The Loves in Othello
In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello the main love of the play is betrayed and undermined by the cunning and evil Iago. This essay seeks to find and explore the examples of love in this play.
Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes the love existing between the protagonist and his wife and how it is an easy prey for the antagonist:
When Othello sums up their innocent infatuation, we must feel that he is more accurate than he knows:
She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
Othello and Desdemona are so attractive that we tend to see them only as they see each other: the noble Moor, the pure white maiden. But Shakespeare shows their love, even here at the very beginning, as dreamy, utterly defenseless in a world that contains Iago. . . .(133)
The virtue of love is most perfectly illustrated within the character and actions of the heroine Desdemona. Angela Pitt in “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies” finds “love” as one of the qualities which the heroine of the drama possesses:
Handbooks of the period explain in some detail what is required of the ideal wife, and Desdemona seems to fulfill even the most conservative expectation. She is beautiful and also humble:
A maiden never bold
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blushed at herself. (I.iii.)
Her concern for Cassio shows her generosity, for she will intercede for him with Othello. She is wise, and also a ‘true and loving’ wife – ‘the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye’. (44-45)
David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies describes how “love” is attacked from the outset of Othello:
Daringly, Shakespeare opens this tragedy of love not with a direct and sympathetic portrayal of the lovers themselves, but with a scene of vicious insinuation about their marriage. The images employed by Iago to describe the coupling of Othello and Desdemona are revoltingly animalistic, sodomistic. [. . .] This degraded view reduces the marriage to one of utter carnality, with repeated emphasis on the word “gross”: Desdemona has yielded “to the gross clasps of the lascivious Moor,” and has made “a gross revolt” against her family and society (II.129, 137). (218)
Initially the play presents a very distorted type of love. Act 1 Scene 1 shows Roderigo, generous in his gifts to the ancient, questioning Iago’s love for the former, whose concern has been the wooing of Desdemona. Roderigo construes Iago’s love for him as based on the ancient’s hatred for the Moor. Thus the wealthy suitor says accusingly, “Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.” And Iago responds, “Despise me, if I do not.” Partly out of hatred for the general and partly out of proving his faithfulness to Roderigo’s cause, Iago asserts in detail the reasons for his hatred of Othello, who has given...