Question Jess Art, Media & Literature

Jealousy in Othello

To what extent does jealousy present a positive and negative quality in Othello by Shakespeare?

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Answer Internal Staff

‘O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 3.3:165-67). Ironically, it is Iago who utters these words, though the lynchpin of his plot to destroy his rivals is in exploiting this quality in Othello. It is Iago’s jealousy toward Cassio, who he views as inferior to him, and his dislike of Othello, who promoted Cassio over Iago, which triggers the events. Shakespeare points out the destructive nature of jealousy through Iago’s manipulation, cautioning that ‘riches fineless is as poor as winter to him that ever fears he shall be poor’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 3.3:173-174) - no matter what one has, fear of losing it can remove all enjoyment of it. This is evidenced by Othello’s descent into jealousy. His speech slips from Iambic Pentameter (consistent with a speaker of a higher class) and becomes rambling: ‘Noses, ears and lips. -I’st possible? – Confess-handkerchief!-O devil!’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 4.2:42-43). His anger gradually builds until he is driven to kill his wife. Shortly afterwards, Othello learns of Iago’s deception and laments that he is ‘like the base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 5.2:346-347). His mistake in trusting Iago has cost him a loyal wife, and this provokes his own suicide. Jealousy, then, has visibly reduced Othello from a respected general to a murderer and a sinner; similarly, it has resulted in Iago’s wanton destruction of other people’s lives in pursuit of the things he envies. Indeed, only two characters in the play do not show symptoms of jealousy, and their lots are very different: Desdemona is ultimately murdered, despite her innocence, whereas Cassio is promoted to Othello’s former position. To conclude, Shakespeare shows jealousy to be an overwhelmingly negative quality.

References

Shakespeare, W. (2005). Othello. St. Paul, Minnesota: EMC/Paradigm Publishing.