Set in the city of Venice, Othello is a play tells the story of four characters, Othello a Venetian army general, Desdemona his loyal and trusting wife, Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant, and Iago, Othello’s ensign (Shakespeare). Composed and written by William Shakespeare, Othello is a brilliantly enthralling tragedy about how Iago, with his immense hatred for Othello, manages to ruin his life and lead him to his deathbed. The plot of the play is centered on Iago’s revenge for Othello’s betrayal and the reason behind this revenge is the fact that Othello chooses Cassio as his officer instead of Iago, and the presumptions that Othello previously engaged in a sexual affair with Iago’s wife Emilia. In subsequent series of events, the play narrates a story of the four characters, and how they manage to endure Iago’s trickery and deception. Using the central themes of racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal to bring out his message
This paper analyzes the theme of love as brought out in the play, Othello. The paper examines Shakespeare’s perception on the nature of love as brought out in the novel, as well as, provides a personal discernment of the same.
Love has been the central theme of William Shakespeare’s novella and playwrights throughout time. Specifically, in Othello, Shakespeare integrates the theme of love in the tragic play so as to bring out his message regarding love accordingly. One section that strikes the readers with relation to the theme of love is where Othello states that he ought to be remembered as the one that loved well and not too wisely (Shakespeare 340). With this statement, readers can already perceive Shakespeare’s perception regarding love, that it is prudent and judicious. The events that take place throughout the novel also bring out love as a concept that is complex and uncomprehending. To, fully, understand the concept of love as brought out in the play, one must first consider the story of love in the play. In essence, the story of love in the play begins when the audience is introduced to the relationship between the black Moor Othello and his wife Desdemona. Blatantly, the couple’s marriage is illegitimate, as the two have kept it from Desdemona’s father, who after finding out about it, attempts to take them to court but fails in stopping the marriage. The two characters are evidently in love with each other and they manage to move to Cyprus so as to secure their love and start a family.
Another character that has been used to bring out the theme of love is Iago, Othello’s so called ensign. Iago is jealous of Othello’s and Desdemona’s love and he develops a ploy to prevent the two lovers from sharing and exploring their love for each other. In his plot, Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is not who he thinks she is: that behind her innocence, love and charm, she is an unfaithful whore who does not deserve Othello’s love. Iago’s plan successfully works and Othello becomes persuaded of Desdemona’s disloyalty. Subsequently, Othello takes Desdemona’s life, and he is convinced that her death comes as a result of his loving her ‘too well’. Accordingly, the words uttered by Othello suggests that his love for Desdemona was proper and without flaw as opposed to being astute and perceptive, thus drawing on to the concept of love in the play.
One of the questions that has been frequently raised about the play with relation to the theme of love is whether Othello truly loved Desdemona. This is because in the play, the audience are first introduced to their love for each other, then later the murder of Desdemona by her love, Othello. Evidently, Othello loves his wife very much and this is illustrated in how he defies her father’s orders and marries her. However, the choice to murder his wife begs the question as to whether he indeed loved his wife (Kirsch 721). He loves, adores, and worships Desdemona, yet he still puts her to death without a second thought. A closer examination of Othello’s love for Desdemona reveals that he loves her as an extension of himself. This means that Othello’s love for Desdemona is reliant on his perception regarding what she offers to him. He sees a reflection of himself in the way Desdemona expresses her love for him. As a lover, Othello is in pursuit of an ideal love, as well as, an idyllic beauty and partner. He searches for this all his life and manages to find these qualities in one woman only, Desdemona. To Othello, Desdemona embodies both the figure of love and the cause of love (Kirsch 723) With Desdemona as his partner, Othello experiences love at its supreme nature. Othello loves Desdemona with the same degree that she loves him, and for that reason, he loves her as a conservatory.
Additionally, Othello’s marriage to Desdemona has been idealized throughout the play and Desdemona’s service to him is a symbol of an exalted romantic infatuation. However, the fact that Othello fall for Iago’ trap and is convinced to kill her makes the love that Othello feels for Desdemona doubtful. Critics believe that Othello’s actions illustrate his lack of love for Desdemona, and for that reason, argue that he did not love Desdemona as Shakespeare would like his audience to believe in the play. However, if examined from a different point of view, the audience can comprehend Othello’s love for Desdemona differently. Accordingly, Iago is presented as a cunning and rational trickster, which makes him a very smart character. Throughout the play, Iago uses the weaknesses of all other characters in the play to manipulate them into doing as he wishes (Collins 230). In the case of Othello, Iago is aware of his mental state and his personal perception of himself.
Othello is a stranger in Desdemona’s community, and he does not feel like he fits in. He considers himself as an alien, something that Iago uses against him. Iago’s manipulative approach is then to influence Othello into regard himself as a complete alien in Venice. He manages to convince Othello that he is an alien, and for that reason, any woman who claims to love him does so tenaciously (Kirsch 726). Othello sequentially develops a tainted state of mind and soon Desdemona’s love for him becomes a torturous and insufferable. Every action of love that Desdemona demonstrates for Othello is translated as a deception and proof of her infidelity to Othello. Additionally, Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio, thus compelling him to take her life so as to end his agony. If examined from this point of view, it is, therefore clear that Othello was truly in love with Desdemona. He loved and idealized her so much that when he found out about her presumed disloyalty, he felt betrayed and the only solution was to kill her so that he can end his suffering. Arguably, he feels that her disloyalty has tainted woman he considered as the symbol of love, so in a way, his murder can be considered as a way of saving her for her destruction. His love for Desdemona, can therefore be seen as having been so much that he killed her for her own good.
Consequently, the events that take place in the play illustrate that love is vulnerable to pressure and even those who love can be susceptible to stress. Accordingly, Shakespeare suggests that love is complex and those who have had the opportunity to engage in it, undergo plenty of stressful experiences as a result of love.
Shakespeare is trying to tell his audience that romantic love is a tough experience, and for that reason, only the strongest of romantic lovers can survive this type of love. The fact that both Othello and Desdemona die by the end of the play reveals that they were not strong lovers, hence could not survives the hardships associated with love. Shakespeare also demonstrates the hardships associated with love in the daily living of the couple in marriage. As illustrated in the play, Desdemona suffered during her marriage, especially after he fell for Iago’s deception and started changing as a husband. After Othello’s changes in personality, Desdemona quickly realizes that she is not the same man she loved and married (Kirsch 735). Sequentially, she tries to plead with Othello to explain to her what she did to deserve such cold treatment. However, Othello does not give her any reason for the change, and instead, he abuses her constantly. As a loving wife and partner, Desdemona endures all this hurt and pain and she does not give up on her love for Othello even though the audience would wish that she does. This, further illustrates Shakespeare’s perception on the nature of love. Love is destitution and it is the role of those involved in this love to change their experience of love and enjoy it on their own.
Personally, I believe that Shakespeare’s perception of love is true and justifiable. Because love involves the meeting of two different personalities and joining them into one, the possibility of hardships is high. Additionally, romantic lovers are under constant pressure from the outside world, and for that reason, individuals need to learn how to handle external pressure so as to make their love survive. Ideally, love is brought out s a wonderful experience and most people get into it expecting total bliss and harmony. However, this is the complete opposite of the true experience of love as it does not guarantee complete happiness for those who have the opportunity to experience it. In view of that, individuals need to have this in mind when deciding to commit to romantic relationships. However, this play does not completely illustrate the true nature of love as it depicts the negative side of love more than it does the positive aspect of the experience. Though love has been associated with hardship, it also bears fruits of happiness and contentment.
Collins Michael J. Reviewed work(s): Othello by William Shakespeare. Theatre Journal, 38.2
Kirsch, Arthur. The Polarization of Erotic Love in “Othello”. The Modern Language Review,
73.4 (1978): 721-740.
Shakespeare, William. Othello, The Moor of Venice. USA: Forgotten Books, 1962. Print.
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