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Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Sex, Lies, And Bigot Hate Essay, Research Paper

In the tragedy Othello, Shakespeare created a mood that questioned the sexual morality of each of the characters. Subjects like sexism, love, hate, jealousy, and deception were thoroughly developed in the play of Othello to enable the audience to have a real sense of the characters knowledge, or what the characters presumed to be true knowledge. One may conclude that Shakespeare wrote Othello to express to the audience to seek their own proof about unfaithfulness and not rely on the knowledge or proof received from others. Shakespeare focused on what was considered to be known by the characters, what was actually known by the characters, and how the proof they received only continued to distort their conquest for the actual truth. This tragedy reminds viewers that even circumstantial proof does not always lead to the actual truth. The drama Othello expresses, through what is considered to be known, what is actually known, and the proof learned, a theme of sexual morality questionable in each character.

Very early on in the play, we begin to see this knowledge, or what was considered to be the knowledge of the characters. The sexual morality of Othello was questioned by Brabanzio, Desdemona s father. Brabanzio accused Othello of using magic on Desdemona in order to marry her. Brabanzio believed in the false knowledge because he thought that it was the only way his daughter would run from home and all she knew to a black man. He then tried to pass his inaccurate thoughts on to others by saying that anyone in the world could see that Othello had used magic and drugs, on Desdemona, that cloud the mind. Brabanzio made his case on only common sense. Another account of false knowledge was shown through the character Iago. Iago, the only character who was close to the actual truth, began the cycle of false thoughts that everyone else believed to be true. Iago had many motives pushing him to all of this deception, but his strongest motive was knowledge that he did not know to be true. This thought is stated in Act 1:

And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets

He has done my office. I know not if t be true, (1.3.369-370)

Here Iago is saying that he heard, through a rumor, that Othello had sex with his wife, Emilia. Iago did not know if it was true, but out of mere suspicion, he believed and acted as if it were the truth. This false knowledge pushed Iago into deep anger and hatred toward Othello, which in turn started his plot, to deceive Othello in the worst way, into action. Iago then turned to Roderigo, the fool, and filled his ears with false knowledge as well. He knew that this rumor would make Roderigo jealous, but he also knew that Roderigo would believe every word he said; therefore, he told him that Desdemona was directly in love with Cassio, Othello s lieutenant. Iago drew this absurd conclusion from a conversation that he saw Desdemona and Cassio having earlier. Iago again, did not know if this assumption was true, he only believed it to be. Iago secretly had a yearning for Desdemona as well, but it was not out of pure lust but partly due to revenge on Othello. Because he believed Othello slept with Emilia, Iago wanted to convince the Moor that Desdemona had been unfaithful; therefore, Othello would feel the same pain that Iago had endured. In Iago s convincing speech to Othello, perhaps the most false bit of knowledge was expressed through this quote:

Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief

Spotted with strawberries in your wife s hand? (3.3.439-440)

This quote has such a deep meaning that we do not even begin to understand from just the spoken words. This knowledge of the handkerchief, the one gift that Othello had given to Desdemona, being in Cassio s possession enraged Othello. This is the point where Othello really began to believe in Desdemona s unfaithfulness. The handkerchief had so much significance and symbolized so much to Othello that it pushed him to the edge. The significance of the strawberry on the handkerchief helps show why Othello was so anxious to gain the knowledge of what Desdemona was doing. The handkerchief represented Desdemona s virginity and if she did not have it, or worse, had been giving it to other people, then she had no virginity. She was supposed to give her life and virginity to her husband. This was taken very seriously in this time period, hence the fact that men would hang up the sheets with the blood on it from their honeymoon night for everyone to see. This act solidified the marriage and let everyone know things were going smoothly. If the blood mark was not there, then it showed that she was not a virgin, which was a huge disgrace, and in most cases, the girl was killed. This is why the handkerchief was so important to Othello, and more important for Desdemona to be in possession of it. These accounts of false knowledge only led to circumstantial proof, which in turn brought them further from the actual truth.

The first accounts of proof came about in the scene with Brabanzio and Othello at the Venetian court. The Duke was skeptical of Brabanzio s case against Othello. He stated:

To vouch this is no proof

Without more wider and more overt test

Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods

Of modern seeming do prefer against him. (1.3.106-109)

This quote clearly shows that there was no actual proof or truth to Brabanzio s case. Making that charge did not prove the charge; so far, the only proof that Brabanzio had was modern seeming, current assumptions and prejudices. It was all circumstantial evidence. The proof believed to be needed, to show the actual truth of Desdemona s unfaithfulness began to come about in Act 4. In the first scene, Iago s deception of Othello continued as he proved that Desdemona had been with Cassio. Othello, enraged and upset, hid in order to hear the crucial discussion that took place between Iago and Cassio. The discussion of sex was actually about Bianca and Cassio, but conveniently, Othello only heard the small talk when Desdemona’s name was mentioned, and never heard the change of subject to Bianca s name. In this scene, Othello could only believe what he saw; he had no other proof. Othello simply relied on ocular proof, circumstantial evidence. Instead of confronting Cassio himself, Othello sat back and allowed himself to be deceived right in front of his own eyes. Another factor that contributed to this ocular proof was when Bianca showed up with the symbolic handkerchief in her hand. She confronted Cassio about it, and Othello heard that Cassio had given the handkerchief to her. Again, instead of talking to Cassio about it, he let his thoughts wander and he continued to believe that Desdemona was the true villain. All of the proof Othello had received pointed directly at Desdemona and her unfaithfulness to their marriage. This circumstantial evidence only brought them further from the real truth. It was as if Othello did not even want the real truth because he did not allow Desdemona to voice her side of the story until it was too late. Othello seemed more than convinced when his false knowledge was proved with circumstantial evidence.

The actual truth of the marriage of Desdemona and Othello was finally expressed when Desdemona was allowed to speak in her defense in front of her father and the court. She explained that she loved her father, but her true loyalty was promised to her husband, Othello. The testimony of Othello and Desdemona persuaded everyone that she in fact did marry Othello of her own free will. Their quest for the truth of unfaithfulness had been distorted by all of the inaccurate knowledge and ocular proof that when the actual truth was finally expressed, everything came to a crashing end. By the last act of the play, Othello had already made up his mind on what he believed to be the truth, and it was clear to him what he had to do. He believed that he must kill Desdemona for what she had done to him and their marriage. Othello had no sympathy and did not even give her a chance to try and change his mind. Othello truly believed that he was not acting out of emotion. He woke Desdemona and basically told her that he was going to kill her. His mind and ears were closed to everything that Desdemona had to say in her defense. Even when the actual truth came from her mouth:

I never did

Offend you in my life,

I never gave him token. (5.2.63-66)

In these very lines, the truth was revealed, but Othello did not believe a word of his wife; he was so convinced from the circumstantial evidence, provided earlier, by Iago. Othello did not really want to kill his wife, but he felt that he must. Finally, when all were present, Emilia, Iago, Montano, Graziano, Iago was revealed to be the devil of deception. However, it was too late; Othello had already killed Desdemona.

In the morality theme of Othello, Shakespeare wished to prove the human reaction of a rush to judgement of events that pertain to sexuality. The powerful moral force of Shakespeare s age, the Roman Catholic Church, condemned sexual behavior outside of the marriage. This attitude only increased suspicion and jealousy in the Elizabethan Age. Iago s motive of jealousy allows him to use Othello to destroy himself by playing to his feelings of insecurity to a suspicion of the sexual morality of his wife. Shakespeare wished to demonstrate that the most powerful of human emotions is not love but jealousy. Blinded by Iago s misleading circumstantial evidence, Othello ignored the love that he and Desdemona shared that had survived war and bigotry and took her life. Othello was not of a flawed character, but his personal honor still did not prevent him from being defeated by jealousy, and thus passing the death sentence on Desdemona. The tragedy of Othello is simply that love does not conquer all, and sexual jealously remains the most powerful psychological force of human behavior.


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