William Shakespeare introduces the title character of the play Othello as a man who is well respected by the citizens of Venice. Othello is an esteemed military man whose conquests have added to Venice’s glory. He has always lived in the public eye and been held in high regard. When he is confronted with the possibility of his new bride’s infidelity, Othello does not know how to confront and control these new emotions. Othello’s lack of understanding of his personal self and emotions leads to his downfall and tragedy within the play. Shakespeare uses Othello to illustrate that one’s public reputation holds no merit if he is unable to understand and confront his emotions and personal actions.
In Act I, Shakespeare establishes Othello’s public persona. Othello has served in the military since he was seven years old, and his life has been one of “feats of broils and battle” (1.3.89). As he explains to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, Othello gained the favor of Desdemona through his heroic tales of the battlefield and of the dangers he overcame. Instead of appealing to Desdemona on a personal level, Othello intrigues her with his accounts of military courage. Desdemona learns of Othello’s public demeanor, but nothing of his private life. Prior to their marriage, Othello does not show an interest in Desdemona and therefore he does not attempt to woo her. Instead, Desdemona falls in love with Othello’s public identity. Othello has relied on his public reputation, and he has not had to face complicated personal relationships and emotions.
Shakespeare first alludes to Othello’s need to hide behind his public persona in the first scene of the play. Iago says, “But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, / Evades them with a bombast circumstance” (1.1.13-14). Othello purposefully avoids his own passions and emotions, almost arrogantly. Othello places himself above (outside?) his emotions, as if he is afraid of his feelings. When Iago plants the seed of jealousy regarding Desdemona’s perceived infidelity, Othello wants to appear strong and not to be made a fool. Instead of questioning Desdemona directly, Othello allows his doubts to fester and he turns to jealousy, ultimately deciding to end Desdemona’s life.
Othello also hides behind his public image when Brabantio first learns of Desdemona’s elopement and marriage to Othello. Even though his bride’s father is enraged at the marriage, Othello believes that “[his] parts, [his] title, and [his] perfect soul / shall manifest [him] rightly” (1.2.31-32). Although Othello agrees that Brabantio is justified in his anger, he also believes that he is of unflawed conscience (need to reword?). Othello again relies his past victories and his reputation to put Desdemona’s father at ease about their marriage. Instead of telling Brabantio that he loves his daughter for who she is, Othello uses his public persona to gain favor. He tells Brabantio, “I loved her that she did pity them,” referring to the stories of...