Humanities 202
April 12, 1996

My Perception of William Shakespeare's Othello

Othello, by William Shakespeare, is perhaps not as exciting as a ravishingly sexy poster
of Laurence Fishburne and Irene Jacob. Yet, with its intoxicating mix of love, sexual passion
and the deadly power of jealousy, Shakespeare has created an erotic thriller based on a human
emotion that people are all familiar with. It all depends on how those people receive it. There is
an extraordinary fusion of characters' with different passions in this tragedy. Every character is
motivated by a different desire. Shakespeare mesmerizes the reader by manipulating his
characters abilities to perceive and discern what is happening in reality. It is this
misinterpretation of reality that leads to the erroneous perceptions that each character holds.

After reading this tragedy, the depth of Shakespeare's characters continue to raise many
questions in the minds of the reader. The way I percieve the character of Othello and what
concerns me, is that Othello is able to make such a quick transition from love to hate of
Desdemona. In Act 3, Scene 3, Othello states, "If she be false, O, then heaven mocks itself! I'll
not believe 't." (lines 294-295) Yet only a couple hundred lines later he says, "I'll tear her to
pieces" (line 447) and says that his mind will never change from the "tyrannous hate" (line 464)
he now harbors. Does Othello make the transition just because he is so successfully manipulated
by Iago? Or is there something particular about his character which makes him make this quick
change? I believe that "jealousy" is too simple of a term to describe Othello. I think that Othello's
rapid change from love to hate for Desdemona is fostered partly by an inferiority complex. He
appears to be insecure in his love for Desdemona (as well as in his position in Venetian society).
Othello's race and age ("Haply, for I am black . . . for I am declined into the vale of years," 3.3.
279-282) and his position as a soldier contribute to his feelings of inadequacy.

Othello admits to Desdemona that he doesn't have "those soft parts of conversation"
possessed by well-bred Venetian noblemen, those to which (as a senator's daughter) she has
become acclimated (3.3.280-281). Othello's speech (1.3.130-172) also conveys his feeling that
Desdemona loves him for his exploits and achievements rather than for his mind. Othello
apparently feels a constant responsibility to prove to Desdemona (through his heroic deeds) that
he is worthy of her love.It is my opinion that Othello is a man governed by a subconscious need
or impulse to believe ideas rather than reason. In believing Iago's lie, Othello apparently is
controlled by his aforementioned inferiority complex -- his feeling that he just doesn't measure
up to (young, suave, and of course, white) nobleman Michael Cassio in Desdemona's mind.
Othello is more naturally predisposed to believe this "idea" rather than to engage in rational
discourse in an attempt to find the real logic of the situation.

It is also unclear weather or not the position of soldier and that of husband can be
percieved as two seperate role's. Yet the two seem inextricably intertwined. Military operations
are Othello's primary priority. Othello had been a soldier since he was seven years old (" ...since
these arms of mine had seven years' pith.....they have us'd/ Their dearest action in the tented field"
1.3.83-85). So Othello was not a newcomer to the battlefield. Yet, Othello encounters a
battlefield the likes of which he has never seen when he marries Desdemona and enters Venetian
society -- the rules are different, the enemy has more cunning, and words are used for weapons.
Military service and marriage are not incompatible -- Othello has the potential to make a perfectly
suitable husband (as well as lover) to Desdemona. Othello only self-destructs because he and his
inferiority complex fall victim to the duplicitous and vengeful Iago on society's battlefield.

Perhaps Othello's precipitous change from ordered general to chaotic killer occurs
because he is black. Africans were starting to appear in London at the time of Shakespeare and
were viewed with suspicion, to say the least. It is not inconceivable that Shakespeare exploited
this popular fear of the nature of these black Africans and portrayed Othello as a vengeful savage.