Othello: True Love and Self-love
The William Shakespeare tragic play Othello manifests the virtue of love in all its variegated types through the assorted good and bad characters interacting with each other.
H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, discusses the love of the Moor for his beloved even at the time of her murder:
And when he comes to execute justice upon Desdemona, as he thinks, he has subdued his passion so that he is a compound of explosiveness tenderness. Utterly convinced of Desdemona’s guilt and of the necessity of killing her (“Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men”), he yet loves her:
This sorrow’s heavenly;
It strikes where it doth love.(55)
In the volume Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley explains that there is both love and self-love in the play (201). 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.” In order to prove his love for Roderigo, Iago asserts in detail the reasons for his hatred of Othello, who has given the lieutenancy to Michael Cassio, a Florentine.
Secondly, Iago shows his love for his wealthy friend by rousing from sleep Brabantio, the father of Desdemona. Once the senator has been awakened, Iago makes a series of loud, crude, bawdy allegations against both the general and Desdemona. 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. [. . .] (218)
The senator is incensed by the fact that his daughter has indeed run away from home so that he must face a life of “despised time” and “bitterness.” Implied in this reaction is a very selfish type of love which he has had towards his daughter: His affection is based on what she can do for him and not what he can do for her. Later when the Duke of Venice hears the father’s accusations against the general, followed by Desdemona’s forthright, intelligent testimony of the truth, the senator reacts by virtually disowning her. The superficiality of his love for her is apparent.
On the other hand, the audience perceives the ideal form of love, a very pure, exclusive love, existing between Othello and Desdemona. Blanche Coles in Shakespeare’s Four Giants elaborates:
Only by realizing the great depth of their love...