Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Incompatibility of Military Heroism & Love
Before and above all else, Othello is a soldier. From the earliest moments in the play, his career affects his married life. Asking “fit disposition” for his wife after being ordered to Cyprus (I.iii.234), Othello notes that “the tyrant custom . . . / Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war / My thrice-driven bed of down” (I.iii.227–229). While Desdemona is used to better “accommodation,” she nevertheless accompanies her husband to Cyprus (I.iii.236). Moreover, she is unperturbed by the tempest or Turks that threatened their crossing, and genuinely curious rather than irate when she is roused from bed by the drunken brawl in Act II, scene iii. She is, indeed, Othello’s “fair warrior,” and he is happiest when he has her by his side in the midst of military conflict or business (II.i.179). The military also provides Othello with a means to gain acceptance in Venetian society. While the Venetians in the play are generally fearful of the prospect of Othello’s social entrance into white society through his marriage to Desdemona, all Venetians respect and honor him as a soldier. Mercenary Moors were, in fact, commonplace at the time.
Othello predicates his success in love on his success as a soldier, wooing Desdemona with tales of his military travels and battles. Once the Turks are drowned—by natural rather than military might—Othello is left without anything to do: the last act of military administration we see him perform is the viewing of fortifications in the extremely short second scene of Act III. No longer having a means of proving his manhood or honor in a public setting such as the court or the battlefield, Othello begins to feel uneasy with his footing in a private setting, the bedroom. Iago capitalizes on this uneasiness, calling Othello’s epileptic fit in Act IV, scene i, “[a] passion most unsuiting such a man.” In other words, Iago is calling Othello unsoldierly. Iago also takes care to mention that Cassio, whom Othello believes to be his competitor, saw him in his emasculating trance (IV.i.75).
Desperate to cling to the security of his former identity as a soldier while his current identity as a lover crumbles, Othello begins to confuse the one with the other. His expression of his jealousy quickly devolves from the conventional—“Farewell the tranquil mind”—to the absurd
Farewell the plum’d troops and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell,
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”
One might well say that Othello is saying farewell to the wrong things—he is entirely preoccupied with his identity as a soldier. But his way of thinking is somewhat justified by its seductiveness to the audience as well. Critics and audiences alike find comfort and nobility in Othello’s final speech and the anecdote of the “malignant and . . . turbaned Turk” (V.ii.362), even though in that speech, as in his speech in Act III, scene iii, Othello depends on his identity as a soldier to glorify himself in the public’s memory, and to try to make his audience forget his and Desdemona’s disastrous marital experiment.
The Danger of Isolation
The action of Othello moves from the metropolis of Venice to the island of Cyprus. Protected by military fortifications as well as by the forces of nature, Cyprus faces little threat from external forces. Once Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Emilia, and Roderigo have come to Cyprus, they have nothing to do but prey upon one another. Isolation enables many of the play’s most important effects: Iago frequently speaks in soliloquies; Othello stands apart while Iago talks with Cassio in Act IV, scene i, and is left alone onstage with the bodies of Emilia and Desdemona for a few moments in Act V, scene ii; Roderigo seems attached to no one in the play except Iago. And, most prominently, Othello is visibly isolated from the other characters by his physical stature and the color of his skin. Iago is an expert at manipulating the distance between characters, isolating his victims so that they fall prey to their own obsessions. At the same time, Iago, of necessity always standing apart, falls prey to his own obsession with revenge. The characters cannot be islands, the play seems to say: self-isolation as an act of self-preservation leads ultimately to self-destruction. Such self-isolation leads to the deaths of Roderigo, Iago, Othello, and even Emilia.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Sight and Blindness
When Desdemona asks to be allowed to accompany Othello to Cyprus, she says that she “saw Othello’s visage in his mind, / And to his honours and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate” (I.iii. 250–252). Othello’s blackness, his visible difference from everyone around him, is of little importance to Desdemona: she has the power to see him for what he is in a way that even Othello himself cannot. Desdemona’s line is one of many references to different kinds of sight in the play. Earlier in Act I, scene iii, a senator suggests that the Turkish retreat to Rhodes is “a pageant / To keep us in false gaze” (I.iii.19–20). The beginning of Act II consists entirely of people staring out to sea, waiting to see the arrival of ships, friendly or otherwise. Othello, though he demands “ocular proof” (III.iii.365), is frequently convinced by things he does not see: he strips Cassio of his position as lieutenant based on the story Iago tells; he relies on Iago’s story of seeing Cassio wipe his beard with Desdemona’s handkerchief (III.iii.437–440); and he believes Cassio to be dead simply because he hears him scream. After Othello has killed himself in the final scene, Lodovico says to Iago, “Look on the tragic loading of this bed. / This is thy work. The object poisons sight. / Let it be hid” (V.ii.373–375). The action of the play depends heavily on characters not seeing things: Othello accuses his wife although he never sees her infidelity, and Emilia, although she watches Othello erupt into a rage about the missing handkerchief, does not figuratively “see” what her husband has done.
Iago is strangely preoccupied with plants. His speeches to Roderigo in particular make extensive and elaborate use of vegetable metaphors and conceits. Some examples are: “Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme . . . the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills” (I.iii.317–322); “Though other things grow fair against the sun, / Yet fruits that blossom first will first be ripe” (II.iii.349–350); “And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand, / Cry ‘O sweet creature!’, then kiss me hard, / As if he plucked kisses up by the roots, / That grew upon my lips” (III.iii.425–428). The first of these examples best explains Iago’s preoccupation with the plant metaphor and how it functions within the play. Characters in this play seem to be the product of certain inevitable, natural forces, which, if left unchecked, will grow wild. Iago understands these natural forces particularly well: he is, according to his own metaphor, a good “gardener,” both of himself and of others.
Many of Iago’s botanical references concern poison: “I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear” (II.iii.330); “The Moor already changes with my poison. / Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons, / . . . / . . . Not poppy nor mandragora / Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world / Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep” (III.iii.329–336). Iago cultivates his “conceits” so that they become lethal poisons and then plants their seeds in the minds of others. The organic way in which Iago’s plots consume the other characters and determine their behavior makes his conniving, human evil seem like a force of nature. That organic growth also indicates that the minds of the other characters are fertile ground for Iago’s efforts.
Iago calls Othello a “Barbary horse,” an “old black ram,” and also tells Brabanzio that his daughter and Othello are “making the beast with two backs” (I.i.117–118). In Act I, scene iii, Iago tells Roderigo, “Ere I would say I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon” (I.iii.312–313). He then remarks that drowning is for “cats and blind puppies” (I.iii.330–331). Cassio laments that, when drunk, he is “by and by a fool, and presently a beast!” (II.iii.284–285). Othello tells Iago, “Exchange me for a goat / When I shall turn the business of my soul / To such exsufflicate and blowed surmises” (III.iii.184–186). He later says that “[a] horned man’s a monster and a beast” (IV.i.59). Even Emilia, in the final scene, says that she will “play the swan, / And die in music” (V.ii.254–255). Like the repeated references to plants, these references to animals convey a sense that the laws of nature, rather than those of society, are the primary forces governing the characters in this play. When animal references are used with regard to Othello, as they frequently are, they reflect the racism both of characters in the play and of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience. “Barbary horse” is a vulgarity particularly appropriate in the mouth of Iago, but even without having seen Othello, the Jacobean audience would have known from Iago’s metaphor that he meant to connote a savage Moor.
Hell, Demons, and Monsters
Iago tells Othello to beware of jealousy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on” (III.iii.170–171). Likewise, Emilia describes jealousy as dangerously and uncannily self-generating, a “monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself” (III.iv.156–157). Imagery of hell and damnation also recurs throughout Othello, especially toward the end of the play, when Othello becomes preoccupied with the religious and moral judgment of Desdemona and himself. After he has learned the truth about Iago, Othello calls Iago a devil and a demon several times in Act V, scene ii. Othello’s earlier allusion to “some monster in [his] thought” ironically refers to Iago (III.iii.111). Likewise, his vision of Desdemona’s betrayal is “monstrous, monstrous!” (III.iii.431). Shortly before he kills himself, Othello wishes for eternal spiritual and physical torture in hell, crying out, “Whip me, ye devils, / . . . / . . . roast me in sulphur, / Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!” (V.ii.284–287). The imagery of the monstrous and diabolical takes over where the imagery of animals can go no further, presenting the jealousy-crazed characters not simply as brutish, but as grotesque, deformed, and demonic.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The handkerchief symbolizes different things to different characters. Since the handkerchief was the first gift Desdemona received from Othello, she keeps it about her constantly as a symbol of Othello’s love. Iago manipulates the handkerchief so that Othello comes to see it as a symbol of Desdemona herself—her faith and chastity. By taking possession of it, he is able to convert it into evidence of her infidelity. But the handkerchief’s importance to Iago and Desdemona derives from its importance to Othello himself. He tells Desdemona that it was woven by a 200-year-old sibyl, or female prophet, using silk from sacred worms and dye extracted from the hearts of mummified virgins. Othello claims that his mother used it to keep his father faithful to her, so, to him, the handkerchief represents marital fidelity. The pattern of strawberries (dyed with virgins’ blood) on a white background strongly suggests the bloodstains left on the sheets on a virgin’s wedding night, so the handkerchief implicitly suggests a guarantee of virginity as well as fidelity.
The Song “Willow
As she prepares for bed in Act V, Desdemona sings a song about a woman who is betrayed by her lover. She was taught the song by her mother’s maid, Barbary, who suffered a misfortune similar to that of the woman in the song; she even died singing “Willow.” The song’s lyrics suggest that both men and women are unfaithful to one another. To Desdemona, the song seems to represent a melancholy and resigned acceptance of her alienation from Othello’s affections, and singing it leads her to question Emilia about the nature and practice of infidelity
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
خلاصه اتلو اثر ویلیام شکسپیر
اُتِلّو نمایشنامهای معروف از ویلیام شکسپیر، نویسنده کلاسیک انگلیسی است که به مضمون عشق میپردازد. در این ق میپردازد. در این نمایشنامه او به جنبه خیانت در عشق میپردازد.
در این تراژدی، اتلو (نام دیگرش مغربی است)، شخصیت مرد داستان با دسیسهها و توطئههایی که زیردستش انجام میدهد، به همسر خود شک میکند و بدون اینکه این ماجرا را با زن در میان بگذارد بیرحمانه او را میکشد و تازه بعد از کشتن او به بیگناهی همسر وفادارش پیمیبرد که بسیار دیر است.ونا"، "مغربی"، "کاسیو"، "یاگو" و دیگران همه آدمهای شکسپیرند در یک تراژدی خواندنی و زیبا. با کلام قدرتمند و دلنشین شکسپیر هر خوانندهٔ کمحوصله و بیذوق هم حتی تا به انتها مجذوب این شاهکار بشری میگردد. دستان قلم به دست، ذهن زیبا و زبان تأثیر گذاری همچون شکسپیر، اعجوبه نویسندگی بریتانیا با کمال ذوق و قریحه که در کمتر نویسندهای به چشم میخورد به کمال توانسته است که جاودانهای بیافریند که قرنهای قرن، هنوز تازگی نخستین روزها را دارد.
داستان از یک شهر زیبا در قاره سبز رنگ اروپا آغاز میگردد. کوچهای در ونیز؛ شهر آبراهها شهر نیمه خیس ایتالیایی. عاشق شکستخوردهای بنام "رودریگو" با افسر پرچمدار "اتلو" که "یاگو" نام دارد هردو در راه خانهٔ "برابانسیو" هستند. رودریگو "دسدمونا" را و یاگو معاونت را باختهاند. هردو کینهدارند و انتقام جو. از چشمهایشان خون میبارد.
رودریگو عاشق بود. عاشق چهره بلورین و بهشتی رنگ دسدمونا، اشراف زاده و دردانهٔ برابانسیو. یاگو نیز که در رکاب اتلو خدمتگذار بود، از اینکه سرورش "کاسیو" نامی را به معاونت خویش برگزیده و او را که به فکر خویش، برازنده این مقام بوده را دست خالی رها کرده، بسیار آتشین است.
در همین احوال، اتلو و دسدمونا در یک کشتی که در ساحل است درحال عشقورزی هستند و کام دنیا که به رویشان به شیرینی شهد شدهاست. برابانسیو به غفلت در خواب است و از هیچ ماجرا بیخبر. دختر نازنینش او را با چشمان نافذش فریب دادهاست و اکنون که در خدمت سرور جدید خویش، اتلو است.
اتلو، جنگاوری دلیر و شجاعدل که از بزرگان مغرب بود و در خدمت دولت ونیز. گرد سالمندی بر چهرهٔ او نشسته و سالهای عمرش که به نشیب گذاشته است. مورد اعتماد همگی ونیز بود و شاه و سناتورها.
دسدمونا، دوشیزهای اشراف زاده از تبار ونیز بود. دختر برابانسیوی قدرتمند که همچون حوریان زیبا بود و دلبرنده از همه. خواستگاران فراوان داشت و اما دل در گروی سردار مغربی نهاد و با او زناشویی کرد.
چگونه شد که سردار مغربی در دام عشق افتاد یا این که چگونه دام عشق را برای زیباروی ونیزی گسترانید؟ همه از دوستی سردار و بزرگ شهر آغاز شد. برابانسیو و اتللو گاه و بیگاه مینشستند و از تجربیات و جنگاوریهای اتلو سخن بر زبان میراندند؛ از رزمها و بزمها، از نبردهای سخت و خونین و از مرگ دوستان عزیز، از اسارتها و ریاستها؛ و دخترک که به این داستانها علاقهمند شده بود. به اتلو هم علاقمند شده بود. خاطرات پر ماجرای اتلو، دسدمونا را به چنگ آورد و دختر شاهپریان که دل در گروی سردار داد. خواستگاران همه شکست خوردند و اتلو که پیروزمندانه کامهای طلایی رنگ عشق را از دسدمونا گرفت و شادمانهای که در دلهایشان زبانهکشیدن را آغاز نمود. عشق، مهرورزی و مهربانی.
یاگو روباه مکارهٔ داستان همه را حتی زن خویش "امیلیا" را به بازی مینهد تا به اندیشههای شوم و پلید خویش برسد. به هر طریق ممکن که شده باید همه را، حتی زن زیبای اتلو را از سر راه برداشت و شادکامی را در کام همه به تلخی شرنگ کرد. باید هرگونه که شده به همگان نشان دهم که من لایق معاونت مغربی هستم.
داستان با مطلع کردن پدر دسدمونا ادامه مییابد و بلوایی که در انتها با اعترافات خود دسدمونا پایان میپذیرد و پدر تازه میفهمد که دردانهاش عاشق این دلاور است. عشق واقعی دخترک همه را مجاب میکند که آن عشق یک عشق پاک است. یک حقیقت شیرین که باید به شیرینیاش شاد بود و شادمانی کرد.
جنگی به پیش میآید و همین خطیر همه را به بندری در قبرس میکشاند. قوای ترکهای عثمانی در آستانه جنگ، گرفتار طوفان دریا و خشم آسمان میگردند و نابود میشوند. جنگ آغاز ناشده، پایان مییابد. از اینجاست که یاگو با فریبکاری دست به کار میشود و همگان را به جان هم میاندازد. خوبان را بدان را، همگان را.
بانوی خوشدل و مهربان ونیزی، در مظان اتهامی بزرگ قرار میگیرد. اتهامی بس گران و ناباورانه، اتهامی که بر هر زن پاک دل معصوم وفاداری، بزرگترین اتهامهاست. اتهامی که اتللوی بیخرد بر پاک بانوی خویش زد و احمقانه همهٔ خوبیها و مهربانیهای او را نادیده گرفت. اتلوی سادهدل و دهنبین، فریب دغلبازیهای روباهگون یاگو را میخورد و فقط به استناد یک دستمال که خود به دسدمونا، به عشق خویش، بخشیده بود و یاگو با زیرکی و همدستی زن بیخبر خود آن را از قصر به اتاق خواب کاسیو برده بود، به زن وفادار خود شک میکند، به یقین میرسد و دستور قتل هردو را به یاگو میدهد.
یاگو دوست شکستخوردی خویش را میشوراند و به جان کاسیو میاندازد. رودریگو هم که با بازیهای مکارانهٔ افسر پرچمدار دلاور مغربی، یاگو، به جان کاسیو افتاده است، در کشاکش نبردی در تاریکی شبهای کوچههای قبرس که به تاریکی درون یاگوها و رودریگوهاست، گرفتار آمد و معاون سردار را به شدت مجروح میکند و کاسیو هم که شمشیرباز قابلی است ضربات او را پاسخ میگوید و هردو زخمی بر زمین میافتند. ناله میکنند و طلب کمک دارند از دیگران.
اتللو نیز که با نادانی تمام به عشق واقعی همسر زیبایش شک کردهاست و به یقین رسیده، در نبردی ناجوانمردانه با وجدانش، یک طرفه به قاضی میرود و دسدمونای معصوم را به هرزگی با کاسیو متهم میکند و محکوم. او، آن فرشته زمینی را با دستان زمخت خویش در بستر خفه میکند. در بستری که به تازگی با هم درآمیخته بودند و شادمانه کامهای عشق را از لبان یکدیگر میگرفتند. بستری که به ملافههای شب عروسی مزین شده بود. آخرین بوسه را از لبان دسدمونا میگیرد و دستش را تاوقتی که دخترک جان در بدن دارد بر گرداگرد گلوی کوچکش حلقه میکند و او را میکشد.
نه چندان بعد همه چیز روشن میشود. همچون روز وقتی که از پس شب میآید. زن نادان یاگو و خدمتگذار دسدمونا، تازه میفهمد که دستمالی که در قصر یافته بود و به همسرش دادهبود باعث مرگ بانویش شدهاست، شوهر نامردش که همه را به بازی دادهاست، متهم اصلی است و باید که مجازات گردد. او بوقلمونوار دوستی میکرد با همه در حالی که دشمنترین دشمنانشان بود.
اما یاگو از این هم بدتر بود. زن خویش را با شمشیر از نیام درآمده میکشد و میگریزد. ولی نمیداند که هیچ کس نمیتواند که از شمشیر بران عدالت فرار کند. عاقبت به دام ماموران میافتد و در محضر اربابش، اتلو، لب به سخن میگشاید و همه را غافلگیر میکند. همه که تا آن زمان او را به خوبی و دانایی میشناختند، تازه پی به وجود اهریمنیاش میبرند و شیطان درونش که دیر بر همگان نماین میگردد. اتلو اکنون تازه بر ناروایی اعمالش پیمیبرد، اما دیگر خیلی دیر شده بود. فرشتهٔ ونیزی زیبا چهره را با همین دستان خودش کشته بود و دیگر هیچ چیز نمیتوانست او را التیام بخشد؛ پس خویشتن را با کاردی که در لباسش پنهان نموده میکشد. در آخرین لحظههای حیات نعشش بر روی جنازه دخترک معصوم میافتد. از لبان او برای آخرین بار کامی میگیرد و بدرود حیات میکند. یاگو نیز به دست عدالت سپرده میشود تا این که در زیر شکنجههای ناتمام به ملعونی رفتارهای خویش واقف گردد.
زن جوان خوشدل، قربانی هوسرانیهای قدرت و نادانی و دهنبینی شوهرش میگردد. عشق شیرینش به باد میرود. معشوقهاش به او، به او که او را میپرستید، عشقش را میپرستید، به او بهتان میزند و ناجوانمردانهتر او را در بستر خویش غرقه میکند. غرقه به امواج خروشان اندیشههای ناپختهٔ ناپاک و آتش افکار خصمانهای که دیگران در درونش روشن کردهبودند و او نتوانسته بود که آنها را خاموش کند.
1. Were I the Moor I would not be Iago.
In following him I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so for my peculiar end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am. (I.i.57–65)
In this early speech, Iago explains his tactics to Roderigo. He follows Othello not out of “love” or “duty,” but because he feels he can exploit and dupe his master, thereby revenging himself upon the man he suspects of having slept with his wife. Iago finds that people who are what they seem are foolish. The day he decides to demonstrate outwardly what he feels inwardly, Iago explains, will be the day he makes himself most vulnerable: “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at.” His implication, of course, is that such a day will never come.
This speech exemplifies Iago’s cryptic and elliptical manner of speaking. Phrases such as “Were I the Moor I would not be Iago” and “I am not what I am” hide as much as, if not more than, they reveal. Iago is continually playing a game of deception, even with Roderigo and the audience. The paradox or riddle that the speech creates is emblematic of Iago’s power throughout the play: his smallest sentences (“Think, my lord?” in III.iii.109) or gestures (beckoning Othello closer in Act IV, scene i) open up whole worlds of interpretation.
2. My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of my duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord. (I.iii.179–188)
These words, which Desdemona speaks to her father before the Venetian senate, are her first of the play. Her speech shows her thoughtfulness, as she does not insist on her loyalty to Othello at the expense of respect for her father, but rather acknowledges that her duty is “divided.” Because Desdemona is brave enough to stand up to her father and even partially rejects him in public, these words also establish for the audience her courage and her strength of conviction. Later, this same ability to separate different degrees and kinds of affection will make Desdemona seek, without hesitation, to help Cassio, thereby fueling Othello’s jealousy. Again and again, Desdemona speaks clearly and truthfully, but, tragically, Othello is poisoned by Iago’s constant manipulation of language and emotions and is therefore blind to Desdemona’s honesty.
3. Haply for I am black,
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have; or for I am declined
Into the vale of years—yet that’s not much—
She’s gone. I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage,
That we can call these delicate creatures ours
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapor of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others’ uses. Yet ’tis the plague of great ones;
Prerogatived are they less than the base.
’Tis destiny unshunnable, like death. (III.iii.267–279)
When, in Act I, scene iii, Othello says that he is “rude” in speech, he shows that he does not really believe his own claim by going on to deliver a lengthy and very convincing speech about how he won Desdemona over with his wonderful storytelling (I.iii.81). However, after Iago has raised Othello’s suspicions about his wife’s fidelity, Othello seems to have at least partly begun to believe that he is inarticulate and barbaric, lacking “those soft parts of conversation / That chamberers [those who avoid practical labor and confine their activities to the ‘chambers’ of ladies] have.” This is also the first time that Othello himself, and not Iago, calls negative attention to either his race or his age. His conclusion that Desdemona is “gone” shows how far Iago’s insinuations about Cassio and Desdemona have taken Othello: in a matter of a mere 100 lines or so, he has progressed from belief in his conjugal happiness to belief in his abandonment.
The ugly imagery that follows this declaration of abandonment—Othello finds Desdemona to be a mere “creature” of “appetite” and imagines himself as a “toad” in a “dungeon”—anticipates his later speech in Act IV, scene ii, in which he compares Desdemona to a “cistern for foul toads / To knot and gender in,” and says that she is as honest “as summer flies are in the shambles [slaughterhouses], / That quicken even with blowing” (IV.ii.63–64, 68–69). Othello’s comment, “’tis the plague of great ones,” shows that the only potential comfort Othello finds in his moment of hopelessness is his success as a soldier, which proves that he is not “base.” He attempts to consider his wife’s purported infidelity as an inevitable part of his being a great man, but his comfort is halfhearted and unconvincing, and he concludes by resigning himself to cuckoldry as though it were “death.”
4. I am glad I have found this napkin.
This was her first remembrance from the Moor,
My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Wooed me to steal it, but she so loves the token—
For he conjured her she should ever keep it—
That she reserves it evermore about her
To kiss and talk to. I’ll ha’ the work ta’en out,
And give’t Iago. What he will do with it,
Heaven knows, not I.
I nothing, but to please his fantasy. (III.iii.294–303)
This speech of Emilia’s announces the beginning of Othello’s “handkerchief plot,” a seemingly insignificant event—the dropping of a handkerchief—that becomes the means by which Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, Emilia, and even Iago himself are completely undone. Before Othello lets the handkerchief fall from his brow, we have neither heard of nor seen it. The primary function of Emilia’s speech is to explain the prop’s importance: as the first gift Othello gave Desdemona, it represents their oldest and purest feelings for one another.
While the fact that Iago “hath a hundred times / Wooed me to steal it” immediately tips off the audience to the handkerchief’s imminently prominent place in the tragic sequence of events, Emilia seems entirely unsuspicious. To her, the handkerchief is literally a trifle, “light as air,” and this is perhaps why she remains silent about the handkerchief’s whereabouts even when Desdemona begins to suffer for its absence. It is as though Emilia cannot, or refuses to, imagine that her husband would want the handkerchief for any devious reason. Many critics have found Emilia’s silence about the handkerchief—and in fact the entire handkerchief plot—a great implausibility, and it is hard to disagree with this up to a point. At the same time, however, it serves as yet another instance in which Iago has the extraordinary power to make those around him see only what they want to see, and thereby not suspect what is obviously suspicious.
5. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this,
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog
And smote him thus. (V.ii.341-354)
With these final words, Othello stabs himself in the chest. In this farewell speech, Othello reaffirms his position as a figure who is simultaneously a part of and excluded from Venetian society. The smooth eloquence of the speech and its references to “Arabian trees,” “Aleppo,” and a “malignant and a turbaned Turk” remind us of Othello’s long speech in Act I, scene iii, lines 127–168, and of the tales of adventure and war with which he wooed Desdemona. No longer inarticulate with grief as he was when he cried, “O fool! fool! fool!,” Othello seems to have calmed himself and regained his dignity and, consequently, our respect (V.ii.332). He reminds us once again of his martial prowess, the quality that made him famous in Venice. At the same time, however, by killing himself as he is describing the killing of a Turk, Othello identifies himself with those who pose a military—and, according to some, a psychological—threat to Venice, acknowledging in the most powerful and awful way the fact that he is and will remain very much an outsider. His suicide is a kind of martyrdom, a last act of service to the state, as he kills the only foe he has left to conquer: himself.
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