Iago isn’t completely to blame for this tragedy as Cassio was wrongly appointed by Othello and this caused the tragedy. Do you agree? In William Shakespeare’s seventeenth century play Othello readers can see that Iago isn’t the only one responsible for the tragedies within this text as he didn’t actually kill the Othello or Desdemona and all people have free will and must choose to accept manipulation. Although Iago played a major role in bringing about the disaster evident in this script, other characters played a supporting although vital role.
The Elizabethan play is set during a time of war and racial conflict. This social climate breeds insecurity in the minds of its people. Of course Iago plays a major role in the tragedy that is this play. He admits he ‘hate[s] the moor’ and whispers ‘pestilence’ in Othello’s ear. The metaphor is important as Iago admits he knows what he is doing is wrong and realises the power his toxic words will have and still goes ahead. He claims both that he is ‘honest iago’ and that he freely gives Othello his ‘wit, hands and heart’ to serve his Lieutenant though Iago’s actions differ from his words.
He tells us he is ‘not what [he appears to be]’ and that “there are many events in the womb of time” which is a metaphor for the fate he attempts to write for himself-“hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the worlds light. ” He plays on the racism of the time saying “if [Desdemona had] seem blessed, she never would have loved the moor” and uses this to build insecurity within Othello- suggesting Moor Othello could never satisfy the ‘appetites’ of a fair skinned woman, him being ‘black Othello’ and their union thus ‘unnatural’ and assumed ‘witchcraft’ by many.
He shows his preference for personal gain over honour when Cassio is worried about damaging his reputation after the ‘barbarous brawl’ and Iago rebuts that physical wounds are worse than a damaged reputation which can be easily mended. While he claims to ‘speak to [Othello] with honest kindness, he lies and plans so that “how much [Desdemona] strives to do him [Cassio] good’ by defending his name, the more suspicious will Othello be.
This shows that Igao hopes his ‘purpose [shall] work on’ Othello and although he claims he ‘should rather have [his] tongue cut from [his] mouth should [do] do offence to Michael Cassio this is clearly untrue showing his dishonest nature. Thus we see while Iago gives ‘heavenly shows’ he says in an aside, he embodies the juxtaposing idea of ‘hell’ and by turning Othello against Cassio and Othello’s own wife and ruining the one he claims to serve. He admits his desire from the start to make a ‘net’ to catch them all.
He makes the most of his ‘sir.. eaten up with passion’ and does not ‘lead directly to the door of truth’ showing his overt responsibility is the death and destruction that his plans propel. There is a time when we can hope that Othello may not believe Iago’s lies anymore- when he demands Iago ‘prove [Othello’s] love a whore’ but then Iago pretends to be hurt claims ‘honesty’s a fool.. since love brings such offence’ suggesting Othello lack of belief in his ensign emotionally wounds Iago. Othello foolishly falls for this.
Othello foolishly believes the words of Iago when he claims he ‘lay with Cassio lately.. in sleep [where he claims people confess the truth, he] heard him [Cassio]say sweet Desdemona, let us be wary, let us hide our love and kiss, touch, cry.. curst fate that gave thee to the moor’ and of the sacred handkerchief Othello gave wife Desdemona, ‘such a handkerchief did [Iago claim to] today see Cassio wipe his beard with. ’ He says he doesn’t ‘mock’ Othello but he clearly does and Othello lets him believing Iago ‘will do [Othello’s] command’ when he does his own.
Iago is though, assisted by his deceptive wife Emilia. Emilia takes the handkerchief from Desdemona which sets up the supposed ‘proof’ of the accusations Iago makes against Desdemona. She says she ‘found that handkerchief and did give it [to her] husband’ and when Iago tells her he told Othello ‘what [he honestly] thought’ about Desdemona she cannot stand his lies anymore and says his ‘reports have set the murder and [he] has killed the sweet and innocent’ and gives her life to save the name of the woman she loved but also the one she helped to kill.
Her guilt propels her to confess her and thus her role cannot be ignored despite the bravery she shows defying Iago’s demand that she ‘get .. home and ‘charm [her] tongue’. Her confession ‘moor, she was chaste’ and that she loved the ‘cruel moor’ is all too late. Emilia said to Desdemona before her lady’s death ‘yes, the world’s a huge thing’ and people in it are bad and women do deceive. She showed her awareness and such an in tune woman should have suspected her husband’s ‘purpose’ with the handkerchief and known it would not be noble and never have given the sacred ‘token’ to him.
Roderigo and Cassio clearly also play a vital role in this text. Roderigo supplies the money to fund Iago’s plans and does ‘put money in thy purse’ and help ‘plume up [Iago’s] will’ by doing so. Instead of stopping Iago, Roderigo accepts Iago encouraging Roderigo’s lustful mind. Roderigo could have talked reason into Iago but instead allowed iago to talk lack of reason and deception into his mind. Roderigo payed for his too great a trust in Iago with his life.
Iago pushes Roderigo to ‘be a man” in his efforts to convince Rodrigo to go to war and says Roderigo ‘shall enjoy her’ if he doesn’t “drown” in his melancholy state. Even though it is quite clear to everyone else that Desdeomna does ‘love the moor’ and thus all she wants is to marry and ‘live with him’ Roderigo lets his lust push him to obey Iago and ‘take thy stand,’ doing anything possible (even attempting to commit the murder of Cassio) to assist Iago when he should have seen the futility in his pursuance of Desdemona.
Roderigo ends up paying for his folly with his life when Iago feels he must be seen to revenge the attack against cassio (who survived) when Cassio lays blame of Roderigo. Roderigo admits ‘It is [his] shame to be so fond [of des] but not my virtue to amend it’ but is pushed into pursuing Desdemona even after his ‘money is spent’ and he admits to having ‘little wit’ left. When Iago attacks him saying ‘what poor are they that have no patience’ he is determined to continue his pursuing when he should give up (and outed iago to Othello instead! to help avoid the tragic end. Cassio, another more subsidiary character played a small but important role in this play. He was promoted when only ‘a bookish theoric’ and ‘arithmetic’ rather than battle smart, having ‘never led a squadron in the field. ’ He was, it is suggested, not deserving of the promotion and thus Iago’s jealousy and anger is made somewhat understandable. We all heard Iago’s words to Cassio: he said to him ‘I think you think that I love you’ and never actually said he does love and or respect him. Cassio doesn’t pick up on this subtlety.
Cassio also speaks quiet disrespectfully about prostitute Bianca who has supposedly fallen for him- he laughs and says he will never wed her though she ‘weeps’ on him and hangs off him and to Iago’s assertion that Bianca ‘says [he] shall marry her’ Cassio laughs and says she hangs [off him and] she weeps upon’ him this disrespect although common at this time, is penalised when Othello is set up to overhear the story of this woman’s lust and thinks Cassio talks instead of Desdemona. Although Iago set up this scenario, it wouldn’t have been possible with Cassio showing his significant part.
He does though at the end claim Othello was ‘great of heart. ’ Clearly Cassio had to be more perceptive to avoid his part in his Lieutenant’s death. Furthermore Othello and his wife Desdemona have a large role in their destruction. Othello listens to iago’s lies and doesn’t realise who the true ‘green eyed monster’ is. He listens to Iago’s ‘trifles’ he trusts Iago over his beloved. He accepts Desdemona is a ‘whore’ and ‘strumpet’ with no real proof. He previously said she was his ‘good wench’ but turns on her quickly. He also turns quickly on close friend Cassio.
He calls Iago ‘friend’ and though at the start he claims ‘tis most true’ he married Desdemona, he doesn’t act like a doting husband. At the start he says he won Desdemona through his ‘whole curse of love’ and ‘not drugs, charms.. magic’ and values her opinion encouraging the court to ‘send for the lady, let her speak ’ as his is confident her word will support his claims it was his tales of ‘boyish days’ that seduced her when he spoke of being ‘taken and sold into slavery’ and came by ‘cannibals’.. she ‘devoured of [his] discourse’ and “she loved [him] for the dangers [he had] passed. Yet he kills her. It is not Iago’s hand that ‘smother’ his wife, but Othello himself; he had a choice. Additionally, Othello doesn’t like fighting and labels it a ‘Christian shame’ ‘barbarous brawl’ and says a man who ‘can’t calm his rage’ is worth little yet his later actions contradict this. Also he says he loves Cassio but doesn’t show this either. Even after saying he ‘found not Cassio’s kisses [Desdemona’s] lips he believes Iago and claims ‘farewell content’, so easily giving up all known happiness for the words of one man.
He says ‘make me to see it…prove it’ with ‘no loop to hang a doubt on’ and ‘give me a living reason she is not honest’ but there is none but he refuses to see it, to him the ‘handkerchief’ is proof enough. He says of Cassio ‘how shall I murder him now’ and of Desdemona ‘damn her.. lured minx.. she shall not live… my heart is turned to stone’ he says ‘all [his] found love thus [he does] blow to heaven…tis gone’ showing he gave up on this love, he blew it to heaven only realised his crimes at the end when he went on to kill himself as self punishment. His role is unable to be denied.
Desdemona was ignorant about what people, even those one loves, are capable of and also didn’t explain herself well enough when her husband convicted her. She also knew her death was waiting when he sent her to her room and she sang he willow song about a woman who was killed by her lover. This foreshadowed her death and almost showed a forfeit by this character. She gave Othello ‘a world of sighs’ he says and as she does ‘love the moor’ and love his “mind” she will obey all he says. And this love blinds her. Such blind love makes her have no fear and thus she is too open about praising Cassio.
At this time were many suspected women of affairs. She claims Cassio is ‘an honest face’ but she “truly loves” Othello and that her ‘heart is subdued even to the upmost pleasure of [her] lord’ so that she defies the status of woman as quite, claims her voice and speaks in court and demands to be allowed to go to war with him; ‘let me go with him. ’ But she lies to her ‘good lord’ about the handkerchief claiming ‘it is not lost’ when to her knowledge it is. She says she is Othello’s ‘true loyal wife’ but she is not truthful with him.
Though she is maybe too loyal going to bed even after he charges her as being a ‘strumpet’ and committing adultery. Before she dies she claims ‘heaven doth truly know it’, regarding her innocence but some may say she doesn’t do enough to save herself. She says ‘his unkindness may defeat [her] life but never take [her] love’ and earlier said to Emilia she asks ‘there be women who abuse their husbands’ which shows her innocence and great trust of all people and not believing in bad and deception hence a perfect victim and not equipped to defend herself against Othello’s claims.
This highlights the role husband and wife both played- her too innocent and him not being her protector, in their deaths. The fact he killed her and he killed himself, regardless of obvious Iago influence shows will power and their responsibility. The denouement reveals that many characters bear some responsibility for the end of the play. The final words of Lodovico shows that Iago bears much blame, after all this is ‘[his] work’, referring to the now dead lieutenant and his ‘true and loyal’ wife.
Desdemona’s last words to Emilia, asking her to ‘commend [Desdemona] to [her] lord’ Othello and Othello’s about the importance of her ‘kiss’ and that even as he killed her he stated he ‘shall kill thee now and love thee after’ showed that they loved each other until the end. However they gave into the deception manipulation of others and must accept this as a fault. Othello’s suicide is an admission of his guilt and Desdemona going to her room after Othello warned he would kill her shows an all too easy acceptance of her fate.
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