Jealousy is the central theme in the play “Othello” by William Shakespeare. It is the most famous literary work that focuses on the dangers of jealousy. The play is a study of how jealousy can ruin lives – even with only the most circumstantial evidence of guilt. The play opens in Venice and revolves mainly around a man called Othello. It’s his actions and thoughts which makes the play interesting and suspenseful. Themes such as love, jealousy, betrayal, honesty and vengeance are all important and widely portrayed throughout the play.
However, as we venture into the play and the character Othello, we will realise that jealousy is ultimately the most important theme of them all. It is the fundamental element that fuels the characters and evidently crafted the play into how it is today. From the beginning of the play, we clearly see the jealousy in Iago. This is seen with his dejection at being passed over for promotion to be Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio, the “bean counter”, got the job instead of Iago the experienced soldier. He just has to accept his loss. But, of course, he does not, and that becomes the driving force of the play.
His strategy of dealing with loss is to strike back with vengeance and deception against Othello, who has humiliated him by passing over him for promotion. He stays close to Othello, acting as his best friend when he is actually deceiving Othello, “I am not what I am”. He is out to get back at Othello and he does this by creating an evil plan against him. Othello is in love with Desdemona and secretly marries her. He loves her and is willing to do anything for her. However, he is blinded by this love and allows jealousy to ruin their relationship.
Jealousy is so destructive and has rendered Othello to become so vulnerable to the evil schemes by Iago. Iago uses Desdemona in his plan, and succeeds greatly. Iago’s plan begins as he openly executes his plan of destruction, which incorporates jealousy as the key factor. He intends to create a strong sense of jealousy in Othello by setting up the mirage of an affair between Desdemona and Cassio. Othello is a simple man. He has never dealt with a situation like this before. As a result, he had very extreme reactions because of his jealousy.
However, Othello’s jealousy has not developed and still doubts their affair. Therefore no extreme actions have been committed yet. The quote “Away at once with love or jealousy! ” by Othello allows us to understand that he still has faith in Desdemona and does not believe she is cheating on him. However, Iago continues to feed Othello with rumors of the affair. His persistency and Othello’s vulnerability has caused a rapid development of jealousy in him. By the quote “I like not that”, we can see that it is the turning point for Othello – he begins to lean towards Iago’s interpretation of the truth.
In doing so, Othello falls into the trap and tells Iago that he wants Cassio and Desdemona dead. His love for Desdemona is so strong and yet jealousy overpowers him. Iago realises that although he does not have proof of the affair, he is still able to cause harm “As proofs of holy writ: this may do something”. From this we realise how obstinate Othello is. Jealousy has made him lose his ability to reason or think logically. In fact, Iago has been so successful with his plan that he was able to put Othello into a state of madness.
He even loses control of his body and Iago explains it as epileptic seizures. At the end of the play, after Othello smothers Desdemona to death, it is brought to his attention that he was set up by Iago. In horror, he realizes his mistake. Just before his suicide, Othello explains that all will have to refer to him as “one that loved not wisely but too well”. His lack of experience brought upon his ruin. Jealousy is described throughout the play as a monstrous emotion or more specifically, a “green-eyed monster”. This becomes increasingly more destructive and intense.
However, it’s at the end of the play that Othello commits extreme actions because his jealousy has caused him to believe everything is true. Jealousy here is harnessed as a weapon, a weapon made so lethal because its victim ultimately destroys himself and others around him. It is interesting that Iago uses jealousy against Othello, as jealousy is likely the source of Iago’s hatred in the first place. In Othello, jealousy takes many forms, from sexual suspicion to professional competition, but it is, in all cases, destructive.
However, this jealousy was not originally prominent Othello, but was rather developed through Iago’s numerous plans of destruction, which is understood through Othello’s change in personality and actions taken. By studying the text “Othello” by William Shakespeare, we are able to understand that jealousy is a powerful emotion, one that can destroy relationships, and consume the mind. Whether sexual or platonic, once the seed of jealousy is planted it can lead to devastating consequences, as seen in the play.
Jealousy can easily turn into anger, and overwhelm it’s victim making them obsessed with the notion. In the play Othello, many of the characters fall victim to jealousy, causing them to commit acts outside of their normal persona. Othello was the victim in the play, and was miserably destroyed by his uncontrollable jealously. Out of all the characters in this play, it’s obvious that jealousy was what ruined Othello. Jealousy had the most profound effect on him and in the end, destroyed his relationship with Desdemona, and himself. In doing so, I believe that jealousy is the central theme in the play.