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Essay: Jealousy in Othello

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: March 18, 2021*
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  • Number of pages: 2
  • Jealousy in Othello
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Jealousy is a disease that is built upon hatred and insecurity, forever present in an individual but simply awaiting a trigger. It is evident in William Shakespeare’s Othello that envy is a common human characteristic and that “jealous souls are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous for they are jealous. It is a monster born on itself.” The characters Othello, Iago and Roderigo exhibit the innate nature of jealousy through their actions and beliefs. Othello reveals the monster inside of him when he murders his wife, Desdemona, which is a result of his envying of Cassio. The monster inside of Iago is visible throughout the whole text as all his actions are an attempt to feed his jealousy and although the monster in Roderigo is meagre in comparison to the other characters, he allows his envious soul to lead him to his death.

Shakespeare’s Othello is a man of colour and the general of the Venetian army, however, the heroism he portrays and the stereotypes he breaks does not stop him from allowing his jealousy to control his actions. The “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s handkerchief being found with Cassio drove him to ultimately murder his wife. Since the handkerchief had been the first ever gift from Othello to his wife, the author uses it to symbolise his love for her and its presence with Cassio drove his jealousy to completely consume him. Othello’s “heart is turned to stone” and his envy of Cassio’s supposed relationship with his wife leads him to kill her. In Othello, the Venetian generals gradual change in personality and way of thinking because of his assumptions and jealousy portray how an uncontrolled envy over someone can lead to the monster within to unleash itself. Essentially, Othello’s jealousy of Cassio was always present, but the extent of its damage is drastically increased throughout the play.

The agonist of the play, Iago, is a character with typical villainous characteristics, from being manipulative to being cunningly creative, it is obvious that he is against the protagonist of the play, Othello, from the start. This is especially evident in his jealous nature towards anyone who he perceives as better than him or advantaged in society. The duplicitous and egotistical actions of Othello’s villain is seen when he manipulates the people around him to achieve his desires. Throughout the play, he “abuse(s) Othello’(s) ear” and persistently ensures that “the moor changes with (his) poison.” Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘poison’ symbolises the deadliness of Iago’s words and actions. Essentially, all of his actions are a result of his intense envy and even though he warns others “be aware of…jealousy,” Iago ends up falling victim to it himself. Whilst attempting to quench the thirst of his unrestrained jealousy, Iago reveals the monster inside of him time and time again and proves Emilia’s opinion of “jealous souls…are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous for they are jealous.”

During Othello, Roderigo does not appear as much as the other characters, however, Shakespeare still portrays his jealous nature throughout the play. From the beginning of the text, his desire to wed Desdemona and jealousy of Othello is evident as “he love(d) Desdemona.” His inability to marry and successfully exhibit his love for her leads Roderigo to turn to “Iago, who hast had (his) purse, as if the strings were thine.”Roderigo’s jealousy of Othello’s relationship with the woman he loved eventually consumes him and plagues his thoughts as he starts to think things like “She is abused, stol’n from (him).” This decline in ability to think logically and without his intense emotions involved eventually leads to his death as the blind trust he had in Iago was the road to an unfortunate destiny. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s use of repetition in act 1, where Iago is constantly reminding Roderigo to “put money in thy purse” gave Roderigo the idea that his riches and ability to pay Iago would allow him to achieve his desires. Essentially, jealousy is evident in Roderigo’s actions and beliefs, but in comparison to Shakespeare’s protagonist and antagonist, Othello and Iago, the monster inside of him is quickly put to an end before it can do much damage.

William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the idea that “jealous souls…are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous for they are jealous. It is a monster…born on itself” through the development of his characters, Othello, Iago and Roderigo. Envy eventually consumes Othello when he resorts to murdering his wife. Iago is depicted as a snake throughout the entirety of the play solely because of his jealousy driven actions and Roderigo falls victim for the dangers of intense jealousy. Moreover, it is seen in the text that jealousy is an innate characteristic that is always a part of the character, only some have the ability to conceal it better and not get affected by its impact.

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