, or prominent families here. Othello puts tragedy and intense villainy equal to that of other Shakespearean evils on a domestic scale. Macbeth found villainy in a general-turned-king; Hamlet found villainy in princes; Romeo and Juliet found villainy in two stubborn, feuding noble families (Shakespeare). Shakespeare’s tragedies center on a high-ranking character as a source of evil, where aspirations and greed are obvious to the audience; however, Othello still introduces evil through aspirations and greed, but the source is not from powerful positions, rather it stems from a normal human in a common situation with inhuman evil. “These plays focus on a powerful central character whose most outstanding personal quality—his tragic flaw, as it is often called—is the source of his catastrophe” (Boyce). Othello has only known life as a soldier, requiring immediate trust in those deserving it or ordered to do so; Othello must trust Iago as fellow soldier, hence his tragic flaw in trust. Shakespeare further challenged contemporary ideas by “reversing his era’s usual stereotypes by making the dark-skinned Moor a great general and the white-skinned Iago a villain. He portrayed an enormous range of human behavior with understanding and sympathy” (Sanna). As a playwright, he sought to challenge popular ideas to heighten the effect of tragedy; conflicting social and political notions of race and war reinforces his position as a powerful dramatist.

Othello’s most visible element of powerful drama is jealousy; every major character exhibits a flaw that manifests itself in a jealous conflict. “The most striking feature of, in Shakespeare’s words, ‘the green-eyed monster’ is its obsessive nature: how it gradually consumes the life of its victim” (Quinn). Shakespeare’s jealousy is the obverse of love exhibited my other Shakespearean characters (intense, true, and trusting), as it is propagated by the antagonist and actually fatally interpreted by the protagonist himself, thus ruining himself – further demonstrating the proverbial tragic flaw of the tragic hero. The most intense line of jealousy is the vulnerable love of Othello and Desdemona. Othello only knows to trust whom he immediately sees as trustworthy (like Iago, an officer); therefore, he immediately and almost unconditionally accepts Iago’s insinuations that Desdemona is unfaithful. Though Iago “pleads” Othello to not believe such an idea, he is irrevocably paranoid and consumed by the monster. Iago only starts this situation by his own jealousy of rank, namely Cassio and his promotion by Othello. Iago is the antagonist, so the monster analogy is not as symbolic, but he is jealousy incarnate, every love is compensated by equal hate – jealousy, in this case. Othello passing over Iago for the promotion is his justification for undermining Othello and thus his jealousy for Cassio as well. Finally, jealousy results from the angst experienced by Roderigo, Othello, and Desdemona who face naïveté and frustration; the entirety of Othello shows the three in a constant state of stress and every ploy of Iago’s plays off their weaknesses.

This stress exists because Othello, Iago, Cassio, and Roderigo all stake their reputations in Iago’s diabolism. Though jealousy is the most recognizable conflict, reputation is the source of it. Characters stake, face damage to, and over-value reputation in this tragedy. Othello won Desdemona from his reputation in battle and “stole” her from Brabantio, who insinuated that she should defy Othello like she did himself. This sense of paranoia only intensifies Othello’s

emotions and endangers his reputation, which he ultimately pleads to be remembered honestly, “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, / 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, / Perplexed in the extreme” (Othello, Act 5, Sc. 2, 358-363). This swan song addresses his foolish acceptance of Iago’s manipulated reputation of honesty that allowed the plot to continue. Though Othello makes a point of not being easily jealous, Iago manipulates Cassio to frustrate and perplex Othello. Cassio’s reputation is built on honor and dignity, in effect reputation is the only basis for his rank, and the very basis for Iago’s resentment. Iago targets Cassio via his reputation, aided by his manipulation of Roderigo.

Both reputation and jealousy are supplemented by ironic moments where the audience may see true intentions of characters and the effect of subsequent conflicts. Most obvious is Othello believing Iago to be wise and honest, though this is just the image Iago wishes to cast to destroy Othello. Furthermore, Iago warns Othello of the dangers of jealousy, though this is the main force behind Iago’s own plot to destroy him. Through all his plotting, Iago himself is blinded to all close to him, including his wife Emilia. He forces Emilia, Desdemona’s friend, to do his bidding against Desdemona to convince Othello of her infidelity. Most of Iago’s plot is spoken directly to the audience via asides. As a staple of Shakespearean theater, asides provide dramatic irony, allowing the audience to know everything behind everyone’s motives without the characters themselves knowing this. The aside is crucial to Iago’s character, showing the audience his diabolism and how events are so perfectly handled by his manipulation of naïveté and angst to accomplish his goals. This may also cause the audience to ironically see a positive characteristic of Iago as a brilliant tactician; Iago presents this quality to the audience to show how Othello deserves to be taken down for not seeing this brilliance and overlooking him for the promotion.

By presenting characters that play off each other’s emotions by staking reputation and insinuating diabolic plots to ruin the other by a complex web of jealousy, Shakespeare’s Othello exhibits a villainy manifested in different forms, feeding off angst and naïveté. Admitting he is not easily fooled, Othello ultimately realizes the schemes and laments at his foolishness and dies upon a kiss, almost wrenched from him as easily as his dignity.

Works Cited

Boyce, Charles. “Shakespearean tragedy.” Critical Companion to William Shakespeare: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= Gffazshak2205&SingleRecord=True.

Quinn, Edward. “Jealousy.” A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= Gfflithem0432&SingleRecord=True.

Sanna, Ellyn. “Shakespeare, William.” In Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare, Bloom’s BioCritiques. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2002. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BCWS02&SingleRecord=True.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1602.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. 1606.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. 1604.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. 1597.

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