Iago plants the seed of doubt in Othello's mind.
The strange thing, however, is that he does not have to say much before Othello is hopelessly convinced
of Desdemona's unfaithfulness. Indeed, with absolutely no evidence, Iago has Othello eating out of his
WHY IS OTHELLO SO EASILY CONVINCED?
Othello himself provides THREE reasons why Desdemona might have proved to be unfaithful to him, and
these reasons point to psychological weaknesses within his own character:
Othello was a Moor and therefore dark of skin although by no means black. Indeed, Shakespeare
obviously confused the appearances of Moors and Black Africans, indicating that his audience too was
ignorant of the difference.
Moors would have had a difficult time in the Elizabethan mind-set and were treated with suspicion. They
were always regarded as "the other".
They were, in fact, culturally different from the other Europeans because they came from a Moslem
background and therefore had Moslem traditions, even though they had converted to Christianity.
Indeed, Moors tended to keep to themselves, maintaining their own identity and customs. There was even
suspicion that their conversion from Islam many centuries earlier had been one of convenience (to prevent
being killed) but that they remained at heart Moslem.
Second, blackness in itself was suspicious. Western society right up until the 18th century was imbued
with the idea that white was pure while black was the colour of evil.
Brides wore white. The devil was black. The black sheep of the family was the outcast. Black people
were the biblical "sons of Ham" and therefore outcasts and slaves.
A Black person was therefore not equal to a White person in Western society.
The entire basis for the plot of this play was that Othello lacked sophistication. He was not naturally
imbued with the traditions and manners of Venice but relied on others to guide him into how to act.
Once he had been removed to Cyprus, therefore, he was out of his depth. He could handle warfare and
command soldiers. Once the war with the Turks was over, however, he was expected to act as Governor
to the island but he knew not how.
He had promoted Michael Cassio to the rank of lieutenant because he could rely on the man in battle.
On the other hand, he naturally trusted Iago in matters of etiquette. The moment he landed on Cyprus,
therefore, he turned to Iago for support, and accepted his advice without question.
It is clear that Othello is advanced in years. He said so himself but, in any case, young people did not get
to command armies.
His wife, however, is young and he is afraid that her eye will be captured by the advances of any
handsome and refined young man.
In this, of course, he does not understand women but judges them as if they were men. This is
comprehensible given that Othello exists in a world of soldiers.
Men mostly look to women who are younger than themselves. It is not often that one will find men
marrying a woman who is significantly older than they.
Othello somehow believes this of Desdemona. He expects her head to be turned by men of youth,
especially by a man who enacts all the customs of Venetian society, a man such as Michael Cassio.
Cassio is not only young but he reveals all the Venetian manners and etiquette, such as his repeatedly
kissing his fingers.
In conclusion, Othello feels insecure in his marriage and will readily believe any suggestion that
Desdemona could be unfaithful. He therefore does not need much proof -- just enough to cement the
suspicions which he already harbours.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"Good madam, do: I warrant it grieves my husband,
As if the case were his."
- What is meant by DRAMATIC IRONY? (2)
- In what way are Emilia's words to Desdemona an example of DRAMATIC IRONY? (4)
"O, that's an honest fellow. Do not doubt, Cassio,
But I will have my lord and you again
As friendly as you were."
- Explain why Desdemona's words are also a wonderful example of DRAMATIC
Whatever shall become of Michael Cassio,
He's never any thing but your true servant."
- Is Cassio telling the truth when he says, "He's never any thing but your true servant"? Be able
to explain your answer. (4)
"You do love my lord:
You have known him long; and be you well assured
He shall in strangeness stand no further off
Than in a polite distance."
- What is the meaning of "a polite distance"? (2)
- Rewrite Desdemona's words in such a way as to make clear their meaning. (4)
"Ay, but, lady,
That policy may either last so long,
Or feed upon such nice and waterish diet,
Or breed itself so out of circumstance,
That, I being absent and my place supplied,
My general will forget my love and service."
- What, in a nutshell, is Cassio asking Desdemona to do? (4)
- What does Cassio mean when he says, "That, I being absent and my place supplied, | My general
will forget my love and service"? (4)
I'll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;
His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;
I'll intermingle every thing he does
With Cassio's suit."
- What is Desdemona promising to do? Why is this a bad plan? (4)
- What does Desdemona literally mean when she says that she will make Othello's "board a