Iago is a character with diseased intellectual activity accompanied with a total want of moral principle… (William Hazlitt in Bloom). He is a foul-mouthed soldier with some sexual problems, that is, his attitude toward women (whom he seems to abhor and only wants to use and subjugate) and sex (which he seems to find repulsive) is essential to understanding his passion for revenge. He seems voyeuristic and is always vulgar when it comes to sex or love (in contrast to the more natural lover Cassio or the passionate Othello). The myth of black male sexual prowess only adds to Iago’s issues. The later folio of this play is somewhat sanitized as a result of the Act to Restrain the Abuses of the Players (1606), which sought to eliminate vulgarity and obscenity from the stage. Iago’s reactions are often prefaced with expletives. His intellect is used at the expense of others, often confusing right and wrong.
The love of power is, perhaps, a natural inclination, and the abuses that result often lead to tragedy. Iago is indifferent to his own fate as well as the fate of others. He craves action that is dangerous and difficult (mischievous, like a good soldier). Bloom notes the lack of humor in this play.
Othello is the untarnished solider/hero, not a mock-chivalric one like Falstaff; rather, he is like Macbeth (both become corrupted and, thus, their downfall).
*However, the immediate reason for Iago’s hatred and plotting for revenge is obvious: he has been passed over for a promotion and feels that Othello has been ungrateful and disloyal.
Bloom compares Iago to Satan (especially in Milton’s Paradise Lost) who takes out his anger on God’s creation (Adam and Eve) while Iago attacks his god (Othello) directly. “Othello was everything to Iago, because war was everything; passed over, Iago is nothing, and in warring against Othello, his war is against ontology [the nature of being]” (Bloom 435). Understanding Iago as “nothing” is essential to understanding his nihilism and need to be somebody by creating mischief and getting revenge. Only Hamlet and Falstaff have more wit than Iago, who adjusts his revenge plot as needed—he is an evil creator (dramatist).
**Iago uses disinformation, disorientation, and derangement to “uncreate” and create chaos. For Iago (and Othello), war is the ultimate game of will against will. Iago’s disappointment is revenged by his plot in which he regains power for himself. “The death of belief [in Othello the War-God] becomes the birth of invention… (Bloom 432).
Iago is also a psychiatrist as he “plays” with Othello’s and others’ fragile psyches and shows a keen but diabolical understanding of human nature (so he can exploit it to his advantage). He is Machiavellians but also Freudian. For instance, Iago’s hatred of Cassio is not just about the promotion; it is also about how smooth the libertine Cassio is with the women. Cassio is a natural lover while Iago is a prurient, self-righteous prig. Iago’s genius is not just in the plot and understanding of human weakness, but also in his ability to improvise. “I am not what I am.” This 28-yr-old professional soldier has a genius for hatred. Iago seems paranoid after his “fall” (lack of promotion), and suspects Othello and Cassio of sleeping with his wife (more sexual issues). (Bloom suggests that Iago is impotent.) There is also the issue of class as both Cassio and Othello address Iago as a person of a lower station.
Iago has eight soliloquies as we get to know him better than any other character. Ironically, it is Emilia (his wife) who brings down Iago as she shows courage and is willing to die for the sake of Desdemona’s good name.
***The play displays the extremes of human character: pity and fear; passion (sexual/love) and passion in battle; etc.
Othello is, at bottom, a mercenary, black soldier of fortune fighting for the decadent Venetian state. He is grandiose in his view of himself (pride). The question is whether the Moor actually knows his true self (as Iago seemingly does). Othello only knows war, and himself as a warrior. Like Desdemona, Othello is powerless against Iago—an irony of this great soldier’s life.
Othello is a great man with a flaw (hamartia), and that flaw is not just his pride, but his openness and trusting good nature. He has heroic simplicity and heroic blindness. Othello represents male vanity and fear of female sexuality. Othello is blind to his own jealousy. Death in battle is preferable to being made a cuckold, especially as Iago makes him believe Desdemona is unfaithful with one of his subordinates (Cassio).
**A woman’s faithfulness and virginity are treasures in this world of male domination and double standards, although Emilia does give us a very “modern” feminist view.
Is the marriage of Othello and Desdemona ever consummated? The soldiers, led by Iago, try to disturb the wedding night nuptials (a common ritual when the community disapproved of the marriage—in this case, for racial and social reasons) and Othello seems to want Desdemona but never seems to be able to have time for the “act.” Does Desdemona, ironically, die a virgin?
Bloom says that Iago has “negative charisma.” Rejected by his god (Othello), Iago seeks to bring him down as he exercises his sadomasochism. “Othello, as much as King Lear and Macbeth, is a vision of radical evil” (Bloom 421). While Falstaff the warrior says, “Give me life!”—Othello says, “Give me honor.” Note that many of Shakespeare’s warrior/heroes come to tragic ends—Othello, Macbeth, Antony.
Some say that Othello is the Shakespearean play that most “moves” the audience. “Its grip upon the emotions of the audience is more relentless and sustained than that of the others [Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra]” (Arden intro, M.R. Ridley).
No sub-plot and a simple plot. Few characters and few distractions. Building of tension throughout without any comic relief. Note that the leading characters are more “ordinary” people, or royalty as in Hamlet or Lear, thereby making the theme (jealousy/revenge) more immediate to the audience.
***We are all capable of blinding passion and blinding jealousy—we all could be passed over for promotion.
Text: ACT I – Iago immediately expresses his anger and disappointment over Cassio being named Othello’s second in command instead of himself. “I know my prize, I am worth no worse a place” (I, 1, 63-5). He is “more” than what he is? Note the play on words with “more” (Moor).
The racism of Iago and Roderigo is evident as Iago begins to plot his revenge. He starts by getting Desdemona’s father riled up over his daughter being defiled by a black man. “An old black ram Is tupping [euphemism for intercourse] your white ewe…” (I,1,88-9). Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, which explains his eagerness (and naiveté) to be manipulated by Iago. Iago to Brabantio (Desdemona’s father): “…your daughter and the Moor, are now making the beast with two backs.” NOTE: Shakespeare’s love of language helps him create many euphemisms including those for sexual activity. This is typical of Iago’s vulgarity and sexual “problems.” Desdemona has eloped with the heroic Othello who has thrilled and excited her with his tales of bravery. Of course, like any father, Brabantio is upset. “Trust not your daughters’ minds but what you see them act…”
Scene 2 is when Othello first appears. Like Macbeth, Iago says it is easy to kill during battle, but difficult outside of war due to our “conscience.” Like all fathers, Brabantio can’t believe that his daughter would give herself to Othello. (Fathers’ relationships with their daughters is a recurrent theme as in Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet). Despite Othello’s standing as a heroic, loyal, honest man, the “valiant Moor” must have used black “magic” to lure and spoil his daughter. Othello, defending himself, admits that he is not clever with language—he is a soldier, not a statesman. Is Shakespeare indicating Othello’s limited intellect”? Othello tells how he told his war stories to Brabantio in Desdemona’s presence and how she fell for him as a result. “She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d, And I lov’d her that she did pity them” (I,3,167-8).
**Shakespeare’s language on display: “wondrous pitiful.”
Desdemona to her father: “I do perceive here a divided duty…” Like many daughters [including Shakespeare’s?], she is caught between her father and husband. Brabantio relents and gives his approval. “But words are words; I never yet did hear That the bruis’d heart was pierced through the ear…” (I,3,218-9). Desdemona wants to go with Othello to see battle (see him in action) in Cyprus. Have they consecrated (had sex) the marriage? Irony of Othello calling Iago a man of “honesty and trust,” who will watch Desdemona in Othello’s absence. The Duke of Othello: “If virtue no delighted beauty lack, your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (I,3,289-90). Ironically, Brabantio kiddingly warns Othello: “She has deceiv’d her father, may do thee.” ***This is one of those subtle foreshadowing of things to come. “My life upon her [Desdemona] faith: honest Iago.” Othello says to his new bride that he has “but an hour of love… To spend with thee; we must obey the time.” (Time for a “quickie”?) Iago tells Roderigo to get over Desdemona and goes on about how our minds must rule over our bodies/physical drives. “It is merely a lust of the blood, and a permission of the will. Come, be a man…” Iago predicts that Desdemona will lose interest in Othello (lust does not last). “When she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice…” (I,3,351-2). Iago: “I hate the Moor.” Good example of Shakespeare’s ability to be concise and simple and well as eloquent. Iago’s plot is now to put doubt in Othello’s mind of Desdemona’s fidelity and Cassio’s trustworthiness. He says that Othello has a “free and open nature” which makes him vulnerable to deceit and jealousy—but Othello lacks self-knowledge and is not “aware” of these traits. “And will as tenderly be led by the nose…As asses are.” The revenge plot is being planned (“endanger’d”).
ACT II – Cyprus. Desdemona is on Cyprus and Cassio as well—their first meeting is notable as she only wants to know about Othello. After witty banter between Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona, Iago, in an aside, reveals the beginnings of his plot to create an imagined affair between Cassio and Desdemona. Othello arrives and his love for Desdemona is obvious; as they kiss, Iago, in another aside, says, “O, you are well tun’d now, But I’ll set down the pegs [like on a guitar] that make this music, as honest as I am” (II,1,199-201). Notice how Iago himself plays with his supposed honesty. Is Iago delusional or just diabolically clever? He vehemently argues with Roderigo stating that Cassio and Desdemona are in love (or is he setting the stage for his plot and pulling in Roderigo via jealousy or is this more of Iago’s sexual obsessiveness?). He eggs Roderigo on to pick a fight with Cassio. “That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it; that she loves him, ‘tis apt [natural] and of great credit: The Moor…Is of a constraint, noble, loving nature…now, I do love her too, not out of absolute lust…For that I do suspect the lustful Moor…” (II,1,281-90). Iago’s jealousy is in full bloom as he obsesses on lust and his plot to get “even” with Othello by making him jealous (more irony): “…a jealousy so strong, that judgment cannot cure…” The revenge plot will lead Othello to believe that Iago is his friend and protector. Again, Othello says that Iago is “most honest” as Shakespeare continues to establish Othello’s blindness and naiveté (from pride or inexperience?). To Desdemona, Othello says: “The profit’s yet to come ‘twixt me and you.” Does this, again, mean that they haven’t had sex? Iago believes this to be true: “[H]e hath not yet made wanton the night with her…” Talk of drinking leads Cassio to say he is not a good drinker and Iago to note (wink, wink) that the English are expert drinkers. This is about weaknesses and manhood as defined by Iago. Iago sings some drinking songs and tries to get Cassio drunk to make him more argumentative (to fight Roderigo). A drunk Cassio fights Roderigo. This sets up Cassio to look bad in front of Othello. “You will be sham’d for ever,” says Iago as Cassio fights and wounds Montano (governor of Cyprus). Iago’s plot works as Othello is furious at Cassio, who mourns the loss of his reputation. Again, Iago says: “As I am an honest man…reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.” The irony is thick. Cassio bemoans the effects of alcohol, “an enemy” put in your mouth “to steal away [your] brains; that we should with joy, revel, pleasure and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!” (II,3,282-4)
{My father, a non-drinker, used to say that alcohol makes smart people dumb and dumb people dumber. Pretty wise for an accountant.}
Iago tells the depressed Cassio to go to Desdemona to ask for forgiveness of Othello. Iago’s manipulation is masterful, his evil in ingenious. “When devils with their blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now…” (II,3,342-4). He will exploit Desdemona’s “goodness.”
ACT III – The first scene with the clown is full of bawdy double-entendre jokes about a “tail” (penis) and flatulence.
**Why does Shakespeare provide these sidetracks, especially these low comedic ones? Is it the same reason why Dante’s depiction of Hell is so full of s_ _ _?
Desdemona tells Cassio she will get Othello to relent. The first inkling of jealousy is planted by Iago as Othello sees Cassio leaving Desdemona. “I cannot think it, that he would sneak away so guilty-like, seeing you coming” (III,3,39-41). Othello says he will deny Desdemona nothing as she pleads for forgiveness for Cassio. Typical Shakespearean language (paradoxical or oxymoronic): “Excellent wretch, perdition catch my soul, But I do love thee, and when I love thee not, Chaos is come again” (III,3,90-3). Iago continues his subterfuge as he plants seeds of doubt and jealousy about Cassio and Desdemona to Othello. Othello pushes Iago to tell him what he “knows.” Again, the repeated emphasis on honesty (Iago’s and Cassio’s, and, eventually, Desdemona’s and Emilia’s). Iago says: “Men should be that they seem, or those than be not, would they might seem none!” Othello says: “Certain, men should be what they seem.” Iago: “Why then. I think Cassio’s an honest man” (III,3,130-4). Iago’s brilliance as a schemer is on full display in this scene as he feigns not wanting to judge or snitch on Cassio to Othello. He does this so well (he is a good actor, like Hamlet) that his false humility angers and frustrates Othello into ordering him (he is his commanding officer) to tell him his “thoughts.”
***Making use of Dramatic Irony (where the audience—as in Antigone—knows something that some of the characters do not), Shakespeare has Iago warn Othello against the evils of jealousy: “O, beware jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster…” (III,3,170). Othello’s love of Desdemona demands proof of Iago’s insinuation. Iago warns: “Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio…” The seeds of doubt are planted. As “proof,” Iago says that Desdemona is capable of deceit— “She did deceive her father, marrying you…” Iago repeats that he is warning Othello “For too much loving you.” It seems as if Othello must be predisposed to jealousy and blind trust of other soldiers to be so vulnerable to Iago’s plot. Is Othello socially innocent/inexperienced? Is this because he is a soldier? A Moor? Othello: “Why did I marry?” Othello is sold by Iago’s “exceeding honesty” and trusts his judgment due to Iago’s experience of “human dealing.” Othello admits being socially unfit: “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts [social graces] of conversation…” (III,3,267-9).
**He wonders if it is his (and all great men’s) “destiny” to have unfaithful wives. (As witnessed throughout history and certainly today, Othello seems to have this backwards; that is, it is the powerful men who are usually unfaithful or overly jealous.)
The handkerchief, which will play the important role of the “ocular proof” in framing Cassio, is dropped when Othello and Desdemona are together, and Emilia picks it up; it was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona and was a mystical present from his mother. Emilia says that Iago has “a hundred times” asked her to steal it. Now, she innocently gives it to Iago (like a good wife), who will plant it at Cassio’s house. Iago knows his plot is working: “The Moor already changes with my poison.” Othello cannot sleep (a common Shakespearean theme as in Macbeth) since Iago’s “poison” is in his head. Othello: “I swear, ‘tis better to be much abus’d Than but to know’t a little” (III,3,342-3). Othello threatens Iago: “Be sure of it, give me ocular proof” or he’ll punish Iago severely. Othello cannot stand the doubt, the suspicion is worse than knowing the truth. Is it?
Iago defends himself: “Are you a man, have you a soul or sense?…That livest to make thine honesty a vice!” Iago is a clever creator and actor. ***“To be direct and honest is not safe…” The irony is thick again. Iago creates a story of Cassio talking in his sleep about his love for Desdemona. Othello’s reaction is now aimed at Desdemona. “I’ll tear her all to pieces.” Othello orders Iago to kill Cassio. Iago says, “but let her [Des] live.” Othello will kill Desdemona (“the fair devil”) and makes Iago his lieutenant; Iago’s ambitions will be achieved.
Scene IV – Desdemona asks Emilia about the missing hanky and acknowledges that its absence would be enough to make Othello jealous—she “knows” her husband (who, yes, ironically, does not know himself). Othello is abrupt and demands to see the handkerchief. Desdemona is stunned and very aware of the change in the Moor.
***Emilia (a voice of reason and honesty, says that jealousy is irrational and needs no real cause: “…’tis a monster Begot upon itself, born on itself” (III,4,159-60). Cassio, not knowingly, gives his whore, Bianca, Desdemona’s hanky.
ACT IV – Iago is evil–: work on, my medicine, work; thus credulous fools are caught, And many worthy and chaste dames” (IV,1,44-6).
Othello eavesdrops (Shakespeare can’t get enough of this method as in Hamlet) on Cassio and Iago (part of Iago’s plot) and misunderstands Cassio’s crudeness about Bianca to be about Desdemona. Again, reality/illusion and miscommunication as the hanky continues to play an essential role of the deception. [Think of the role that erroneous material—fake news and conspiracy theories– being spread on all forms of media plays in our world. Consider the impact it has had on politics. What about the impact it has had during the Covid-19 pandemic?] Othello is hysterical with rage: “…my heart is turn’d to stone…” Iago talks Othello into strangling Desdemona in the bed “she hath contaminated.” Even when Iago is near the end of his plot, the sexual nature of his rage is overt. Othello seems to like the “poetic justice” (more irony) of this.
When Lodovicio asks how Cassio is, Iago, ever the clever one with words and irony, says: “Lives, sir.” (But not for long…HaHaHa…….)
Othello calls Desdemona “devil” and then he hits her. Emilia defends Desdemona telling Othello that she is faithful and honest, but Othello doesn’t trust any woman now—they’re all whores and false.
***[Are we back to Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden? Are we back to Creon’s misogynistic reaction to Antigone’s disobedience?] Othello confronts Desdemona as Iago continues his farce. Desdemona, always good, says: “If any such there be, heaven pardon him!” (IV,2, 137)
***Yet another example of Shakespeare’s ironic method is when Desdemona appeals to Iago for help. Emilia says men are to blame for women’s ills (unfaithfulness).
ACT V – Roderigo, attempting to kill Cassio, is stabbed and Iago stabs Cassio. Iago, ever the actor and improviser, kills Roderigo to cover his deceit. Othello enters his bedchamber to find Desdemona asleep. He is set on killing her, “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men” (V,2,6). Othello asks: “Have you pray’d tonight, Desdemona?” He tells her to pray to cleanse her soul before he kills her. She begs for mercy. “That death’s unnatural, that kills for loving…” Othello rejects her entreaties. He strangles her just as Emilia comes to tell the truth. Ironic timing is a hallmark of all good drama (and comedy). Desdemona hangs on for a few more lines. “A guiltless death I die” (V,2,123). When Emilia asks who kills her, she replies: “Nobody, I myself, farewell: Command me to my kind lord, O, farewell! [she dies]” (V,2,125-6)
Why does she try to protect Othello? Is she that good? Like Hamlet, she wants the truth to be her legacy. Emilia realizes that Iago has plotted all, and she tells Othello that he has been duped, not by his wife, but by her husband. Iago defends himself with more verbal dexterity: “I told him what I thought and told no more Than what he found himself was apt and true.” Othello feels faint at the idea that he was duped by Iago into killing his beloved wife. Emilia lets the truth out. She defies Iago (she and Desdemona and Cassio are the only truly brave ones) and he lunges at her to stab her. Emilia: “O thou dull Moor…what should such a fool [Othello] Do with so good a woman?” Othello goes to attack Iago, Iago stabs Emilia. Iago flees. Othello, remorseful, says, “But why should honour [his] outlive honesty [Desdemona]?” (V,2,246) Emilia’s dying words are of Desdemona’s chastity and love for Othello, who is bereft: “Who can control his fate?” What is Shakespeare’s view of this question?
Othello stabs Iago, who is captured by Lodovicio. “I am not sorry neither, I’d have thee [Iago] live, for in my sense ‘tis happiness to die” (V,2,290-1). (Sounds a little like Antigone.) The tragedy is like Creon’s or Macbeth’s: ***A once good man has become evil due to his own character flaws and the demonic manipulation of others. Othello begs Cassio’s pardon. Iago says he will be silent, but Gratiano promises torture: “Torments will open your lips.” Othello calls himself a fool. Cassio replaces Othello (irony upon irony). Othello’s last wishes, tell “of that lov’d not wisely, but too well: Of one not easily jealous [he still does not know himself], but being wrought, Perplex’d in the extreme; of one whose hand…threw a pearl away…” (V,2,345-8). He then kills himself to conclude the tragedy.

Sample Solution

Sample solution

Dante Alighieri played a critical role in the literature world through his poem Divine Comedy that was written in the 14th century. The poem contains Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The Inferno is a description of the nine circles of torment that are found on the earth. It depicts the realms of the people that have gone against the spiritual values and who, instead, have chosen bestial appetite, violence, or fraud and malice. The nine circles of hell are limbo, lust, gluttony, greed and wrath. Others are heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. The purpose of this paper is to examine the Dante’s Inferno in the perspective of its portrayal of God’s image and the justification of hell. 

In this epic poem, God is portrayed as a super being guilty of multiple weaknesses including being egotistic, unjust, and hypocritical. Dante, in this poem, depicts God as being more human than divine by challenging God’s omnipotence. Additionally, the manner in which Dante describes Hell is in full contradiction to the morals of God as written in the Bible. When god arranges Hell to flatter Himself, He commits egotism, a sin that is common among human beings (Cheney, 2016). The weakness is depicted in Limbo and on the Gate of Hell where, for instance, God sends those who do not worship Him to Hell. This implies that failure to worship Him is a sin.

God is also depicted as lacking justice in His actions thus removing the godly image. The injustice is portrayed by the manner in which the sodomites and opportunists are treated. The opportunists are subjected to banner chasing in their lives after death followed by being stung by insects and maggots. They are known to having done neither good nor bad during their lifetimes and, therefore, justice could have demanded that they be granted a neutral punishment having lived a neutral life. The sodomites are also punished unfairly by God when Brunetto Lattini is condemned to hell despite being a good leader (Babor, T. F., McGovern, T., & Robaina, K. (2017). While he commited sodomy, God chooses to ignore all the other good deeds that Brunetto did.

Finally, God is also portrayed as being hypocritical in His actions, a sin that further diminishes His godliness and makes Him more human. A case in point is when God condemns the sin of egotism and goes ahead to commit it repeatedly. Proverbs 29:23 states that “arrogance will bring your downfall, but if you are humble, you will be respected.” When Slattery condemns Dante’s human state as being weak, doubtful, and limited, he is proving God’s hypocrisy because He is also human (Verdicchio, 2015). The actions of God in Hell as portrayed by Dante are inconsistent with the Biblical literature. Both Dante and God are prone to making mistakes, something common among human beings thus making God more human.

To wrap it up, Dante portrays God is more human since He commits the same sins that humans commit: egotism, hypocrisy, and injustice. Hell is justified as being a destination for victims of the mistakes committed by God. The Hell is presented as being a totally different place as compared to what is written about it in the Bible. As a result, reading through the text gives an image of God who is prone to the very mistakes common to humans thus ripping Him off His lofty status of divine and, instead, making Him a mere human. Whether or not Dante did it intentionally is subject to debate but one thing is clear in the poem: the misconstrued notion of God is revealed to future generations.

 

References

Babor, T. F., McGovern, T., & Robaina, K. (2017). Dante’s inferno: Seven deadly sins in scientific publishing and how to avoid them. Addiction Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, 267.

Cheney, L. D. G. (2016). Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno: A Comparative Study of Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Stradano, and Federico Zuccaro. Cultural and Religious Studies4(8), 487.

Verdicchio, M. (2015). Irony and Desire in Dante’s” Inferno” 27. Italica, 285-297.