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Is It Iago, Venetian Society, Or Himself That Is To Blame For Othello'S Downfall?

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The fate of Othello is typical of a Shakespearian play. Shakespeare often builds up his main characters, by calling them 'valiant' and 'noble' and relating all his great military achievements in the case of Othello, and then by dragging them off their elated positions by soiling them with such petty emotions as hate or jealousy. 'Othello' itself is a play of strong opposites. Anger and love and the constant imagery of heaven and hell, Othello being the 'devil' and Desdemona the 'angel'.

One of the key factors, which no doubt contributes to Othello's downfall, is how Venetian society viewed him. 'Moor' is the constant nickname that haunts him wherever he goes. Even though the people who say this might not be trying to be intentionally racist, they are nevertheless drawing attention to his skin colour, meaning that they see him as standing out for that one feature. This perhaps shows that racism had reached a subconscious level in Venetian society and that the inhabitants of Venice have some sort of ingrained prejudice against different ethnicities, probably due to how their society educated them and to the limited cultures that they were exposed to. This is very close to modern life, as many white people who have limited social interaction with blacks perceive them as either dangerous or excellent sportsmen, since that is how the media portrays them.

Additionally, western society has always imagined the devil as being black, therefore causing a negative view of the colour. This is manifested by the amount of times Othello is referred to as a 'devil'. This also begins to introduce the imagery of heaven and hell that becomes apparent in 'Othello', which even Othello seems to enforce when he damns himself 'beneath all depth in hell' and the way in which when talking of himself he always refers to hell and when talking of Desdemona, of heaven. On the other hand, Desdemona is seen as 'heavenly' and an 'angel'. Even now the devil is still perceived as being black, and people use the colour as an insult. This view of a race would naturally evoke prejudice that would hinder a black man in a white man's world, which would cause problems for him if a taboo such as interracial marriage were committed and might even, as Brabantio suggested, throw Othello 'to prison, till fit time'.

This kind of prejudice would obviously make Othello insecure about his role in Venetian society. Although he insists that his 'parts..title..and..perfect soul shall manifest me [him] rightly' when he is confronted by Brabantio, it is possible that he may well have some insecurities about his colour, such as when he calls himself 'the blacker devil'. This could make him more likely to try to keep his honour, after all reputation is 'the immortal part' of one's existence according to Cassio and the general beliefs of the 1600's. Being 'made a cuckold out of' would surely ruin that part of him, and therefore, in his mind, lose his place in Venetian society. Even now reputation is very important. It holds keys to doors such as fine jobs and determines social circles in which people engage, it is in fact so important that some people choose to end their lives rather than continue with a sullied name. So perhaps it was pressure of opinion that led Othello to murder Desdemona, after all it would be very detrimental for a soldier such as Othello, whose whole career is based on his reputation, to have it besmirched.

The other option is to blame Iago, as do the characters at the end of the play. It is very easy to dehumanise Iago by calling him a 'Spartan dog' and 'demi-devil' to reassure themselves that no normal human could do this. It's very hard to accept that normal people could be hiding a more darker, sinister side of themselves that could flourish unexpectedly. This is often seen in today's media, in the way that newspapers label killers or rapists 'monsters' and call their actions 'inhuman', to assure the public that no normal person could commit such heinous acts. By labelling Iago 'more fell than hunger, famine, or the sea' they immediately remove his human attributes, by comparing him to inhuman things such as the ones just mentioned, and make it much easier to brand him the scapegoat. By doing this they also remove the inconvenience of having to think about other causes of Othello's downfall, such as their own society.

Iago himself is like a puppet master. His artful manipulation of people makes him look like a stage manager, effortlessly controlling his victims. He gives many motives for his actions, he says that he hates Othello because he has apparently ''twixt my sheets...done my office' and therefore says that 'nothing can, nor shall content my soul, till I am even with him, wife for wife'. This hints to the audience that his motive is sexual jealousy. However this reason is not very convincing, as he then acknowledges that he 'know not if't be true'. This makes the audience doubt that this is the true reason of wanting to 'enmesh 'em all'. The other popular reason he gives is that he is angry by the promotion of Cassio to lieutenant instead of him, despite him believing that he is 'worth no worse a place'. The other option is that he is envious of the 'daily beauty' of Cassio and Othello's lives. But again this does not seem to quite fit. The final option is that he is simply



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