Critical essays can be tricky, so I have provided an example of how to take a common theme such as jealousy in Othello and build a structured analysis around it. For your reference, this essay also includes a counter argument that is successfully refuted in the fifth paragraph.
FOR STUDENTS: Professors and teachers search for depth and insight, meaning your ability to notice little details and prove their significance with regard to a thematic idea. This essay is a great example of how to do that.
The Green-Eyed Monster
Written more than 400 years ago, William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the sinister side of human nature. In a play filled with revenge, deceit, duplicity, and doubt, Othello provides profound insight on a dangerous characteristic of the human condition; jealousy. Specifically, how jealousy impacts an individual. The impacts are seen through Othello’s speech, Iago and Desdemona’s observations, as well as Roderigo’s behavior. It becomes apparent that an individual’s ability to think rationally is distorted by jealousy.
Shakespeare mirrors Othello’s mind and ability to think clearly by his language. At the beginning of the play, Othello is very logical and in turn, is presented as an eloquent speaker. A memorable scene that shows Othello’s logic is during 1.3, when Othello defends himself against Brabantio’s accusations and explains how Desdemona fell in love with him. Othello clearly articulates a persuasive argument by chronologically explaining what has happened. While doing so, he also provides proof, such as recounting some of the stories he told Desdemona (1.3). It is logical for Othello to mention moments where Brabantio was present, as Brabantio cannot accuse Othello of lying. Othello’s rationale and eloquence even win over the Duke, who reassures Brabantio by remarking, “I think this tale would win over my daughter too.”(1.3.170). It is evident that Othello has not yet begun to doubt Desdemona’s fidelity, as after Brabantio warns Othello about Desdemona’s honesty, Othello replies, “My life upon her faith!” (1.3.291). Alas, as the play progresses so do Iago’s provocative suggestions and Othello’s doubt. Othello’s logical thought starts to get obstructed by his jealousy and as a result, the quality and clarity of Othello’s speech begins degrading. Midway through 3, the first breakdown in Othello’s speech can be visible, as he starts to blurt random words such as, “O blood, blood, blood!”(3.3.454). As, Othello’s suspicion of Desdemona grows, his speech continues to breakdown, reflecting the breakdown in his mind. During Othello’s epileptic fit, which was brought on by Iago’s claims of seeing Cassio with Desdemona’s handkerchief, it becomes apparent that Othello no longer sees things logically, but has let jealousy override his rational thought.
The remarks that Desdemona and Iago make also provide insightful evidence regarding the impact of jealousy on an individual. Desdemona comments on Othello’s changed behavior while talking to Emilia and affirms, “My lord is not my lord” (3.4.157). Shortly thereafter, Desdemona exclaims, “Heaven keep that monster from Othello’s mind” (3.4.57). These two quotations are significant, as Desdemona is confirming that something has changed Othello’s behavior, and therefore the way he thinks. On the other hand, Iago compares jealousy to two antithetical things; poison and medicine. Both objects affect the individual under their influence, as does jealousy. For example, Iago observes, “The moor already changes with my poison” (3.3.326). This once again proves that Othello’s mind and therefore, his rationale is being distorted by jealousy, as yet another character is noticing Othello’s change in behavior. To further this, after Othello’s fit Iago exclaims, “Work on my medicine, work!”(4.1.45), as a result of witnessing more illogical behavior from Othello influenced by jealousy.
Lastly, Roderigo’s actions demonstrate that his rationale is also obstructed by jealousy. From 1, it is made clear that Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and jealous of Othello. Jealousy is why Roderigo keeps following Iago and getting cheated by him, as he cannot see things from a logical standpoint. For example, in 4.2 Roderigo angrily confronts Iago for not getting the things he was promised and even accuses Iago of using him. While that seems logical, Iago cunningly persuades Roderigo to stick to his plan by bringing Othello into the conversation. Roderigo’s jealousy immediately distorts his logic, and he caves into Iago’s will, even though it is obvious that Roderigo will never get with Desdemona.
Interestingly, Iago himself is a jealous character. It can be argued that throughout the play Iago keeps a logical mindset, despite his jealousy. Although it is valid to conclude that Iago makes strategic and therefore, rational actions during the course of the play, his rational thought is still hindered by jealousy. Firstly, Iago’s motive is irrational. He gives various reasons for why he hates Othello, which are either weak or disproved in the play later on. For example. in 1.1 Iago mentions that he hates Othello because he promoted Cassio to be lieutenant instead of Iago. This is proven false later on, as even when Cassio loses his position, Iago keeps tormenting Othello. Iago did not seriously consider the future consequences of his actions, as there is a high probability he would be caught. One of Iago’s largest mistakes is overlooking Emilia. If he had been in a state to think logically, he could have realized that his poor treatment of Emilia gave her a motive to betray him. Unfortunately, due to Iago’s jealousy towards Othello, the one aspect he overlooks destroys him.
Many stories focus on the tragic consequences of jealousy, but few address how jealousy is responsible for these consequences. Othello successfully answers the question: how does jealousy impact an individual? The answer can be found in Othello’s rhetoric, Desdemona and Iago’s observations, as well as Roderigo’s actions. In closing, no matter how rational an individual may seem, jealousy is capable of obstructing their reasonable mindset.
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Shakespeare, William.Othello.Edited by Roma Gill, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.