Whitespace E: Othello: Complex Tragedy
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- Othello: Complex Tragedy -

by Lincoln Sayger

597 wds.
First published on 2/23/01

Shakespeare's _Othello_ is a complex tragedy full of conflicting desires, intricate schemes, and underlying symbolism. It contains several motifs, including racism, warfare, jealousy, and spouse abuse, and many of the players represent virtues or attributes found in everyday life.

Jealousy is the first theme to enter the play, and it continues throughout. It is first seen in Roderigo when he sees that Desdemona has married Othello. Much of the action in the play centers around jealousy as Iago uses jealousy to manipulate Roderigo and then, by planting seeds of suspicion and jealousy in Othello's ear, to manipulate the moor, eventually causing Desdemona's death. The next motif which figures into the play is that of racism. Desdemona's father does not want her married to Othello because he does not like Othello's heritage, but he quickly retreats from this attitude when Desdemona confirms that she is in love with Othello. The intertwined motifs of hunting and warfare are expressed through Iago's scheming and Othello's hunt for the truth. Iago's scheming is portrayed similar to a general planning a battle, while Othello's nervous pacings as he grows closer and closer to being sure in his mind that the evidence Iago has produced proves Desdemona's alleged infidelity remind one of a panther stalking its prey, or of a military commander carefully preparing to assault a fortified hill. Othello's jealous rage leads him to abuse his wife emotionally and physically before finally murdering her. Another expression of a motif of spouse abuse is Emilia's foolish pronouncement that a husband's abuse of his wife leads her to adultery, and Desdemona wisely rejects this idea.

Indeed, Desdemona wonderfully represents the virtues of unwavering faithfulness and unconditional love. Even though her husband is abusing her, she remains true to him, confident of his underlying goodness of heart. Othello represents courage and punishment, and he follows his convictions firmly, even when his emotions would lead him away from what he sees as the proper course. His failing, however, is that he also represents gullibility, since he relies completely on one man for the information he uses to decide his course. That man is Iago, who represents unbridled ambition and hatred. He is a man who sees his own ends as more important than the means he must use to attain those ends, and he uses people without any regard for their worth aside of his selfish plans. Everyone who comes into his path is a pawn to be manipulated. One person who is skillfully and easily manipulated by Iago is Roderigo, who represents the attributes of passion and impatience. He cannot accept anything contrary to his passions, and so he is enticed to do foolish things in an attempt to gain Desdemona. Cassio, the secondary target of Iago's schemes, represents loyalty, determination, and discretion, although his discretion fails him once or twice, as when he accepts a drink from Iago before going on watch. Bianca, the rarely seen mistress of Cassio, is not a very strong symbol, but she represents suspicion and jealousy.

Every story has something we can gain, and Shakespeare's insightful tragedy, _Othello_, is no different. It is a sad story with many lessons for avoiding tragedy. The broadest application is that we need to know who in our lives is truly worthy of our trust. Other lessons are that we should be cautious about taking all of our information from one source, that we should get both sides of a story before making decisions, that we should be wary of circumstancial evidence, and that we should not take vengeance into our own hands.



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