Essay On Critical Commentary – Othello

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Othello, Shakespeare, Passage, Race, Nature, Betrayal, Ignorance, Truth

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/12/27

One of the most critical and climactic passages in William Shakespeare’s Othello is the moment in Act 3, Scene 3 (lines 332-98) in which Iago has (falsely) revealed to Othello Desdemona’s affair with Cassio. Here, Othello rages with conflict regarding this betrayal and asks for proof from the manipulative Iago, who pleads ignorance and feigns support for the Moor while secretly plotting against him. In this passage, Othello’s own conflicted nature about his race comes to light, and the successful manipulation of outside forces begins to seal his fate.
Othello’s use of language within the scene is a stark indicator of his righteous fury, as well as his desperate desire to deny what he now believes is true. Othello’s primary struggle within the scene is not whether or not Desdemona is faithful – he is sufficiently convinced she is not – but that he would have rather lived in ignorance of what was happening: “I saw ‘t not, thought it not, it harmed not me” (III.iii. 341). He even confesses he would rather Desdemona had slept with his entire camp, as he would be less likely to find out (348). Here, the audience feels Othello’s tremendous frustration, and his admission that he would rather live in ignorance than be convinced of an unpleasant truth.
Of particular importance in this work is not just Othello’s reaction, but Iago’s positioning of himself as a loyal assistant to him, ultimately belying his true motives to unseat Othello from his position. At the beginning of the passage, Iago gloats to the audience that Othello’s life is now forever changed how that he has been led to believe Desdemona has betrayed him: “Not poppy nor mandragora, / Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, / Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep / Which thou owedst yesterday” (III.iii.332-335). It is here that Iago’s true motives are demonstrated, which is a tremendous contrast to the way he behaves around Othello. Much of his dialogue consists of asking innocent questions to stir Othello to greater rage and feign innocence in the deed, revealing his manipulative nature. When Othello challenges him, Iago passive-aggressively pleas to never tell ‘the truth’ again: “Take note, O world, to be direct and honest is not safe!” (III.iii. 379-380). This move works as reverse psychology to Othello, his earnest plea to never tell the truth again bring him closer to Othello’s confidence. Contrasting Iago’s concrete admission of guilt with his own act in front of Othello establishes him as the true villain of the scene – a trickster dedicated to lying and cheating in order to destroy Othello’s confidence while still seeming a friend.
The emphasis on Othello’s passion within this scene plays into stereotypes of the Moor as savage, which is revealed here to be a character trait that still lies within the normally stoic and reserved Othello. His jealous desire to have Iago gather definitive proof of Desdemona’s betrayal is pointed out by Iago as being particularly macabre, asking if he would like to “grossly gape on” Desdemona, and to “behold her topped” – which, of course, is another twist of the knife on Iago’s part to rile Othello’s emotions further (III.iii.396-397). Othello, in this passage, tragically falls victim to Iago’s assertion that Othello is a savage who cannot control his emotions; his cry of “Death and damnation! O!” is a definitive curse to the heavens in response to his anger and despair (III.iii.398).
Othello’s distress as the revelation of Desdemona’s betrayal carries with it implications about his race and how he relates to it within this scene. Othello’s presence as a Moor in the Venetian army carries with it a tremendous amount of controversy in the play, but he has successfully earned his title of general through his prowess and intelligence. Iago’s attempts to unseat him lie in the disapproval of his race due to stereotypes of their savagery, something which Othello reveals to think of himself. In describing Desdemona’s disgrace, Othello notes that “her now begrimed and black As mine own face” (III.iii. 388-390). With this, Othello demonstrates a remarkable sense of self-pity about himself, as though his attempts to assimilate into the Venetian army and fit in meant eliminating his own blackness. By associating her misdeeds with his skin color, Othello turns his hatred and anguish upon himself as well, shaming himself for his race as a kind of failing.
This passage in Act 3, Scene 3 of Othello brings many of the major themes and plot developments of the work to a boiling point. Within the greater context of the play, Othello’s reaction to the news that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair solidifies the play’s tragic nature, as well as Iago’s successful work as a manipulative, two-faced villain. This particular passage is a turning point for the characters and the play itself, as events inevitably barrel toward their tragic conclusion, and Othello struggles against his own barbarism which he had previously tried so hard to suppress.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Othello.

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Essay On Critical Commentary – Othello. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 27, 2020. Accessed December 01, 2022.

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