Othello and Uncontrolled Jealousy
Dominating the protagonist in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello is the passion of sexual jealousy. Dominating the antagonist is another type of jealousy toward Cassio, and hatred toward the general. Let us look closely at the concept of jealousy as it is revealed in this drama.
Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes definitively categorizes Othello as a “study in jealousy”:
Othello has suffered less in its modern interpretation than any other of Shakespeare’s tragedies, it would seem. So insistently did Shakespeare keep this tragedy unified about the theme of jealousy and the central victims of the passion, so obviously did he mould his plot about the black Moor and the cunning Iago and the victims of their jealousy that no interpreter has been able to ignore the obvious intention of the author. Yet if we study the contemporary interpretations of the passion here portrayed, we find that Shakespeare was following in detail a broader and more significant analysis of the passion than has in modern days been understood. The play is, however, clearly a study in jealousy and in jealousy as it affects those of different races. (148)
Can we narrow down the concept of jealousy in this play to a specific type? Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” sees this play as a study in sexual jealousy:
Othello is not a study in pride, egoism, or self-deception: its subject is sexual jealousy, loss of faith in a form which involves the whole personality at the profound point where body meets spirit. The solution which Othello cannot accept is Iago’s: ‘Put up with it.’ This is as impossible as that Hamlet should, like Claudius, behave as if the past were done with and only the present mattered. . . . (144)
Of course, jealousy of a different type also torments the antagonist, the ancient, to the point that he ruins those around him and himself. Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes how there is no cure for the jealous passion that rules Iago’s life:
On the contrary, in the “world” of his philosophy and his imagination, where his spirit lives, there is no cure for passion. He is, behind his mask, as restless as a cage of those cruel and lustful monkeys that he mentions so often. It has been pointed out that he has no intelligible plan for destroying Othello, and he never asks himself what good it will do him to ruin so many people. It is enough for him that he “hates” the Moor. . . .(133)
Act 1 Scene 1 opens with an expression of jealousy: Roderigo is upbraiding Iago because of the elopement of the object of his affections –Desdemona -- with the Moor: “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.” Iago responds with an expression of jealousy, saying that he does indeed hate the general because he “Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he, / ‘I have already chose my officer.’” With both Roderigo and the ancient spurred on by...