Othello by William Shakespeare

Subject: Literature
Pages: 5
Word count: 1306
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Love, the underpinning and guiding plot of Shakespeare’s Othello serves as the play’s central theme. The play centers on the unraveling of marital love indicated by the broken bond between the protagonist Othello and his wife, Desdemona. Reading Othello from beginning to end displays how love can be fragile when subjected to the corrosive conditions of the contemporary world (Hallgren 41). Iago is portrayed as the villain who plots to damage Othello’s love for Desdemona by creating infidelity stories about Desdemona. Iago’s plot reveals more than just the fragilities of passionate love but indicates how male homosocial love can shift power dynamics between male characters (Hallgren 41). Iago uses the form of male homosocial love to intentionally coerce Othello into disputing Desdemona’s love and loyalty to the advantage of Iago who gains power in return (Beier 34). Readers, therefore, learn to appreciate the differences between love for power as depicted by Iago and passionate love as depicted by Othello and Desdemona and how one type of love can ruin the other. The paper herein compares and contrasts passionate heterosexual love as portrayed between Othello and Desdemona and love for power as portrayed by the character of Iago. The comparison will discuss the similarities and differences in the expression of the two kinds of love and how either can play to ruin the other while considering the three characters Othello, Desdemona, and Iago.

Passionate love refers to the emotional and motivational state of longing to be united with another (Podină et al. 49). While scholars have disagreed on the differences between passionate and compassionate love, the paper will consider the two terms as interchangeable. In this respect, passionate love reflects in the repetitive and obsessive thoughts about a loved one (Podină et al. 49). According to a section of scholars’ passionate love share the same brain similarities to addiction. Passionate love brings individuals together in a powerful emotional state while clustering the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors (Podină et al. 49). Love for power is similarly a passion but expressed differently from passionate love. Love for power puts the interests of the individual first and others next. Love for power is usually laden with evils. The individuals with an obsession for love for power will do whatever it takes to get powerful as will be seen with Iago.

Iago taught Othello to understand his wife, the world and himself differently. The play’s first act concludes with Iago’s aside informing the audience about his intentions. Iago intends to destroy Othello and others close to him to acquire power. Iago’s plans are apparent when he says that he would “pour… pestilence” (Shakespeare 323). The line suggests that Iago intends to act and appear good so that his eloquence may effect evil. Iago is obsessed with and passionate about the power that he is ready to make Othello mad to acquire power. Iago’s plans in the following three acts build more on Iago’s obsession and passion (Hallgren 41). He resolves to put a plague in Othello’s ears to make him misinterpret Desdemona’s advocacy for Cassio “that she repeals him for her body’s lust” (Shakespeare 323). The line suggests that Iago intends to damage Othello’s love by making Desdemona believe that what Othello feels for her is lust instead of passionate love (Beier 34).

Iago had expressed his love for Desdemona when he tried to grab her while telling her that no pain would be greater than his love for her. Iago’s acts suggest how passionate love for can be strong, likened to pain. Desdemona rejected Iago’s constant lust for her turning him into a vengeful lover and his resulting pain matched with his hunger for power (Hallgren 41). Iago’s passionate love for Desdemona instantly made him increasingly confident and violent in his movement, speech, and facial expressions. Iago realizes that he cannot get Desdemona from Othello thus begins to hate Othello. Iago narrates:

Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains,

Yet for the necessity of present life,

I must show out a flag and sign of love,

Which is indeed but a sign (Shakespeare 152-55).

Iago’s likens his hatred for Othello to his pain in hell. He reveals that his love for Othello is merely a “sign” that he would use as a mechanism for power. Iago uses sign metaphorically to imply his gaining proximity to Othello and accessing Othello’s insecurities (Smith 3). Iago later uses love successfully to coerce Othello into believing in the alleged infidelity of Desdemona “Damn her, lewd minx” (Shakespeare 476). In this sense, Iago uses his disingenuous love to satisfy his love for power while damaging Othello’s and Desdemona’s passionate love. Iago expresses his love for Othello to encourage Othello’s jealousy that would see Othello and Desdemona’s marriage break “my lord, you know I love you” (Shakespeare 117). Iago reinforces the part “you know” to assure Othello that Desdemona no longer loves him while Iago has always loved him.

Iago uses his love for power to develop a false sense of subservience while taking advantage of Othello’s place within the culture of Venice (Beier 34). Iago tells Othello “I am your own forever” (Shakespeare 480) to express his recognition that Othello is his master. His use of forever assures Othello that his love is unwavering (Smith 3). After realizing that Othello is deceived without his knowledge, Iago quells Othello’s speculation about his intentions by buttressing his sense of superiority (Hampton-Reeves 141). Surprisingly Othello believes in Iago’s claims of love suggesting that his love and loyalty to Iago. His love for Iago is more passionate than his love for Desdemona as shown in “close dilations, working from the heart/ that passions cannot rule” (Shakespeare 123-24).

Similarly, passionate love can also make one do evil things as seen in Othello murdering Desdemona. The play ends with the tragic act of Othello murdering Desdemona after listening to Iago’s claims of Desdemona’s infidelity. Desdemona pleads with Othello for mercy that Othello pays no attention to (Leggatt 836). Othello’s actions to murder Desdemona are informed by his passionate love for her. He later realizes later his wrongdoing and laments about it leading to his madness and death. The previous chapter reveals how strong Othello’s love for Desdemona was. Othello had designed a strategy aimed at acquiring Desdemona’s love thus arousing Desdemona’s compassion trough dangerous adventure “that is the only witchcraft I have used” (Shakespeare 170). Desdemona felt repelled by Othello’s descriptions of suffering suggesting that she felt a part of the pain igniting her passionate love as a result (Smith 3). Othello’s love for Desdemona turned to jealousy that in Iago’s words “judgment cannot cure” (Shakespeare 283).

In conclusion, the paper discusses the susceptibility of passionate heterosexual love to passionate love for power. The paper analyses the love between the three characters Othello, Desdemona and Iago while revealing the love and power play among the characters. Both Othello and Iago love Desdemona, but Desdemona loves Othello. Iago, feeling rejected resolves to turn Othello against Desdemona to later result in Desdemona’s tragic murder. The analysis reveals that passionate heterosexual love and passionate love for power are expressed in similar manners. However, love for power is associated with evils making the individual harm other people in their quest for power. Similarly, passionate love may lead to jealousy that may result to either party injuring the other as seen when Othello murders Desdemona on the grounds of infidelity. The article has also shown how the love of power can be used to ruin one’s passionate love for another through coercion, persuasion, and deception. In contrast, passionate heterosexual love always begs for mercy from the parties as seen with Desdemona’s appeal for mercy just before her murder. The paper concludes that the two kinds of love are similar in most aspects and different in the way of expression and the evil contained thereof.

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  1. Beier, Benjamin V. “The Art of Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Two Iagos.” Studies in Philology, no. 1, 2014, p. 34. Print.
  2. Hallgren, Elizabeth. “Male Homosocial Love in Othello: Iago and the Culture of Masculinity.” The Sigma Tau Delta, 2017, p. 41. Print.
  3. Hampton-Reeves, Stuart. Othello. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
  4. Leggatt, Alexander. “Love and Faith in “Othello” and “Otello.” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 81, no. 4, Fall2012, pp. 836-849. Print.
  5. Podină, Ioana R., et al. “Are We Confusing Passionate Love with Irrationality? Putting Passionate Love into a Cognitive-Behavioral Framework.” Transylvanian Journal of Psychology, vol. 15, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 49-59. Print.
  6. Shakespeare, William. Othello. Irvine: Saddleback Educational Pub, 2010. Print.
  7. Smith, Shawn. “Love, Pity, and Deception in Othello.” Papers on Language & Literature, no. 1, 2008, p. 3. Print.
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