A Web of Reason and Emotion in Othello
The theme of reason versus emotion can be found by analyzing individual character’s actions in William Shakespeare’s Othello. However, the line between to the two decision-making mindsets is not always very apparent. Three characters – Iago, Desdemona, and Othello – will be analyzed to show that Shakespeare wanted to blur the line between reason and emotion and demonstrate that individuals do not necessarily operate with only one or the other.
As the details of her recent marriage to Othello unfold, Desdemona appears to be a woman driven by emotions. She marries a man because he has shared his stories of grand adventure. In order to do so, she elopes from her loving father’s house in the middle of the night. These seem like actions of emotion stemming from her love – or possibly infatuation – for Othello. Contradictory to this, when asked to speak about her willingness to enter the marriage, she responds with a very clear and sensible reason for staying with Othello:
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord (I.iii.186-89).
She does not spew out all the reasons why she loves Othello or say that she is unavoidably attracted to him as she could have. Instead, she picks a practical reason – loyalty to a new man – just as her mother chose her father before. Within our first impression of her, we see Desdemona using both emotion and reason.
Desdemona’s actions at the end of her life seem to be clouded in a mix of emotion and reason as well. With her dying breath, she claims that she has taken her own life and asks Emilia to, “commend me to my kind lord” (V.ii.139). The motiva...
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..., the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions (I.iii.325-29).
This perhaps explains his combination of reason and emotion. He has strong emotions about Othello and Cassio but knows that if he lets them take control, things will end badly. Instead, he forces reason to dominate. Iago does an excellent job at balancing emotion and reason, in an attempt to avoid preposterous conclusions to his plans.
Through diverse characters with complex actions, Shakespeare spins a web of reason and emotion. Each of the characters – particularly Othello, Iago, and Desdemona – demonstrates combinations of these thought processes in his or her actions. Just as real life is not necessarily black and white, neither is the world of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare, William, and John Crowther. Othello. New York: SparkNotes, 2003. Print.
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