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Othello Love Essay, Research Paper

Othello: Not Wisely, but Too Well

Essay submitted by Joe Masters

William Shakespeare presents an excellent leader but a poor reasoner in Othello. The

eponymous hero has strength, charisma, and eloquence. Yet these ideals of leadership

do not bode well in real world situations. The battlefield and Senate are, at least in

Othello, depicted as places of honor, where men speak truly. In addition, the matters of

war and state are relatively simple; no one lies to Othello, all seem to respect him. He

never even has to fight in the play, with the enemy disappearing by themselves. This

simplistic view does not help him in matters of the heart. His marriage is based on tall

tales and pity and his friendships are never examined; he thinks that anyone who

knows him love him. Thus the ultimate evaluation of Othello must be that, although he

leads well and means well, he lacks good judgement and common sense. This becomes

most plainly obvious in his final two speeches, where even though the play ends

properly, and in a dignified way, Othello never fully realizes or takes responsibility for

what has happened.

These two last orations of Othello are noble in speech and purpose, but lack

comprehension. He uses the first to attack himself for his horrible deed; certainly this is

the first reaction of anyone who has wrongly killed his beloved. He delivers

condemnation upon himself with eloquence and anguish. The latter speech he gives in

his final role as a leader, directing the men who remain about how to deal with what

has happened and showing them he has purged the evil.

In his initial self-loathing and remorse at realizing the truth of Desdemona’s innocence,

Othello is genuinely anguished. “This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven, / And

fiends will snatch at it.” (V.2.325-326) It is clear that he is in torment because of her

death, and because he himself did the deed. For the first time, it appears that Othello

is at a loss with what to do with his power: “Do you go back dismayed? / Man but a

rush against Othello’s breast / And he retires.” (V.2.320-322) Giving up is hardly

Othello’s style, but this is how a noble and true man should react when he has

mistakenly killed his wife. However, Othello’s words give a deeper insight into how he

still misunderstands the situation. “Who can control his fate?” he asks, which gives

pause to a theory of pure nobility. Placing responsibility in the stars – he calls

Desdemona an “ill-starred wench” – is hardly a gallant course of action. (V.2.316, 323)

It is beyond a doubt Othello’s fault that all of this wreckage befalls him, and his still has

not had a moment of recognition of his failures at reasoning and understanding.

Indeed, it is Othello’s final soliloquy that ultimately seals his fate as a man who lacks

critical thinking skills. This is because these are his final words, and they deal with fact,

not emotion. He addresses the reasons behind his downfall, and decides how he wants

others to see him, in terms of the story and how he takes responsibility for it. It is a

noble speech, and a dubiously noble ending, but still, like Othello, flawed.

The setting for Othello’s final moments onstage is critical to how it is perceived by

Othello, the other players onstage, and the audience. It lends credence to the nobility

of the situation, and adds to Othello’s misguided self-perception. The experience, in

itself, is perfect. The day is slowly breaking as the first strands of light are filtering

through the shutters on Othello’s bedroom windows. Othello has moved out of the

darkness he was sitting in when he began his first speech, and while standing in light,

speaks of how he has been enlightened of what occurred. He holds back the company

of men who seek to take him to prison or worse with a hand and “Soft, you.” With this

he also silences the sounds around him, and delivers a noble address, in the light,

standing tall. It is an ending suitable for the most dignified of men.

And yet, for all the splendor, glory, and excellence of tongue, his final words show that

he does not quite understand himself or what he has done. His goal is to tell the

emissaries from Venice what has happened, but he lacks insight in his articulation.

Every step of his short recitation reveals an inaccuracy or a blinding of a personal

problem. Othello says he “loved not wisely, but too well.” (V.2.404) It is true that he

did not love wisely, but neither did he love too well. His marriage is based on

storytelling and pity; he objectifies his wife at every point, and does not trust her in

the least. And while it might be debatable whether Othello is “easily jealous” or just

gullible, he does buy Iago’s tale of deceit based on a handkerchief and words. (V.2.405)

This is all Othello says in relation, besides a description of his tears – which, no doubt,

are real and genuine – and begins to set up his suicide.

Othello blames not his rashness or judgmental faults, but rather condemns his hand for

the sin he commits (”of one whose hand, / ? threw a pearl away”). (V.2.404) This idea

that his body is somehow possessed with evil, but not his mind, is perpetuated in his

last words:

And say besides, that in Aleppo once,

Where a malignant and a turbanned Turk

Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,

I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog,

And smote him, thus.

Othello truly believes that a malignant Turk has taken over the good Venetian within

him. He still does not see that his faults are exploited by Iago and used against him.

Although he kills himself in such a dignified fashion, Othello is really thinking that he was

forced to do this by some unseen evil power. He never has any complete sense of

tragic recognition.

Shakespeare sets up Othello as his perfect leader: no one ever questions his ability to

conduct an army (because he does not engage in combat during the play, this opinion

must be drawn from the lack of negative sentiment from anyone in the play). He speaks

well, and is widely respected. But the skills that make a good general are only applied

with problem in his civilian life. Othello never asks questions of those who might be

against him; instead, he believes only what is told him by those who come to him first.

He believes men over women, and never thinks too deeply or critically about anything.

He must be decisive, and therefore he refuses to question.

It is possible to see Othello as a good man who never is betrayed until Iago, as a noble

and strong soldier who falls only because Iago is so cunning and evil. One might say,

because of this, Othello dies not as a tragic hero, but as someone destroyed by

circumstance and evil. But the superficiality of his marriage and the fact that if he had

only been honest to his wife and lieutenant he would have found out the truth point in

another direction. Othello could lead, but he could not reason.

31f


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