Downfall of Othello
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William Shakespeare’s eponymously titled play ‘Othello’, manifests greed, ambition, jealousy, revenge and most of all, manipulation. Iago’s skillful manipulation of protagonist, Othello, eventually leads Othello to self destruct. The once “noble and valiant moor” is transformed into the “blacker devil” as he kills his beloved Desdemona due to her supposed infidelity with lieutenant Cassio. This is an illusion that Iago had created by insinuating that “the fair and gentle Desdemona” had turned her husband Othello into a cuckold. This manipulation is central to the play because it leads to the death of many main characters such as Desdemona, Rodrigo and Emilia. It is also the reason for the ultimate downfall of Othello.
At the commencement of the play, Othello is poetic in his use of language, “she loved me for the dangers I had past, and I love her for she did pity them.” The citizens of Venice clearly respect Othello due to his exceptional talent as a general in the Venetian Army. He also has a proud nature which is evident very early on in the play as he states “my parts, my title and my perfect soul, shall manifest me rightly”, clearly suggesting that these are the most important aspects of his life. Once swayed by the evil, manipulative Iago, Othello loses all eloquence. His inability to seek ocular proof due to his trusting nature, quite quickly leads him to believe that Desdemona is a “filthy strumpet”. Iago knew that Othello’s pride would quickly turn into aggravated folly.
The accusations of Desdemona’s supposed cuckolding causes Othello to transform his life into turmoil as he refuses to temper his pride and in turn, loses all self-confidence and composure. The successfulness of Iago’s manipulation could be due to Othello’s inflammable nature, which one may argue as being innate to some extent in all humans. Iago had never given Othello any reason to deem him untrustworthy before “ as honest as I am”, so Othello’s naivety is somewhat understandable. Hubris, considered to be the negative aspects of pride is Othello’s lapse in judgement, which results in his downfall. It is the reason that Iago’s manipulation can even take place; thus causing the theme of manipulation to be the core of the play.
Iago is undoubtably the mastermind, leading Othello to his own demise. He also manipulates Rodrigo and Emilia. Iago persuades the foolish Rodrigo to give him money to fuel his destructive plan for vengeance “put money in thy purse”, in exchange he promises Rodrigo that he will win over the “beautiful Desdemona”. He then manipulates his own wife, Emilia, into taking Desdemona’s handkerchief, the handkerchief she received from Othello once they were married. Iago strategically uses the handkerchief to make it look like Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. The only person left to be affected by Iago’s evil and sadistic ways was Othello, who immediately buys into Iago’s “unvarnished tale”.
Although he tells Iago “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore; be sure of it, give me ocular proof”, Othello never receives any proof other than the illusionary “ocular proof” conjured up by Iago, the handkerchief. Which could have just as easily been accidentally left in Cassio’s bed chambers or had been misplaced. Othello had already decided that Desdemona was unfaithful. The task of manipulating Othello was made easier by the fact that he had started to clearly show signs that he was feeling inadequate, especially living in this white-dominated society. It seems as though a general in the Venetian army would be more aware of such facades like the one Iago uses to hide his cool malignity with, the side of him that the audience is able to see in his soliloquies, but this is not the case for Othello. He quite easily falls into Iago’s traps, believing in the perception that Iago is “brave and honest”.
As Othello is driven to the point of insanity by “honest Iago”, Venice suffers. His paranoia becomes uncontrollable as he plans his wife’s murder. Othello kills Desdemona “she must die else she betray more men.” He truly believes that what he is doing is noble and honourable, sacrificing her for the good of the men of Venice. Not once does he question other possibilities. He never outright questions her about her infidelity apart from just before he kills her, vaguely asking “are you not a strumpet?” The “senseless suffering” he causes Desdemona is a result of catalyst, Iago. As it draws to the climax of the play, Iago’s lies, deceit and manipulation cause the destruction of Othello, Desdemona, Rodrigo and Emilia.
By the time Othello realizes that Iago has manipulated him, it is too late. He has already killed the love of his life. Othello never fully apologises for killing Desdemona, but his anguish and profound remorse is shown when he does what he considers to be the honourable thing. He kills himself to redeem some of his former nobility. To kill oneself was deemed noble in Elizabethan times when ‘Othello’ was written (in the early 1600’s). Although is not seen as a noble act today, Othello, being a Christian, realized that this act was a sin, and therefore damns himself further. After manipulating Othello into causing the demise of both himself and his wife, Iago never admits to what he has done “what you know you know, from this time forth I never will speak word.”
Iago’s manipulation of each of these characters is completely central to the play as a whole, because it is the reason for all of the major events that happen in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’. Motivated by revenge, Iago’s manipulation causes the downfall of protagonist, Othello. He exploits his friendship with both Othello and Cassio is order to get the revenge he seeks. His bitterness was conveyed at the beginning of the play when he tells Rodrigo that he despises ‘Othello’ for promoting Cassio over himself. This bitterness grows and remains present right to the bitter end. Shakespeare strategically places Iago’s soliloquies to allow the audience to see exactly when and how he is going to manipulate the vulnerable Othello. Having manipulation as the main theme in the play ‘Othello’ gives the characters more dimension as we are able to see how these characters react. It shows true human nature and instinct. This is a theme that has remained relevant even today, which tells us that the theme of manipulation is highly central to the play as a whole.