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Shakespeare Essay: Othello Theme: Jealousy

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"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy

It is the green eyed monster, that doth mock

That meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,

Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;

But, O, what damned minutes tells he o'er,

Who dotes yet doubts, suspects yet fondly loves!

Here Iago outlines the psychological effects of the passion of jealousy. Iago knows the emotion well and this passage reveals Iago's deep knowledge of the psychology of jealousy. Jealousy is the motivation for Iago's destruction of Othello, Cassio and Desdamona. It is also, ironically, the tool he uses to "perplex" Othello's mind "in the extreme" and drive him into savage madness. Iago says that jealousy is a monstrous disease that mocks those poisoned by it. Iago is introducing the concept of a man's reputation and warns Othello to beware of jealousy. Without making any direct accusations, Iago hints that there is need to be jealous. "That doth mock...That cuckold lives in bliss who.." Because a jealous man is mocked and without directly accusing, he cunningly implies that Othello's wife has been unfaithful.

We learn of Iago's jealousy toward Othello and Cassio earlier in the play. Iago is jealous of Othello's ability to woo the young and alluring Desdemona. It is possible that Iago has his own secret passion for the Moor's new bride, and he is enraged at the idea of the "old black ram" attaining what he himself desires. "It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor ... She must change for youth. When she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice." Iago's jealousy of Cassio is the more obvious is that he has just been passed over for a promotion which has gone to Cassio. He confesses to Roderigo that this is the reason for his hatred; the reason for his desire to ruin Othello. "One Michael Cassio, a Florentine , (A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife), That never set a squadron in the fieldBut he, sir, had th' election ..."

Othello recognises the 'misery' in Iago's warning about jealousy yet he attempts to shrug off his fear of it with the rational argument that once he in doubt he will seek the 'ocular proof' and so solve the dilemma. " 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!" Iago is quick to seize in Othello's need for visible proof and immediately places Othello into jealous doubt by suggesting that Othello "observe" Desdamona with Cassio. He suggests he observe her with an "open eye" yet an eye that seeks the proof of her fidelity. He then feeds the 'meat' of his suggestion with further insinuations as to Desdemona's deceiving and oblique nature. "She did deceive her father, marrying you;
 And when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, 
She lov'd them most." To Iago this is a sign of her ingenious deception. He claims that even in the very act of falling in love with Othello, Desdemona deceived. She seemed to be afraid, but she was, in fact, in love. Now Othello has adopted that kind of logic.

Iago works on all the vulnerable aspects of Othello's nature; his fatal flaw that he judges according to appearances, that he is unsure of Venetian women, and that he has a degree of self doubt as a foreigner and a black man.

Jealousy relies on a degree of ignorance (even Iago is not entirely sure that Othello has cuckolded with Emilia.) "I know not if it be true but I for mere suspicion in that

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