Injustice in the Tragedy of Othello
In the Tragedy of Othello, by William Shakespeare, an injustice is done to the main character, Othello the Moor. He is manipulated by the archetypal villain Iago to satiate Iago’s need for control and his desire to revenge himself upon Othello. Othello the General has promoted another, Cassio, to hold the position that Iago feels he deserves. For the injustice that Iago feels has been committed against him, he brings about the destruction of Othello and his wife, Desdemona, using Cassio as his tool for doing so.
Iago is the master villain in Othello, and is indeed a prototypal villain; that is, he is the mold for many other villains in many other works. He is cunning, decisive, and able to take advantage of any set of circumstances. He molds the people around him and his surroundings to suit his own ‘peculiar’; ends. And best of all, Iago appears to be a good and honest person to all involved parties until just before the close of the play. Everyone is his willing dupe. Every master villain attempts his level of excellency.
Iago, to achieve his revenge, makes Othello wrongfully suspect his wife of infidelity, and makes him insane with jealousy, enough to kill her in his rage. Othello is the general of the city of Venice, and a foreigner, a dark-skinned Moor. He has eloped with a senator’s daughter, Desdemona, and they love each other dearly. Othello is a level-headed practitioner of war, and is not ruffled by hints and allegations; that is, until his mind is poisoned by the machinations of Iago. Iago plants ideas in Othello’s head, uses the innocent actions of others as his proof; and Othello, who is not practiced in worldly matters, believes his ‘honest Iago’;, and eventually is consumed by the lie.
Shakespeare sets up the character of Othello as a man who is calm and steadfast, as shown by reactions of Othello in Act I, scenes ii-iii, when Senator Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to woo his daughter. Othello replies calmly and eloquently in contrast to Brabantio’s hysteria, explaining that he did not use any sorcery except that of his presence. He tells Iago, when Iago urges him to hide, ‘My parts, my title, and my perfect soul/ Shall manifest me rightly.’; Othello is a man who is in control of his emotions, and is seen as a strong, respectable man in such.
Iago subtly manipulates Othello throughout the course of the play to have Othello believe that Desdemona is committing adultery. The first thing Iago does is to discredit Cassio is the eyes of Othello (II.iii). He gets Cassio drunk and Roderigo picks a fight with him. Othello finds Cassio at fault for the fight, which he seems to be at first glance., and removes him from his office. The reader feels bad here for Cassio and Othello, because they have both unwittingly fallen for the machinations of Iago. Even after it is done with, neither have any idea they were manipulated by Iago, but think he is a wonderful person, better, in fact, because of this incident.
Iago drives a stake in between Othello and Cassio, one that he slips in to break them apart. Once Cassio is relieved from his post, he is no longer present to refute the allegations that Iago makes against him. Iago tells Cassio that he has a good chance of being reinstated to his post if Desdemona pleads in his behalf. Cassio thinks this is an excellent plan, and thanks the ‘honest Iago’; for his suggestion. Of course, at this point the reader knows that Iago plans for Othello to see them talking intimately, and to draw the idea of an affair from that.
When Iago and Othello come upon Cassio and Desdemona talking, Cassio leaves. He does not want to confront Othello at that moment. Iago, of course, takes full advantage of the situation and makes a reference to Cassio ‘sneaking away so guilty-like.’; We feel a bit of apprehension here, as we know Iago is about to dupe Othello, or at least try to. Othello, as true to his nature, does not see a connection between the ‘sneaking’; away of
Cassio and the defense of Cassio that Desdemona immediately launches into. We see here again how noble Othello is. He completely trusts his wife, to the point that the possibility of an affair does not even occur to him. Iago has to near spell it out for him; and Othello repeatedly asserts that he is not bothered by Iago’s claims, he does ‘not think but Desdemona honest.’; Othello has the utmost faith in his wife. Shakespeare makes sure the audience knows that Othello is not by his nature a suspicious person, but a trusting one. The audience naturally feels an empathy for the noble, honest, trusting moor. It is these kinds of people that we wish to win. It is in our nature to love the hero. There is a surge of faith here when Othello reveals his overriding trust in his wife.
After Iago leaves we find out just how trusting Othello is. Othello knows that the ‘honest’; Iago knows much more than he of politics, and ‘knows’; that Iago would be slow to implicate a friend such as Cassio without proper reason. Since Iago seemed so unwilling to voice his suspicions, Othello wonders what else Iago knows that he is not telling. Othello begins to doubt his wife, but does not wish to: ‘If she be false, then Heaven mocks itself!/ I’ll not believe it.’;
From here to the end of the play, Iago draws Othello in, convincing the noble Othello that his wife is guilty of infidelity. Othello is convinced by the ‘honest Iago’;, despite his own intuitions. Once Othello loses control of his emotions, he is putty in Iago’s hands. Iago can tell Othello anything and have him believe it, no matter how improbable. Iago shows him Cassio with the handkerchief, and Othello flies into a rage without even questioning why. He is acting exactly as Iago expects and wants him to. It is truly a sad sight to the audience to see their noble Othello reduced to the baseness that he has been. In the last scene of the play, we see Othello with a soliloquy that is composed and rational again, just before he kills his wife. This is the most disheartening of all, we know that as composed as he is, he must feel that he is doing the right and just thing. We know that he has fallen for Iago’s falsehoods hook, line, and sinker.
Thus is the injustice done to Othello. He is destroyed by a cold plotter, a man that has no sense of morals, who used everything possible to his advantage, even his reputation for honesty; for no more reason than that he was passed over for a promotion. We know that the noble Othello is fooled, and feel sorry that such an honest man has been duped.