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Iago’s actions and soliloquies in Othello
A tragedy without meaning ‘Othello’ is not, as the very genre of tragedy seeks to imitate action and life, both of which have an inherit meaning. In some ways, Shakespeare’s work can be considered didactic as in the case in classical tragedy, the hero’s falls arises as fault of a hamartia on his part, a fault which plagues humanity. In fact, throughout the work, Othello is revealed to have many more faults and weaknesses than a man of his stature should posses, providing a reason for his downfall. The work’s main protagonist, the scheming Iago, ultimately has his own reasons for his actions; actions which on surface value might appear to be inherently evil and motiveless. A third variable here, the role of the setting, and its part in the tragedy also helps to explain the reasons for it. Through Iago’s motives, and Othello’s inherit weaknesses, the tragedy of the play is meaningful for the audience.
By examining Iago’s actions and his soliloquies the audience is able to discern that Iago does indeed have motives for his actions, however weak they may be. Despite Iago recognising that indeed the moor ‘is of a free and open nature’ (Oth Act 1 Sc. 3 ll. 381), he still does despise him. Iago has to be examined closer to discover his motives: of course, he is jealous of Cassio’s appointment as Othello’s lieutenant and this is an ultimate irony in itself as he later mocks Othello for his own jealousy, having succumbed to the ‘green-eyed monster’. There is also of course Iago’s blatant racial slurs and hatred towards Othello, and his paranoia regarding the supposed infidelity of his wife, ‘And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets he’s done my office’ (Oth Act 1 Sc. 3 ll. 369-370). However, the latter excuse may seem less reasonable, considering that Iago also utters later that he believes that Cassio has also slept with his wife. Iago’s attitude to the subject, contrasting with Othello’s view of sex as a unifying force, is that it is something inherently dirty and revolting, increasing his paranoia .
Iago’s main vice however is his lust for power. Ultimately, his aim is not to rise to the rank of lieutenant, but to go as far as he is able to. This point is justified by his plotting not only against Cassio, the man who holds his coveted position, but Othello, the general of the Venetian army himself. Ultimately, Iago is surprised by how easy it becomes to manipulate Othello and by the end of the play is even a little sorry for the ease at which his plan has come to fruition. No man without a clear motive, as has been often suggested for Iago, could have devised such a plan, that struck the victim blow by blow, with no time to recover to rational thought in between. Iago’s main motive then becomes a classic case of tall-poppy syndrome as he seeks not only to dethrone the ‘god of war’ and the ‘goddess of love’, but to also make them suffer.
The setting in the play also plays a significant role in the explanation for the reasons for the tragedy. The play opens in Venice, the epitome of western civilization and culture in Shakespeare’s time. Under the influence of Venice’s culture, there does exist imaginary bonds of control and order , which keep characters’ emotions in check. In Act 2, following the move to Cyprus, these bonds are gradually released, freeing the way for chaos to rule over order in a way not possible in the first Act. The characters have now reached the frontier. Evidence of this is found with reference to the poor weather encircling Cyprus at the time. In this case there is both a literal and metaphorical storm brewing, as Iago’s plot begins to shape in his mind.
‘The chidden billow seems to pelt the clouds;
The wind-shaked charge, with high and monstrous mane,
Seems to cast water on the burning Bear
And quench the guards of th’ever-fixed Pole.’ (Oth Act 2 Sc. 1 ll. 12-15)
The fact that Othello fails to note the power of the brewing ‘storm’ condemns him to his fate. It must be noted that Othello is a soldier, a general, by profession. In war, rules and conventions apply, but once these bonds of control are taken away, he does not know how to react or behave, considering he has lived his life as if he were fighting a battle. Indeed, these ‘bonds of control’ are released even further as Othello orders celebration and revelry to mark the destruction of the Turkish fleet. Little does he know that nearby, Iago is using the occasion to plot a destruction of a different kind?
The faults that are found in Othello’s character are sufficient to demonstrate that, although he may not be deserving of his eventual fate, there is some justification for what has happened. At the start of the play, Othello is portrayed as the ‘god of war’, his wife the ‘goddess of love’. However, during the play it is proved that Othello has too many flaws, and has the basic hamartia of the classic tragic hero. He is not a god, but merely a man, which enables the audience to feel sympathy and pathos towards the lead character.
From the very beginning of the play the audience is told that Othello is an outsider. He does not seem to belong to our world, nor do we know how he managed to arrive. He is not even a European, much less an Italian. This racial and cultural difference is explored throughout the play, mainly in the opening Act. Eventually, his lack of knowledge regarding the customs of Venetian women helps to contribute to his downfall. In short, Othello seems to suffer from an acute form of virgin/whore dichotomy, a condition which means in practice that he is only able to see women, in particular his wife, as either absolutely pure and holy, or otherwise foul and wretched depending upon their f.............
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