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Shakespeare’s Othello is concerned with the ways in which power

is attained, wielded and eroded.


Discuss with lose reference to the play.

Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ is an ancient drama that explores the different forms of power and
how such power can be attained and wielded through causing jealousy, and subsequently
eroded. Throughout the play, the audience is witness to the progression of Iago’s
manipulation of Othello through his use of jealousy. The storyline of Othello’s demise from a
powerful soldier to a wife killing Moor is a result of Iago earning and wielding power over
Othello to force him into an odour of suspicion. Such power of Iago’s is eroded once a
contradicting power of information is introduced after the climax of the play.

Iago uses his knowledge that Othello trusts him against Othello to generate a fake reality for
him where his wife is cheating on him with Cassio in order to make Othello jealous. Iago is
first introduced by Othello (II.3.7), “Iago is most honest.” The high modality and dramatic
irony of this line accentuates Othello’s excessive pride being the subject to the fooling of
Iago. Iago initiates his fantasy of jealousy as he manipulates Othello into becoming
suspicious of the honesty of Cassio. Iago questions Othello’s confidence of Cassio’s
character early in Act 3, Scene 3, “Honest, my lord?” Through questioning Othello’s
confidence in his friend’s honesty, Iago earns power over him as he becomes curious to what
he is insinuating. Iago uses this curiosity to further seduce Othello into his fantasy of sexual
jealousy by declaring he has ocular proof, “I am sure it was your wife’s – did I today / See
Cassio wipe his beard with.” Through speaking in verse, it is highlighted that Iago is
gradually earning power over Othello by seducing him into believing his tort fantasy. Iago’s
attainment of power over Othello is because of his ability to use the power of ocular proof
and the power of doubting to lure him into believing his concocted fantasy.

After earning power over Othello, Iago wields it in order to construct a dramatic reality in
which he witnesses the demise of the powerful soldierly figure of Othello. As Othello is a
soldier, most of his dealings are with men, meaning he lacks the ability to understand love.
Iago uses this knowledge to convince Othello that the emotion he feels is jealousy in, “O
beware, my lord, of jealousy: / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it
feeds on.” Through anthropomorphising jealousy to be a, “green-eyed monster,” Iago causes
Othello further turmoil as represented through the colour green being known as a bilious hue.
In Act 3 scene 4, Othello repeats the line, “The Handkerchief,” in verse so as to show his
desperation after the requesting Desdemona to, “Fetch me the handkerchief. My mind
misgives.” The formality of these lines show that Othello is still under the control of Iago as
he states that his, “mind misgives.” Through repeating the request for the handkerchief,
Othello is showing his desire to be free of suspicion by proving Iago’s story to be dishonest.
Iago continues to hold his power over Othello in this scene as Desdemona is unable to
provide Othello with the reassurance he seeks. Instead, Othello becomes further encased with
speculative jealousy as Desdemona is more focused on Cassio, contradicting Othello’s
previous discussion with Iago, which questioned Cassio’s honesty. Desdemona states,
“You’ll never meet a more sufficient man,” making worse Othello’s suspicion of
Desdemona’s relationship with Cassio. Such extensive suspicions and speculations are what
prevented Othello from escaping Iago’s manipulative power over him.

After attaining and wielding power over Othello, Iago become victim to the erosion of his
power by his own wife. Throughout the play, Iago’s only power was that which he gained off
lies. Considering this, the erosion of such power would be subjective to Emilia’s power of
knowledge of such lies. Emilia initially undermines Iago’s power over Othello through the
simile, “Thou art rash as fire to say / That she was false.” This line comes as she learns of
Othello’s suspicions of Desdemona’s wrongdoings, using her power of knowledge to
extinguish these thoughts by juxtaposing him after, “She was as false as water.” Emilia
exposes Othello for being fooled by Iago, forcing Othello to realise how he had been fooled,
eroding any power which Iago previously held over him. Emilia’s feelings towards Iago are
enforced through the tricolon, “villainy, villainy, villainy,” as she confronts him for lying.
Emilia remains in verse as she delivers the line, “That handkerchief thou speak’st of / I found
by fortune and did give my husband,” to reveal to other characters the dramatic irony that
Desdemona did not give Cassio the handkerchief. Iago then follows this by calling Emilia,
“Villainous whore.” The symbol of Emilia as a whore is concurrent with the Madonna –
Whore complex, where irony lies in how a whore’s knowledge and information has resulted
in the eroding and demise of the most powerful character throughout the play, Iago.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ is a play which is concerned the attainment, wielding


and erosion of the play’s manipulative character, Iago. He gains his power through
convincing Othello to be suspicious of his wife’s faith to him and wields power over him by
further providing evidence for worry through ocular proof. Iago’s power is subject to erosion
by his wife’s power of knowledge of his lies. Throughout the play, dramatic irony was
effective in engaging the audience into experiencing it as a story concerned with how
jealousy can be a danger to all, no matter the status.