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An Analysis of The Themes of Pride and Jealousy in Othello, a Play by William Shakespeare

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Pride and Jealousy

“Othello”, written by Shakespeare, uses multiple thematic focuses to develop a tragic plot. The Othello Oral Report focused on dishonesty and miscommunication, jealousy and regret, and gender and pride, as well as more themes that I consider less prominent and will therefore not discuss. The Performance Session was mostly focused on gender differences and jealousy, as well as dishonesty. Personally, I would have added race in my thematical analysis.

By using a mix of dishonesty and miscommunication, Shakespeare sets up a tragic chain of events; without those two main themes, there simply would not be a play. We can see when Iago says “O wretched fool/ That lov’st to make thine honest a vice! /…To be direct and honest is not safe!” (3.3.372-375) that he thinks of honesty as a harmful and foolish quality to have. Iago is often called “honest Iago” (1.3.293), which contrasts with his true personality and emphasizes his dishonesty to the audience. “My friend, thy husband, honest, honest Iago” (5.2.149) portrays that Othello believes Iago’s lies and can easily be manipulated, which Iago uses to make him believe that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him. There is also a lot of miscommunication, meaning misconstrued or only semi-true content, throughout the play, which contributes to the unfolding of events. The miscommunication can be seen between Emilia and Iago with the handkerchief when Emilia says “What will you do with it, that you have been so earnest/ To have me fitch it?” (3.3.311-312) and Iago refuses to answer. Iago employs miscommunication and dishonesty for his own benefit. “The Moor is of a free and open nature,/ That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,/ and will as tenderly be led by th’ nose/ As asses are” (1.3.377-380) shows Iago’s intentions to lie to Othello to manipulate him.

Iago’s lies and manipulation fuel Othello’s jealousy, which eventually lead to death and regret. The plot begins with Iago’s jealousy of Cassio, as seen in “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place…/ And what was he? / Forsooth, a great arithmetician, / One Michael Cassio, a Florentine/ … But he, sir, had the election/…He, in good time, must his lieutenant be” (1.1.10-30), because Cassio was chosen as military lieutenant, rather than Iago. Iago is also jealous of Othello because “it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt [Iago’s] sheets/ … I know not if ‘t be true, / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do as if for surety” (1.3.365-368) and that Iago “suspect[s] the lust Moor/ Hath leaped into [his] seat” (2.1.278-279), meaning that there are rumors of Othello having an affair with Emilia, Iago’s wife. Iago is not sure whether this rumor is true, but will ruin Othello’s life anyway, just to make sure. Iago himself is consumed with jealousy and decides to make Othello jealous by making him believe that Desdemona is sleeping with Cassio. This jealousy, which does get to Othello, pushes him to kill Desdemona, the love of his life. After realizing what he has done, he stands in front of dead Desdemona and expresses regret by saying “This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven, / and fiends will snatch at it. Cold, cold, my girls, / Even like thy chastity. O cursèd, cursèd slave! / Whip me, ye devils” (5.2.268-271). The most tragic moment of the play truly is when Othello realizes that he let his jealousy get the best of him.

While pride is an obvious theme, since it does cause jealousy, gender and race come up as separate, subtle themes. Men’s pride is very materialistic and heroic, meaning that we can see, from quotes such as “That handkerchief which I so loved and gave thee” (5.2.48), Othello’s jealousy and hurt over a handkerchief, an object more materialistic, while “I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband” (1.3.184) shows that Desdemona, as well as most women at the time, took pride in love and honor instead. The loss of pride causes the jealousy seen throughout the play: Iago’s loss of the promotion, Iago’s loss of faith in his wife, and Othello’s loss of faith in his wife. In terms of gender role, women at the time were expected to marry a man of their fathers’ choosing and to stay dutiful to their husbands. Emilia married Iago and stayed dutiful to him by not questioning his unwillingness to say why he wanted the handkerchief as he says “Why, what is that to you?” (3.3.313), and Desdemona was a faithful wife to Othello. But Desdemona pushes back the female role in society by defying her father and marrying Othello. When her father, Brabanzio, says “Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters’ minds/ By what you see them act” (1.1.166-167), he implies that a man gets to choose whom his daughter marries, but as seen when Desdemona replies with “I do perceive here a divided duty/ … But here’s my husband” (1.3.180-184), she tells him that she chooses Othello and will not give in to her father’s wants. “If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit, / The one’s for use, the other useth it” (2.1.127-128) is an insult said about women by Iago, which shows the demeaning behavior of men toward women. Emilia also shows that men thought of themselves as better than women by saying “Tis not a year or two shows us a man. / They are all but stomachs, and we all but food. / To eat us hungerly, and when they are full, / They belch us” (3.4.95-98). The fact that Othello is a black man, a Moor, and that Desdemona chose him comes back throughout “Othello” and is a reason as to why the jealousy is intensified and his pride is so important to him. “An old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.92) by Iago, “Her name, that was as fresh/ As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black/ As mine own face” (3.3.396-398) by Othello, and “the more angel she, and you the blacker devil” (5.2.144-145) by Emilia all point to the fact that Othello’s race bothered most, even to the point of giving Othello himself some insecurities.

Shakespeare was able to incorporate many themes in “Othello,” but its tragic ending is caused by dishonesty and jealousy, causing the death of multiple characters. This play shows how women were expected to behave and how important military heroism was, but it also shows how lies can change someone’s life, which was true at the time and still is today.

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