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Jealousy in Othello

For centuries that have passed since Shakespeare wrote Othello, the latter character’s name has been a synonym for “jealousy”. In his play, the author makes jealousy the central theme exploring its roots and consequences. While picturing the events that lead to tragedy, Shakespeare conveys an idea that jealousy is a destructive passion that blinds the one who is jealous and ruins the lives of people around him.

The character, on whom the discussion of jealousy is based in the play, is Othello. He is a renowned general and a respected man, although his fiancée’s father is not pleased with her choice because of his race. Thus, elope and secret marriage is a proof of Desdemona’s love and courage, yet the issue of jealousy interferes. In fact, deep in his heart Othello suspects that he is not good enough for his wife as she is of noble descent and might have found a better husband.

He tries to persuade himself that his jealousy is not relevant because Desdemona chose him.

Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw

The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt;

For she had eyes, and chose me. No, Iago;

I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;

And on the proof, there is no more but this,—

Away at once with love or jealousy! (Shakespeare 3.3.31).

However, he is still not confident, especially when shown false proof of his wife’s betrayal. This lack of confidence is the first reason of Othello’s doubt and jealousy, which Iago and his companions skillfully use to destroy him.

In his play, Shakespeare uses quite a metaphoric language in order to reveal the nature of jealousy. In fact, he is not only interested in telling the story of a jealous man but also in exploring this feeling in-depth because it is familiar to every person. Thus, for instance, Iago expresses it in the following way:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on (Shakespeare 3.3.15).

When picturing jealousy as a monster, the author exposes his vision of it as having beastly nature, as a form of a passion that belongs rather to animal instincts than human part of consciousness. Because there is a lot of passionate wild personality in Othello, he is especially vulnerable to jealousy. In fact, as Shakespeare believes, every person is the battlefield for passion and reason, and passion wins in case of Othello.

Another vision of jealousy, which is presented in the play, is its comparison to witchcraft. As Iago points out, he can do without herbs or potions while mere suspicion is enough to poison thoughts of Othello and make his imagination draw pictures. Researchers explore the reasons and the mechanism of jealousy pictured in the play: "Iago activates in Othello the 'green-eyed monster' of jealousy. Still, the play goes on to ask, on what does the monster feed his feelings? Othello suggests that the human mind in itself is prone to nurture 'monstrous' and 'foul' imaginings and that people often act perversely, even without a demonic catalyst" (Hall 103). Thus, a person is already vulnerable; the difference is only that some people are more resistant than others. In order for this magic to work, there must be ground ready, then it becomes a force that enslaves a human, a demon that lives inside:

Look, where he comes!

Not poppy, nor mandragora,

Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,

Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep

Which thou owedst yesterday (Shakespeare 3.3.33).

Thus, there are several factors why Othello is jealous. First of all, he has a passionate nature and is an archetype of a wild man, whose emotions are stronger than reason. Secondly, he does not feel confident because of his origin and status; Othello is an outsider, so he needs support desperately. He cannot fully believe that his wife is on his side rather than with her own family and community. Besides, the concept of jealousy in the text is based on balancing between doubt and trust, when one deals with the questions which cannot be checked but are a matter of faith. The problem with Othello is that he is used to control, which makes him feel strong about the situation. On the contrary, he feels weak when he loses control and has just to give in to a woman, and this makes him truly vulnerable. There is no one reason shown why he distrusts women in the first place, yet when he manages to rely on his faith, he feels comfortable. Iago understands that making him use reason instead of intuition would be really effective, as reason will fail to explain love and trust. So, when suspecting Desdemona and searching proof, "Othello fails to perceive that invisible 'honor,' like love, cannot be subject to empirical proof;" (Hall 110). In fact, he starts to believe that innocence has to be proved, while he can accept about crime easily.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that Shakespeare demonstrates the destructive power of jealousy in his play. Although there are no reasons, Othello is vulnerable to this feeling, which becomes his master. This happens for a number of causes, including his outcast status, lack of confidence, passion and Iago’s provocations. As a result, he kills his wife when the picture that his imagination has drawn becomes unbearable. He does it because he feels unable to live in the world that his sore imagination has drawn, so he resolves this conflict in a cruel way.