The Theme of Betrayal and Loyalty Through the Eyes of Desdemona, Othello, and Iago The play The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice, written by William Shakespeare in the 1600’s, has many underlying and reoccurring themes. The major themes are betrayal and loyalty. During the entire play, every character is either betrayed or proved loyal. The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice can be seen through the characters of Iago, Othello, and Desdemona. Othello and Desdemona have both been betrayed in their attempt to be loyal to another character.
Throughout the play, Iago manipulates the other characters into betraying one another so that he can get his ultimate betrayal on Othello. Shakespeare uses Iago as the main portrayer of betrayal throughout the entire play. He betrays all the other characters, but his main focus is on Othello. Despite that, he ends up betraying all the people closest to him. Iago’s betrayal starts off from the first scene page of the play right until the end. The audience learns Iago’s motive through his monologue: “Thus do I ever make my fool my pursel hate the moor, and it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets’ has done my office.
I know not if’t be true, but I, for mere suspicion in that kind will do as if for surety. ” Iago suspects that Othello has had an affair with his wife. However, Shakespeare makes Iago’s motif very unclear; therefore, it can be argued that this is Iago’s excuse and in actual fact he has no reason other than he simply hates Othello. Iago wants to destroy Othello because Othello promoted Casio as chief lieutenant instead of him, which is another reason why Iago wants to destroy him. Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most complex villains. Initially, we see Iago’s character as pure evil, yet later we see him as a completely amoral person.
Iago does not push aside his conscience to commit his evil plans, he simply lacks a conscience to begin with. Through Iago, Shakespeare shows us a character that acts against his reputation and betrays all this friends and loved ones. Through some careful thought out words and actions, Iago is able to manipulate others to do things in a way that benefits him and moves him closer to his ultimate goal. He is the main driving force of the play, pushing Othello and everyone towards their tragic end. Iago is smart. He is an expert judge of people as well as their character and uses this to his advantage.
Iago is also quick on his feet, making him able to improvise when something unexpected occurs. Being as smart as he is, Iago is quick to recognize the advantages of trust and uses it as a tool to forward his main purpose. Throughout the story he is commonly known as the “honest Iago”. He even says himself, “ I am an honest man”. Trust is a very powerful emotion that is easily betrayed. Iago is a master of betrayal. He slowly poisons people’s thoughts, creating ideas in their heads without risking himself. Iago is capable of anything, not even the brave soldier Othello is safe from this villain.
Othello holds Iago to be his closest friend and advisor. He believes Iago to be a person, “of exceeding honest, who knows all qualities with learned spirit of human dealings”. Yes, he does know about human dealings, but he is not the honest man he appears to be. He uses Othello’s trust in him to eventually turn Othello into a man no better than himself. Othello is introduced to us in the first scene of the play in a negative light, when Iago and Rodrigo refer to him using derogatory terms such as, “The Moor”, “the thick lips”, “an old black ram” and “a Barbary horse”.
Othello may be an outcast in Venice due to the color of his skin; however, he is a highly respected soldier. He is extremely skilled in his field and a loyal man; therefore, valuable to the state. Due to this, we soon learn of Othello as the noble man he is. Othello, however, has the “tragic flaw”. It is the internal imperfection in a hero that brings him down. His downfall becomes his own doing; he is no longer the victim of fate. The prejudice of those around him destroyed him, and they believed that, “A black man is an unattractive creature, not quite human, and unworthy of love”.
Thinking this made him unable to believe that Desdemona could truly love him. This is why he believes Iago so easily when he convinces him Desdemona has had an affair. Othello betrays his wife by believing Iago’s word over hers, this then leads him to his ultimate betrayal when he kills her at the end of the play. At this point he also shows his loyalty to her by killing himself, stating that he can’t live without her. The man we see at the end of the play is not the loyal man we meet in the beginning.
Othello has let the “green eyes monster of jealousy” turn him from a loyal soldier to a betrayer just like Iago. Desdemona is a lady of spirit and intelligence; she is the most direct, honest and loyal character of the play. She only betrays people to those to who she is loyal. Desdemona is a lady of few words, yet she makes sure every word counts to get her point across. In Desdemona’s eyes, Othello is the hero of many exciting and dangerous adventures; he is the orphan who needs love. These are the reasons Desdemona had fallen in love with Othello, despite all the nasty remarks from fellow Venetian citizens.
Her marriage has brought her position and happiness, so much that she finds it unbearable to think that her husband has turned against her. This numbness lasts until she sees that he actually intends to kill her. She then puts up a defense, insisting on her loyalty and innocence. In despair of losing his love, she still defends him from consequences of his actions, but he is past seeing the truth: that she has committed herself to his love, and without it she cannot live. Othello ends up killing his wife, in spite of her loyalty toward him till the very end.
By the end of the play, all characters have lost their loyalty to each other from what Iago as done to make them feel betrayed. Desdemona is left lifeless in her room, Iago kills his wife Emilia, as she reveals that Desdemona has been falsely accused of adultery, and Othello kills himself rather than living with what he has done. Iago is the only survivor by the end of the play, which further justifies his intelligence. All the characters have reached their downfall and Iago is finally pleased. He has completed the ultimate betrayal.
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