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Is Othello a Victim or Villain?

This is a play about Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army. He is the ultimate villain in this play as opposed to Iago, the high ranking soldier. Most would agree as a matter of fact that Iago is undoubtedly the villain of this tragic story. In order to perceive this, a superficial assessment of the two main characters in the play; Othello and Iago, should be made. The art of analysis on its own rejects the simple easy explanations but rather deals in the complex and mystifying facts.

Although Iago is the natural nuisance and thus the obvious bad guy, his destiny is to create the tragedy that this play later becomes. A lengthy consideration in addition to an open mind will show the truth of the matter. Othello is the actual villain. Even though he initially lacks any malicious thoughts and ideas, he eventually gets to become a murderer due to emotionally untrustworthy and jealousy. As you read the play it is not common to associate Othello with such descriptive words as conceited, though he is in every sense of the word.

As the plot unfolds it is already clear that Othello is going to fall from grace in a huge way and his undoing will be his insatiable ego. He knows his abilities as a great warrior and his superb sword wielding abilities. His prowess on the battle field raised his ranks to the brim of the military defenses of Venice city. He gained his lofty status due to his expertise as a military officer and with that came his conceit. When Iago tells him of the threats from Brabantio, he says,

“Let him do his spite: My services which I have done the signiory shall

out-tongue his complaints” (1509).

He walks with an air of over confidence depicting tones of arrogance in saying that no one has the authority to accuse is reputation. And to add on to that he shows his lofty opinion, as lofty as it can be, by saying,

“I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege” (1509).

His head is swelling with the status and importance given to him by the men of power in the city of Venice. He starts to think he is infallible, great and unfaultable, thus weakening him to the crucial insights of his enemies as to what they should do to discredit Othello from grace,

“the Moor already changes with my poison: dangerous

conceits are in their nature’s poisons…” (1555).

Whilst Iago reveals his detailed plot, we come to discover another vice possessed by Othello, he has a jealous mind. This comes as a result of insecurities of his colour, his education and his age.

“I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that clamberers have,

for I am declined into the vale of years” (1553).

Othello’s jealousy is fed by the aforementioned insecurities. He says,

“As he (Cassio) shall smile, Othello shall go mad; and his unbookish jealousy

must construe poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures, and light behavior quite in the

wrong” (1569).

Iago therefore only has to create an opportunity for Othello’s jealousy to initiate his downfall.

Finally, we take note of his emotional dishonesty. As soon as Iago plants his thoughts, Othello’s head and heart quickly fills up with contempt and bitterness. He openly confesses his love for Desdemona but he is easily convinced otherwise by Iago due to his dishonest nature meaning he was not being truthful about his love for Desdemona. He says,

“If she be false, O then Heav’n mocks itself: I’ll not believe it” (1554),

This makes him sound like a passionate man yet afterwards gets mad and discredits Emilia as a “simple bawd.” (1557) since she says the Desdemona is faithful to him. This illustrates his love being no more that a sad illusion, simply an obsession to say the least. His emotional untruthfulness is connected to all his other vices and feeds of them creating a dangerous monster out on a once adorable and admirable man.

However as much as Othello is the villain of the story, at more than one instance he has appeared to look like the victim as well. He appears to be a victim of his society and seems as though Iago toys with his irritable nature at his pleasure. Othello seems to be very gullible and at times very distant from the truth. He is innocent to the working mayhems and mischievous plans Iago comes up with.

Othello loses his tempers easily as a child does when frustrated and Iago knew how to play with his shaky ego that amounted due to the thought that his wife is heating on him. And of course that is blatant lie. All the grace and gentleness that was Desdemona was easily mistaken for flirtations to the unsuspecting Othello. His uncontrollable temper and the proof caused the untimely death of his ever faithful wife. His reaction was like that of a child whose favorite toy had been snatched away. His anger does not even give him the time to listen to her side of the story and refuses to listen to her pleas of innocence. Though he has an evil side to him,

Othello had turned into an insane state of mind and one could actually state that he might not have realized what he was doing until it was a little bit too late.

While Othello might have some virtuous attributes, there is no doubt that his emotional dishonesty, jealousy and conceit all sum up to make him the ultimate villain of this Shakespearian classic play. In the end it is the unwitting prophecy Iago makes that comes true, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger; But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!”(1550). Yes, Iago should be the villain, but we hugely expect this of him, and he therefore lives up to just what we would expect.. The true bad guy, who gives this play its twist is Othello the disingenuous, suspicious and the proud Moor of Venice.

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