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Nearly every character in this tragic play suffers from one of the most corrupting and destructive emotions: jealousy. Only Desdemona and Cassio, the true innocents of the story, do not feel jealous while other characters demonstrate how jealousy can trigger disaster. Throughout the play, with Iago’s utterance, jealousy arises within the characters; however, Iago himself acts the way he does in the play because of his own jealousy. Still, apparently he manages to release the xenophobia of others to manipulate their jealousy in order to get revenge on Othello. In this play, it is clear that jealousy is an important theme.
Jealousy is a common feeling which every human has. BBC states that “According to clinical psychologist Ayala Malach Pines, ‘jealousy is a complex reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship or to its quality’. Unlike envy, it always involves a fear of loss and requires three people” (“Relationships & Couples” - 1). Ayala Malach Pines basically explains that jealousy is a feeling of wanting control over something or someone and it starts from fear of losing that something or someone. Also, Ayala mentions jealousy is complex since it involves emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Above all these factors, when people feel jealous, they tend to feel grief, anger, envy, humiliation, fear, sadness, pain, or rage, and behavior such as “feeling faint, trembling and sweating, constant questioning and seeking reassurance, aggressive actions, even violence” (“Relationships & Couples” - 1). can been seen.
Often times, the word ‘envy’ is defined as jealousy. It is true that when people feel jealous, they may feel envy; however, feeling jealous differs from feeling envious. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines envy as, “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary), which means that envy is a frustration or desire caused by another person having something that he or she does not have, such as skills, talent, money, or a job.
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Throughout the play, the most obvious jealousy is seen by Othello, the Christian Moor. As the play progresses, by Iago hinting that Othello is being cuckolded, Othello’s jealousy arises towards Cassio and Desdemona. However, Iago first do denies telling his thoughts, but Othello’s tragic flaw—impetuousness and hotheadedness—allows Iago to expose his idea. Moreover, Iago warns Othello to avoid jealousy by stating “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!/ It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on" (III, iii, 165-167). Iago here is convincing Othello not to become jealous and stay calm. Also, the “green-ey'd monster” is a metaphor that represents the feeling of jealousy inside Othello. By this stage, Othello strongly believes Iago’s words and is sexually jealous, which forces Othello’s dialogue to create an uncomfortable tone when he speaks with Desdemona. It is also necessary to consider that Brabantio’s words have an effect on Othello’s jealousy. He mentions “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:/ She has deceived her father, and may thee" (I, i, 292-293). He means that Desdemona may betray Othello since she has already betrayed her father, and she may turn out to be a slut. And in the end of the play, this jealousy leads Othello to suffocate Desdemona to death.
Expressing his jealousy of Othello's marriage to Desdemona, Rodrigo mentions "What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe/ If he can carry't thus!" (I, i, 66-67). Rodrigo is a character who simply acts the way he does because of jealousy. He desires Desdemona and conspires with Iago so he will be able to marry Desdemona in the end. Since he is desperate for Desdemona, Rodrigo trusts Iago over and over again, even after he recognizes that he is being used by Iago. Furthermore, Iago demands Rodrigo to kill Cassio and he accepts it.
Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, also suffers from jealousy. Even though he only appears as a small part of the play, he feels jealous towards Othello for taking away his daughter from him and the fact that he did not have any notice about their marriage. However, his jealousy also comes from racism. Iago and Rodrigo wake Brabantio in the middle of the night in Act I, Scene I, revealing that Othello and Desdemona are married, but Iago uses powerful and shocking languages. For instance, “the evil”, “black ram”, and “Barbary horse” are all examples of Iago describing how lascivious Othello is. By incorporating racist language, Iago successfully gets Brabantio’s xenophobia to emerge and makes Brabantio feel jealous.
Another character, Bianca, feels extreme jealousy towards Cassio. She is a prostitute in Cyprus, who Cassio promises to marry her as a joke. On the other hand, Bianca takes this seriously. In Act III, Scene III, it clearly shows that Bianca is jealous since she does not have control over Cassio. "Is some token from a newer friend: / To the felt absence now I feel a cause: / Is't come to this? Well, well" (III, iii, 181-183) mentions Bianca, telling she is upset with Cassio because he hasn't been to see her in a week, and the handkerchief he gave her makes her feel jealous since Bianca believes that the handkerchief belongs to another woman.
With Iago’s envy towards Cassio’s position in the army, the play begins. From this envy, Iago feels jealous towards Othello for not recruiting him as Othello’s lieutenant. “Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,/ In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,/ …He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,/ And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship’s ancient” (I,i, 7–32) is stated by Iago, telling how jealous he is for being passed over for promotion to lieutenancy. Also, in the same Act, Iago states, "I hate the Moor / And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets / ‘Has done my office. I know not if’t be true; / Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do as if for surety" (I, iii, 379-384). He suspects his wife, Emilia, has had sex with the Moor. From these quotes by Iago in Act 1, it proves that Iago actually does feel jealous towards Othello in two different ways.
Even though, Iago himself feels jealous, he still uses others’ jealousy against them to create chaos. He somewhat manages to dig into characters’ fear to generate jealousy in them such as, Othello, Rodrigo, and Brabantio. Iago is an egoist who has his own philosophy. Because of this, Iago is able to control his feeling during the play. He believes that acting due to emotion is like being a “baboon” which he mentions in Act I Scene III, and obeying morals and rules are for sheep, so to be a ‘real’ human, people must make their own rules and be able to control their emotions. Only Iago is able to do this in the play, so he is able to paint pictures in characters’ minds with words to create jealousy among them. This jealousy controls most people’s action, including Iago’s. In the modern world, people still sense extreme jealousy, and not many can follow Iago’s philosophy. Nearly everyone feels envious towards job, money, and skills, but jealousy is an even more powerful emotion that causes political and social problems. By reading Othello, it allows the reader to think and learn how jealousy can lead to chaos and tragedy.
"Definition of Envy." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2007. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 17 Nov. 2007
"Relationships - Couples - Understanding Jealousy." BBC. 2007. Bbc.Co.Uk. 17 Nov. 2007