Character Sketch of Othello
Othello, a Moor, is a general of the Venetian armed forces. He’s a noble and imposing man, well respected as a soldier in his profession. At the beginning of the pay, he enjoys great successes, and everything seems to be going his way. Desdemona preferred him over all her other Venetian suitors, and Othello prevailed over Brabantio’s accusations that Othello had kidnapped and abducted her.
The Duke of Venice and the Venetian senators put him in charge of the troops sent to defend Cyprus against the Turks. Things continue to go Othello ‘s way when he arrives in Cyprus and discovers that the storm has completely eliminated the Turkish threat. He and Desdemona are behaving differently towards each other in Cyprus. They are more openly loving, much less formal than they were in Venice. The couple celebrates their marriage, and even when that celebration is interrupted by the brawling of Cassio and Montano, Othello still seems confident and self-controlled.
In the tradition of the best strong-armed
heroic types, he says, ‘He that stirs next to carve for his own rage / Holds his soul light; he dies upon his motion” (II.iii. 173-74). He is a man in charge, one that will shoot first and ask questions later. But Othello’s confidence starts to slip when Iago begins to work on his psyche, intimating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair.
At first, Othello denies that the attractiveness of his wife’s grace, charm, and beauty for other men could make him jealous because, as he says “… she had eyes and chose me” (III.iii. 189). But Iago’s “medicine” (IV.i.46) soon begins to work, and Othello begins to question how Desdemona could continue to love him. After Iago has suggested that Desdemona has already deceived her father and Othello, the Moor begins to think Desdemona’s betrayal of him is inevitable given his skin colour, greater
age, and lack of courtly charm (III.iii.26368). He begins to act as if her unfaithfulness is a certainty, bemoaning that “Othello’s occupation is gone” (III.iii.357).
Iago works Othello into a jealous rage through these many insinuations. But it seems to be the handkerchief, the one Othello originally gave to Desdemona as a love token, that puts Othello over the edge. Iago convinces Othello that the innocently dropped handkerchief was actually given to Cassio (who in turn gives the handkerchief to Bianca) by Desdemona. Othello focuses on this piece of cloth as damning physical evidence in his confrontation with his wife. He refers to it repeatedly before he kills
Desdemona: “That handkerchief which I so lov’d, and gave thee, / Thou gav’ st to Cassio”; “By heaven, I saw my handkerchief in’s hand”; and again, “I saw the handkerchief” (V.ii.65). Desdemona repeatedly denies giving the handkerchief to Cassio, suggesting that perhaps he found it somewhere, but to no avail. In the end, Othello is so convinced by Iago’s manipulation that he murders his wife in their bed.
The most apparent explanation for this act is the one that Othello has consistently given to Emilia in response to her constant questions, shortly after the incident. Desdemona has been smothered: “She turn’d to folly, and she was a whore”; “She was false as water”; “Cassio did top her”
Desdemona, Othello believes, has betrayed him and the sanctity of marriage, and has paid with her life. Yet some believe that Othello ‘s motives are deeper, that Othello killed Desdemona because she violated Venetian society’s morals by marrying the Moor. The proponents of this view argue that Othello is accepted by Venetian society as long as it is an external element of that society. Barbantio and the Venetian senators are more than willing to accept his strength and military knowledge, but when his marriage to Desdemona internalizes Othello in their society, his presence becomes disruptive.
In his last speech, Othello asks to be remembered as “one that lov’d not wisely but too well”. Is the object of that love Desdemona or Venice? Perhaps Othello never stops seeing himself as a soldier with the primary goal of preserving Venetian society. Perhaps his last act is his own suicide is performed in the service of Venice, as mirrored in the language he uses to introduce it. He says that those around him should record events exactly as they have happened.
The last word of this speech is punctuated by the sound of Othello’s knife sinking into his breast and mortally wounding him.
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