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What is the most disastrous human emotion? William Shakespeare’s Othello makes it clear that the answer to this question is jealousy. After all, it is jealousy that drives Iago to concoct the plan, which ruins the lives of several innocent people including Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, and Roderigo. This play poses a distinct character foil between Shakespeare’s vilest villain, Iago, and the honest, but easily mislead Othello. This tragedy is mostly based upon Iago’s suggestion of an affair between Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and the lieutenant Cassio. As a loving, trusting husband, Othello at first does not want to believe the insinuations, but his feelings are distorted by the cunning Iago into believing his base slander. Othello’s soliloquy in Act III depicts this transformation of his character from an understanding, straightforward man to an angry, suspicious, and jealous husband.

The soliloquy begins by Othello complimenting Iago for his help and expert understanding of human nature. “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty, and knows all [qualities], with a learn’d spirit, of human dealings.” Othello truly believes that Iago is an honest and loyal friend, although the reality is quite the opposite. Othello also feels that Iago knows much about the topic of human dealings with each other. While Othello understands and is an expert at the making of war, he terribly misunderstands people and potential ulterior motives. Othello continues with, “If I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings, I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.” In this excerpt Othello says that if he finds Desdemona is really ‘wild’ and is a strumpet he shall turn her out and force her to fend for herself in the world, even if it breaks his heart. The word ‘jesse’ refers to the string that a falcon’s leg is tied to in order to keep it close to its owner during hunting. In this sense, Othello is comparing Desdemona to a wild animal pulling on the jesse, which are metaphorically his heartstrings or caring emotions. The passage then continues with, “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have, or for I am declin’d into the vale of years, yet that’s not much.” This is a reference to all of Othello’s perceived faults. First, he is a Moor, dark in color and generally not acceptable. Second, he admits to lack the ability to speak in an educated manner as would the ‘chamberers’, or educated courtiers. Finally, the vale of years is a sorrowful reference to Othello being much older than Desdemona. In the next lines, “She’s gone. I am abus’d: 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 vapour of a dungeon than keep a corner in the thing I love for others’ uses. ”Othello feels Desdemona is lost and his only relief from his anguish is to hate her with a passion. He speaks of the ‘curse of marriage’, which is that men may call ‘these creatures’ (again, a reference to women being animals in nature) their own, but not their ‘appetite’ to have lovers outside of the marriage. He then wishes himself to be the lowest of creatures in a filthy dungeon than to have anything to do with Desdemona, who is used by other men as a strumpet. Instead of her name, he uses the pronoun ‘thing’, as if she no longer deserves to be called a human being. Continuing, he says, “Yet ‘tis the plague [of] great ones; prerogativ’d are they less than the base. ‘Tis destiny unshunnable, like death. Even then this forked plague is fated to us when we do quicken.” Othello seems to be saying that the plague of great leaders (pridefully referring to himself) is to ultimately have privileges less than a base illegitimate child. This, to Othello, is a fate, which cannot be altered, like death and this ‘forked plague’, or cuckold’s curse is predestined when a man is born

This soliloquy sets the emotional tone for the remaining portion of the play. Othello exhibits several emotions while speaking these lines. Intense sadness is portrayed in the “…jesses were my heartstrings…” line. He deeply loves Desdemona, and yet he must to hate her because of what he perceives she has done to him. His anger is reflected in the lines “…must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage…” and there is self-hatred when he says he would rather be a toad, or when he is recounting his faults. Pride is displayed as he speaks of himself as a ‘great one’, but it is extinguished when he thinks of what Iago has hinted Desdemona has done. Othello is woefully sarcastic as he says, “Prerogativ’d (privileged) are they less than the base,” because one would normally think the opposite.

The relevance of this passage is to show the transition from Othello’s usual, calm, collected, and honest persona to a self-hating, jealous, sad, angry, and spiteful man. It is the point of no return for Othello, leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind the reason behind Othello’s subsequent decisions involving himself and the other characters in the play. This allows it to be smooth and flowing from one state of Othello’s mind to another. These lines show how deeply Iago has influenced Othello with his innuendoes regarding Desdemona’s infidelity.

The syntax of the soliloquy seems to be more prose than rhyme, leaving the reader to follow the punctuation for the most help in reading the passage.

The soliloquy is the end of the ‘corruption scene.’ Iago has carefully planted the seeds of jealousy. Othello’s insecurity becomes the theme that weakens his resolve to not doubt Desdemona’s fidelity to him. He doubts her love of him because of his misconception of himself as unattractive, poorly spoken, and old, thus believing in her guilt. Othello’s picture of himself directly influences how he sees Desdemona’s love, though there should not be confusion between these two things at all. In truth, this is one of the most well spoken and complex soliloquies in the entire play.


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