How are aspects of disorder developed in Othello?
“Chaos is come again”, a quote that epitomises the development of disorder throughout Othello .It enables us, as the audience to be shown how disorder or an “inversion of the normal order in a society” is apparent and consistent throughout the play. We see this as an “Inversion” because Iago brings some degree of “chaos” into the functioning of the state in Venice, turning the violence inherent in a military man such as Othello against the state's ordered society .To understand disorder, we need to know the change that has happened and also the social parameter to guide whether we can class a certain incident as chaotic or as an aspect of disorder.
When Desdemona marries Othello, the moor of Venice, we see a radical form of disorder. In renaissance Venice it was rare for the occurrence of inter-racial marriages, arguably it was frowned upon. Clearly there is an apparent chaos in society if marriages like this occur against the social norm. The whole marriage idea seems slightly chaotic because people were discriminatory towards Othello so it shows that the marriage was not accepted. Roderigo calls him “thick-lips” which puts a rather grotesque vision in the reader or audience's mind against what we usually think of someone dignified. Iago tells Desdemona's father, Brabantio, the horrors that could happen if Desdemona were to marry Othello “you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you'll have your nephews neigh to you”. By saying that Brabantio would have grandsons that would become horses due horse-like quality in Othello it would seem that Brabantio considers Othello to be nothing more than an ill-formed animal. We as the reader can see in the form of Desdemona a contradiction in the play and this shows how Desdemona creates a moment of drastic disorder when she marries Othello because she is going against the socially accepted parameters of courtship and love.
It is with Iago's intricate manipulation of language that we see an aspect of disorder developed. Iago doesn't just tell evil and malicious lies about Desdemona and Cassio. He changes the whole dynamic of the words in every piece of dialogue. In Act 3, Scene iii, we see Iago use the words “think” and “honesty” consistently to express his thoughts and feeling on a certain situation, “for Michael Cassio, I dare be sworn; I think that he is honest”. In this instance Iago is actually telling the truth and this questions Othello's whole ideology and once again his world is turned upside-down. Othello even says that Iago is “full of love and honesty”, yet we, as the reader, see this as absurd because Iago, who is so deceitful, can't possibly be called honest. Language is therefore crucial in showing how this aspect of disorder is developed. We can see that when honesty has more than one definition and thinking becomes treacherous that Othello starts to fall into the pit of despair and chaos, where ultimately there is no hope of escaping.
Othello at the start of the play is the epitome of calmness and reeks of respect in his role as a captain. However at each turn, Iago traps him in a nightmare where the order and stability of his military life falls apart. Iago tempts Othello's imagination and in an effort to draw forth an answer regarding Othello's thoughts on Cassio, the calm and controlling Othello brings himself to make a personal plea, saying, “If thou dost love me, Show me thy thought.” No longer is the composed captain, composed. Othello is reduced to appealing to the good graces of someone inferior to him. This reversal of state, from calm to agitation, indicates Othello's gradual plunge into Iago's web of deceit. So desperate at the end of the scene to disprove the suspicions germinated in his head by Iago, Othello threatens the life of his tormentor “or woe upon thy life”. This stark contrast to the man at the beginning of the play who would not even draw his sword against a mob out to fight against for the idea of social normality, clearly shows the depths to which Othello's world has collapsed into turmoil and the depths to which he falls into the madness of jealousy.
The symbolic aspect of disorder is developed with the use of the handkerchief. Something which in any other situation would seem insignificant, but because the handkerchief represents something more powerful within the marital bond between Othello and Desdemona it has the ability to add an almost dystopian effect upon Othello's arguably blissful and paradisiacal life. The handkerchief is a gift between Othello and Desdemona which Desdemona carries everywhere with her to show the love between the two of them and always has it with her, “to kiss and talk to”. It is also symbolic for Desdemona's fidelity because Othello's mother supposedly kept it with her to keep Othello's father faithful to her. Therefore when the handkerchief falls into Iago's hands, it foreshadows the events that happen to Othello and cause him to have a state of mental disorder because the main part of the marriage, the fidelity, has been lost therefore this idea of symbolic or ideological disorder appears and causes Othello to arguably lose all sense of sanity. The handkerchief is a provider of dramatic irony because, it in its very existence is supposed to represent things that are true, honest and good, yet it becomes a sign of Othello's mistrust and insecurity. Again a complete switch-around in Othello's life is created and is therefore crucial in showing how he became so jealous and disordered.
Through Iago's underhanded lexical alterations of language and truth, Othello plummets from the heights of respect to being an incomprehensible wreck suffering with the effects of hamartia. His world brought to chaos by the confusion of language and love, Othello loses all control over himself and his rage. Shakespeare clearly enables the reader to see every aspect of disorder, from social disorder, where the ideas of a society are turned upside- down or radical disorder where chaos happens quickly and with a sense of immediacy. We also see how each intricate device is developed and this is carefully done with the use of language, especially when shaping someone's view or opinion.
Shakespeare, W. (2001). Othello. London: Penguin Books
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