Othello & Desdemona’s Relationship

In this essay, I will be exploring how Iago brought about the change in Othello up until act 3 of the play. This play is about a black Venetian soldier who elopes and marries a young white girl called Desdemona, who he shares an empathic case of mutual love that overcomes many prejudice and objections. But his love for her soon changes to jealousy and murderous thoughts created by Iago, his most “honest” ancient. Iago plants crude images of Desdemona and Cassio, his former lieutenant, having an affair, and this soon chases away all the sanity in Othello.

Until the mid-point of the play, Othello composes himself in a dignified manner and expresses unbounded faith in the transcendent love that he shares with Desdemona, a bond that reaches over differences in race, age, and social status. Nevertheless, Othello begins to change his mind about his young wife in the corruption scene of Act III (scene iii) and by the end of the act, he has completely made up his mind about Desdemona’s faith and trust, and from this point, Othello is completely preoccupied with the mission of avenging himself on Desdemona and Cassio for an adulterous affair Iago claims they are having.

In Othello, many events are more significant than others because of mental or psychological reasons. Shakespeare uses images to give contrasted thoughts to different parts of the play. Another thing is how a character changes his feelings in a brief moment. In the play, examples of these are, how Othello changes his trust from person to person, from Desdemona to Cassio to Iago. Another is how he changes his opinion of Desdemona’s faith. Also there are the mental changes of Iago and his motives. The first we hear of Othello and Desdemona being together is in Act 1 Scene 1, when Iago calls out to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father.

He calls “you’re robbed” claiming that Othello has kidnapped Desdemona when, in actual fact, they have eloped. At this point, we get the impression that Othello and Desdemona are in a young, innocent, romantic love, but Iago calling “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” ruins this perfect image. Here, Shakespeare uses crude sexual images and refers both Othello and Desdemona as animals, which makes their love sound profane and physical. Iago provokes Brabantio by telling him these graphic stories of Othello and Desdemona.

No father wants to hear about his daughter like that, so it’s obvious that Brabantio gets angry with Othello. When Othello hears of Brabantio’s anger, it is here we hear him talk about Desdemona for the first time. We see that he really does “love the gentle Desdemona” and this is shown quite precisely in Act 1 Scene 3. Here, Othello assures the court Brabantio has summoned him to, that he has not won Desdemona’s love through “spells and medicine” and “witchcraft”, but with tales of heroic defeats, and he loved her that “she did pity them”.

Othello describes his courtship of Desdemona in a dignified and persuasive speech (76-93) that even the Duke is persuaded that this tale “would win” his daughter also. By his speech, it becomes clearer that Othello’s love for Desdemona is not passion, but a love whose quality is reflected in his tone when he speaks – calmly, with dignity, serenity, simplicity and stature. While Brabantio is still not convinced, Othello believes in his and Desdemona’s love so much, and their unbreakable bond of trust and faith that he asks the Duke to send for her, so that she may speak for him.

This shows that he trusts his life “upon her faith” even to speak against her own father. It also shows that he sees her more as an equal than a presence of a woman, since he sends for her to speak in a court, in a time where women weren’t that high on the power scale. Speaking to the court is when we are first introduced to Desdemona and realises that she is little more that a girl inexperienced in the way of the world who is taken in by Othello’s stories. Desdemona speaks gently outlining an argument so strong that finishes the whole debate.

Hearing her argument, you can’t help but wonder if her love for Othello is submissive love, generated by seeing “his visage in his mind” and fuelled by her delight in his “honours” and “valiant parts”. She speaks so fondly of him, yet hardly knows him; nonetheless, as she defends her newly born love for Othello, she uses much personal language such as “me” and “I” portraying personal feelings, which makes her love much more convincing. “My heart subdu’d/ I saw Othello’s visage in his mind/ Did I my soul and fortune consecrate”.

O my fair warrior” shows the equality of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship once again when the two arrive in Cyprus. In Cyprus (Act 2 Scene 3), Cassio starts a fight under the influence of alcohol and Iago’s “master plan”. Because of this, Othello’s evening with Desdemona is disturbed, and we see him for the first time, expressing the emotion of anger. Up until this scene, Othello has always been portrayed with calm and serenity, but here, his mood dramatically changes showing the audience how easily his emotions can be swayed and affected.

This is proven again at lines 245-249. Here his mood drastically changes again from angry to calm when he sees Desdemona. Othello acts with embarrassment and disappointment to the situation and describes it a “Christian shame”, which is ironic, because he is yet to commit a sinful act. After the incident, Othello demotes Cassio, even though he is obviously a close friend of his, “Cassio I love thee, but nevermore be officer of mine”. This is strange because Othello trusted Cassio a great deal and was also close with him, and yet, he demoted him on the spot.

This is a sign of how Othello’s emotions can affect him and cloud his judgment, making him think on his feet and act spontaneously. At the start of Act 3 Scene 3, Cassio is first mentioned to Othello by Desdemona to play with his mind (non intentionally of course). His tone in this scene tells us that he is annoyed with her constant pester and her interest in Cassio by calling her an “Excellent wench”, but he “do love thee” still. We also see that Othello depends on Desdemona, maybe a little too much for it could cost his sanity. “And when I love thee not, chaos is come again”.

He quotes “I deny thee nothing” which shows us that he cannot refuse her and he still cares for her deeply, and it almost assures the audience he always will. Desdemona is not a strong character, and lacks solidity in her persona, but, despite the fact of this, we see here that she is a huge weakness in Othello’s character, even through his annoyance for her at this point. She is almost able to wrap him around her little finger without intending to, and Othello allows this to happen because of his love and his insecurities about it.

From noticing Desdemona’s unwariness of this, we might come to the conclusion that she could possibly seen as the type to liase around with other men. Yet we are most certain that she wouldn’t, from the way she respects Othello and, regards him as first priority in her life, before her own father. The tragedy of love misunderstood is exposed at the end of Act 3 Scene 3, where we now see Othello in reverse role. Unlike in Act 1, Othello is able to think clearly and compose himself as polite, kind, and noble.

Soft phrases and the use of a variety of literary devices such as, alliteration, pitiable stories, and flattering phrases towards Desdemona allow a calmer reflection of Othello. This is the contrary of how he acts at the end of Act 3. He seems to revert to his more primal nature of fighting and “glorious war”. War is a huge vulnerability to Othello, which we see when he finally accepts Iago’s lies and is convinced that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Here his first reactions are of death and destruction, as he makes sure that “Cassio’s not alive”.

Earlier in the scene, when first hearing of Desdemona’s ‘affair’, Othello seems quite intent on only believing Iago’s words with some kind of proof. “I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove” Yet Othello fails to keep his word as he becomes angered by the mere thought of his wife deceiving him. It is due to this, that Othello asks Iago to “set on thy wife to observe”. Basically he asks Iago to seek the truth, yet the truth never is found causing him to doubt. We see that Othello has doubt because of his soliloquy in this act.

This is the first time he has one which surprises the audience and adds emotion and energy to Othello’s character more than usual. This could be a sign of his emotions swaying unlike in the Acts before, where he always seems open and composed. His soliloquy shows that he is confused and no longer speaks his mind as he did in the previous acts. During this soliloquy, Othello doubts his marriage, regrets that he is black, notices he’s much older, and he also doubt in himself. “Haply, I am black”, “I am declined the vale of years”, “O curse of marriage”

Another sign of distrust is, when Desdemona asks Othello if he is “not well”, and Othello replies “I have a pain upon my forehead here” instead of saying what he thought, as he usually would. The horns he speak of may symbolise the horns a cuckold would possess, which is also a sign of Othello’s mind wandering and doubting. You can tell that he is not self-assured and as confident as he once was. Shakespeare uses this technique to show us that Othello has lost his confidence and is no longer self-assured.

As he becomes more and more angry his control through his speech begins to slip, no longer does he speak in long flowing sentences but now in exclamations, which hints at his loss of capability to loose his temper. He is also speaking in a similar way to Iago, This may symbolise that he has come to think in the same manner. These images show us the depth of Othello’s jealousy, the woman he loved he now disparage. The change in Othello is very sudden. He makes a very quick transition from love to hate. In Act 3 Scene 3, Othello states, “if she be false, O then heaven mocks itself”.

Yet only not long after, he says “I’ll tear her into pieces”, and says that his mind will never change from this “tyrannous hate”. At the end of Act 3 Scene 3, we see that the relationship is no longer equal, and we see that Othello has risen above Desdemona and has belittled her. Othello treats her, and continues on treating her with great disrespect he would never have done before. Before, their relationship was mutual and equal but at this point in the Scene, Othello does not give Desdemona the chance to justify her actions, this reflects his egotistic, and is an example of how easily influenced he is.

Iago is evil personified, and to say that he is motiveless in this play could be quite true, as the audience never get to know his one true motive as it mentally changes and progresses as the play develops. He is ruthless, sinister, and will stop at nothing. Iago is the whole reason why there is conflict in the play. All the problems caused are through Iago and his lies, treachery, manipulation, and deep mysterious hate, which is fuelled by jealousy and revenge and maybe love. A lot of motives there.

He is a two faced liar smiting and betraying his fellow characters, while also being “honest Iago” as he wants to be known. He plays many parts of the story because of this. While at one point, he is the best comrade a person could have, yet another where he is a two faced, backstabbing liar. Throughout the play, we see him lie from one to the next, but he is only able to do this because he is shown to be a very accurate judge of character. He understands how everyone works, and how their minds function. He understand perfectly his “sick fool” Roderigo’s vanity and foolish hopes.

He knows that Desdemona’s generous personality will lead her to plead on Cassio’s behalf. He knows that Cassio’s ambitiousness will lead him to use Desdemona to regain Othello’s trust, and he knows that ” the Moor is of a free and open nature/ that thinks men honest but seem to be so”. He knows all this yet he spins a web of lies (with consummate skill) to turn everyone against one another. In the play Othello, Iago influence and uses two people purely for leverage. One of those is Michael Cassio, who is in a very contradicting relationship with Iago.

While Cassio trusts Iago and thinks that he has the best intentions for him in mind, Iago is actually plotting against him, persuading him with “good advice”, all in the while, ensnaring Cassio into a love innuendo he’d rather not be in. One of Iago’s more successful schemes is within Act 2 Scene 3. This scene opens with Othello bidding Cassio to inspect the guard during the night. He also warns him “not to outsport discretion”. Ironically, Iago will trick him beyond discretion, leading to his fall in this scene, the most important aspect of Iago’s plan.

Cassio proves his noble nature early on in the scene by refusing Iago’s persistent offer of wine, admitting that he “does not drink well”. Hearing this, Iago persists until Cassio finally gives in to his weakness. It takes Cassio “but one cup” to get drunk and gets into a fight with Roderigo. When Othello arrives on the scene Iago takes him aside and, being the persistent liar he is, pretends to be good friends with Cassio and pretends to care for him so that nothing will “wrong him”, nonetheless blaming him for everything, but subtly, subconsciously.

By sticking up for him, Iago soon befriends Cassio and tells him to seek Desdemona and ask her to plead for his rank and trust back with Othello. This is the most important point of persuading Cassio, because this is the main leverage for the whole plan. Here, he knows that Cassio’s ambitions will make him persistent and unaware of anything else, as does he know that Desdemona’s loving nature will help him. Iago plays with the subconscious a lot, as it is a conniving and cunning way to persuade someone. This is also shown on his lackey, Roderigo.

Iago also manipulates Roderigo, not part of any plan, but just as a lucky opportunity for money. For the foolish Roderigo, and his foolish hopes makes him an easy target for Iago. The phrase “put money in thy purse” repeatedly as Iago plays with Roderigo’s subconsciousness, and installs in Roderigo, a sense of trust in Iago. This convinces him that Iago is helping him, and that he is plotting against Othello purely for “sport”. “Sport” makes the whole situation sound like a game, a bet perhaps, so therefore money doesn’t seem like a big issue.

Iago’s soliloquies are probably just as important as anything else in the play, and he uses a lot of them. This allows us to see at once early on in the play, Iago’s motives and intentions, and that some promises go no where, like with Roderigo and his plans to woo the “gentle Desdemona”. Through soliloquy is when the master of deception is open to the scrutiny of the audience, that we may admire, horrified, the progress of his scheming. We see that he is an opportunist and amoral, “the moor already changes with my poison”.

In his soliloquies, Iago uses a level of expressiveness rarely presented in his public speeches such as, emotion, thoughts, and even insecurities, which are shown when he is convinced that Othello is sleeping with Emilia, his wife. In a soliloquy, Iago expounds the “divinity of hell”. He is delighted to see that his evil plan is working perfectly. Othello has many traits that make him nai??ve and insecure, and Iago plays on this. “Ha! I like not that, sneaking away so guilty like”.

This makes Othello question many things, but most of all, his marriage and his wife’s faith “I think my wife be honest, and think she is not”, this shows that Othello is confused and questions himself, he shows hate for her but at the same time loves her. His mind rages from one extreme to the other in his fit of emotions showing he has lost his control. Desdemona is rich and noble, furthermore, she has gone out of her social sphere to marry Othello and he is aware of this. When he speaks of his marriage, there is a hint of uncertainty, like it’s almost too good to be true.

However, this insecurity is buried dormant and non fatal. It would not rise by itself to produce a tragedy, but needs someone who sees its existence and uses it. Iago plants jealousy into Othello, but its mostly Othello’s pride that provides a fertile ground for these insecurities to nurture it’s growth. Iago plays with Othello’s uncertainty building it up by talking of jealousy and betrayal, “O, beware my lord, of jealousy! “/”It is the green eyed monster”, and then more specifically about the unnatural nature of their marriage “Her will, recoiling to her better judgement”.

More importantly, he addresses jealousy as a major theme. The “green eyed monster” becomes a symbol representing Othello’s dark feelings, a spectre lurking in his mind and beginning to steer his behaviour, while Iago lead him with lies “And will as tenderly be led by th’nose as asses are. ” This creates an image of an animal being led away so easily by something so simple. Iago uses a serious case of reverse psychology just to build up the confusion and uncertainty in Othello. Iago says that Cassio is “honest”, which sets Othello off, and Iago’s fake uncertainty in his tone makes Othello think that Cassio lies.

Words such “sneak” and “guilty” sets the scene for private affair, and gets Othello’s mind racing. Othello becomes suspicious and starts to get annoyed with Iago, as it seems Iago knows something and is not telling Othello, Othello says, “Show me thy thought”. By not telling Othello the “secret” not only makes him want to know even more, but it also makes Othello feel like an outsider, already he is separated from the group, but now even more as there are a secrets revolving around that he knows nothing of.

These are all tactics, which Iago uses (among others) to break down Othello and all the people around him. One of his most successful tactics is how he drops hints about Desdemona and Cassio. He does this very well by not actually stating fictitious stories but by suggesting, and not giving Othello a clear image. This is somewhat worse because if his mind is left to wander and imagine, it can come up with the wrong answer. He also plays on the fact that Desdemona has already once deceived her father and “may thee”. This makes Othello question her faith and if he is first priority anymore.

Othello trusts Iago because Iago puts forward the fact that he knows all and is a kind loyal friend for he says, and I quote “I am your own forever”, even though we all know he despises the moor. But this way, Iago gets into Othello’s trustees list, which is a helpful asset to his plan. Gaining that trust, Iago acts out many sympathetic, expressive roles, gives much advice and fulfils Othello’s greedy ears with what he wants to hear, therefore, proving his loyalty. Throughout the play, there is a steady stream of racism. It originates from not one, but rather several characters in the play.

Most characters in the play exhibit some type of racism toward Othello. His blackness is not only a mark of his physical alienation but a symbol, to which every character in the play, he himself included, must respond. Iago and Roderigo speak the most obvious racial slurs against Othello. Roderigo refers to the “thick-lips”, “gross clasps of a lascivious moor”, and the “gross revolt” of Desdemona (Act 1 Scene 1). He also labels Othello as a “wheeling stranger”. Iago makes several references to Othello’s race as well, referring to him as an “old black ram”, a “devil”, and a ” Barbary horse”.

This is also associated with excessive sexuality when Iago tells Brabantio that his “daughter and the Moor are [now] making the beast / with two backs”. This cultural perception contributes to the racist atmosphere; Othello’s sexuality is connected to his race, which is perceived as degenerate and disgusting. Iago and Roderigo are not the only characters with outright disdain for Othello’s race and culture. Brabantio also projects the negative images associated with blackness. Desdemona’s father invites Othello to tell tales, but refuses to accept him as a son-in-law.

Brabantio shows his anger when he refers to Othello as “too true and evil”, a “foul thief”, and “Damn’d”. He is disgusted that Desdemona would “run from her guardage to the sooty bosom / Of such a thing as thou–to fear, not to delight! ” and “fall in love with what she fear’d to look on! ” In addition, Brabantio claims that the only possible way Desdemona could fall in love with Othello is if he used black magic. These statements reveal a racism similar to that of Iago and Roderigo. Desdemona communicates an even more subtle form of racism.

She falls in love with Othello not for his outward appearance but for his words. She states that she saw “Othello’s visage in his mind”, but she does not say that she found his physical form attractive. By not referring to his physical state, Desdemona confirms her father’s belief that she should fear to look on such blackness. Othello even attests to this when he agrees with Iago’s statement that Desdemona “seem’d to shake and fear your looks”. All of these quotes suggest that even Desdemona realizes there is something unnatural about her love for Othello due to his physical appearance.

The use, or lack thereof, of Othello’s name is important for racial reasons as well. Calling someone by name is a sign of respect. The characters in the play sometimes refer to Othello by his name, but often by the term “Moor. ” The amount of racial hostility the character has for Othello usually dictates the mode of address. Iago refers to Othello by name but only a few times in the play, usually when he is talking directly to him, while he calls him Moor over the rest of the play. Coincidence plays a big role in the play Othello, as everything happens almost out of coincidence.

From Iago’s plan, to being at the wrong place at the wrong time, everything adds up to coincidence. An example of this is when Cassio chooses to meet with Desdemona at that certain point in the play, just as Othello is returning. This is when Othello first has his doubts about Desdemona. Iago sees this and plays on that fact “Ha, I like not that/ he would sneak away so guilty like”. I think that Iago persuades Othello in a very convincing way. Although, the way that Othello changes so suddenly makes it less convincing.

This may just be that he is a very nai??ve character who “trusts men easily”. This may also be due to his insecurities. Iago knows Othello will never be completely embraced in society, and he knows that Othello also knows that. By playing on this, he skilfully convinces Othello that his wife might not love because of his race. Othello is obviously hurt by this and his change is drastic, yet somehow convincing. I think it’s the way that you see all the persuasions and lies planned by Iago, then you watch it happen. This lets us understand and see the development.

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