Who is Othello?


In Marvin Rosenberg’s “The Masks Of Othello” he writes, “First, the problem of Othello. Basically, it is this: how can he be both noble and a murderer? What kind of sympathy, what empathy, can he evoke?” One of the most heartbreaking moments of the play for me comes in the last scene when Emilia, Desdemona’s waiting-woman, is banging on the door to speak to Othello. He has just smothered Desdemona and he exclaims, “If she come in, she’ll sure speak to my wife–My wife, my wife! What wife? I have no wife. O insupportable!” This moment should strike us deeply as it is the first time Othello shows that he is capable of showing remorse; and might I add that it is noteworthy that Shakespeare writes this monumental moment into the text immediately following the smothering of Desdemona leaving no doubt in his audience’s mind as to Othello’s extreme anguish once he has ended his beloved’s life for what he terms, “the cause; [his] soul.” It gets much worse for Othello when the truth about Iago’s villainy and Desdemona’s innocence comes to light. I think it is an error to conclude that he arouses no pity in us the audience; especially when he ruefully laments not long before taking his own life, “Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely, but too well.” I believe this one statement casts off any feelings of indifference to Othello’s fate. Another doctrine critics have maintained that I believe an inaccuracy is that Othello is a jealous person. Although Iago conjures a deep mistrust in Desdemona, I do not believe this accurately represents jealousy in Othello’s true nature. When Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into Othello’s motive for murder he tells us, “She must die, else she’ll betray more men.” This seems like a much more utilitarian cause than a jealous one. Othello even states, “Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions?” If Othello is in any way a jealous person, he is certainly aware of the fact that it is a torturous way to live and intends to absolve himself of any trace of the emotion. Once Othello starts to believe Iago’s blatant lie of Desdemona’s infidelity, jealous is not quite the best term. Othello claims that he, “had been happy if the general camp, pioneers and all had tasted her sweet body,” provided that, “[He] had nothing known.” Another way of putting it is that he is sorry he has to know. He feels regret for having to bid, “Farewell [to] [his] traquil mind,” and, “farewell [to] content.”  Othello wants to know the truth, but he simply can’t handle what Iago tells him. Like Macbeth his mind is, “Full of scorpions.” His statement of, “I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove,” tells us he is not interested in the cat and mouse game of suspicion but merely the truth. At one point he even acknowledges how tortured his suspicious feelings are making him feel, “By the world, I think my wife be honest, and think she is not; I think that thou art just, and think thou art not: I’ll have some proof!”. Not any proof but, “The ocular proof!” Othello further promulgates that love and jealousy cannot coexist, “There is no more but this: away at once with love or jealousy!” Or in other words: end intimacy, or end jealousy. At the conclusion Othello explains that he was not one to be “easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme.” He was not wrought upon by and large as a result of his own faulty reasoning but by the nefarious deceit carried out by the evil Iago. What this hellish villain Iago actually intended when he said his most famous words was, “Beware my lord of [Iago] [I] am the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat [I] feed on!”