Othello’s Armor

Othello’s Armor: An Analysis of the Cause of His Demise in Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor Of Venice I. Introduction Thesis: Othello’s relationship with Desdemona provides him with a security and serenity which now serves as the foundation upon which his strength is built, and which, when questioned, allows Iago the means to destroy him by undermining this foundation. II. The Establishment of Desdemona as Integral to Othello A. Othello’s Faith in Desdemona B. Desdemona’s Role in Othello’s Life III. The Efficacy of Iago’s Deception A. Doubts about Desdemona’s Honesty B. Iago’s Masterful Manipulations and the Importance of His Choice of Means for Othello’s Demise IV. Explanation for Perceived Differences in Love A. An Examination of Desdemona’s Attitude B. An Explanation for the Difference in Othello’s Attitude V. Conclusion A. Passion and Trust B. Iago’s Manipulation of the Above Othello’s Armor: An Analysis of the Cause of His Demise in Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor Of Venice Given the opportunity, a competent soldier always enters a battle prepared. Part of this preparation includes armor, both mental and physical. Not only must a soldier have strong metal to protect himself from the enemy’s blows, he must also have the mettle to defend against more subtle onslaughts. These subtle onslaughts may include deception, devious trickery, and even conspiracy. Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor of Venice depicts the fall of a valiant and most capable soldier, who has proven to those who know him his strength and nobility both on and away from the field of battle. Of course, the villain Iago facilitates this fall through his deceptions and masterful manipulations, but one aspect of Iago’s insidious assault on Othello seems more cunning than the rest: his choice of Desdemona as the means by which he engineers Othello’s demise. Just as the strongest fortress will fall if its foundation crumbles, so too does Othello when the foundation of his very being is attacked and corrupted by Iago’s scheming. Othello succumbs to Iago’s plot because Iago attacks beneath his armor, or rather, at the very essence of his armor—his new bride, Desdemona. Othello is susceptible to Iago because he is not protected against this attack. He is not prepared to defend himself from an enemy that operates from within, dismantling his defenses at their source. Desdemona comprises the core of his strength and serenity, and when her loyalty is questioned, threatening Othello with betrayal, he has no firm ground to stand upon to repel the attack. From its outset, the play offers numerous insights into Othello’s opinions of and feelings toward Desdemona. When Brabantio questions the validity, and even the very existence of their marriage, Othello’s response reveals his devotion to his new wife: I do beseech you, Send for the lady to the Sagittary And let her speak of me before her father. If you do find me foul in her report, The trust, the office I do hold of you Not only take away, but let your sentence Even fall upon my life. (I. iii., ll. 114-119) Othello’s confidence in the strength of Desdemona’s loyalty to him, a loyalty which he believes stems from their mutual love, prompts him to offer not only his position of General, but also his very life as compensation if she testifies that he has beguiled her into marriage. Clearly, the boldness of this offer springs from the well of his faith in her, but it seems that Othello finds more than merely a devoted lover in Desdemona. He finds solace, comfort, and solidity in her presence: O my soul’s joy! If after every tempest come such calms, May the winds blow till they have wakened death. (II. i., ll. 182-184) These lines describe Othello’s overwhelming joy over his new bride’s safe arrive at Cyprus. The tempest and the calm he speaks of reflect the precarious journey to Cyprus and her safe arrival, but the sense of the words seems to convey a deeper meaning. Othello finds true contentment in Desdemona. She truly comprises his “other half,” as the spousal cliché states. She provides serenity in the life a soldier who has known war since the age of seven. Unfortunately, this serenity and this union are what Iago seeks to undo. In two of the most portentous lines in the play, Brabantio cautions Othello as to the strength of his new bride’s loyalty: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: / She has deceived her father, and may thee” (I. iii., ll. 287-288). Unfortunately for the Moor, Brabantio utters these lines in the presence of Iago. Expert in his understanding of human nature and behavior, it seems that Iago seizes upon these lines and devises a strategy to unseat Othello from both his post and his happiness. In the third scene of the third act, Iago continues a deception already in progress. As he labors to convince Othello of Desdemona’s propensity for deception, Iago reminds the Moor of her previous trespasses: “She did deceive her father, marrying you” (III. iii., l. 206). This argument moves Othello, and he agrees to watch as Iago consults with Cassio: a mistake which aids in entrenching Othello’s certainty of his wife’s guilt. Thus, Iago holds true to his promise that he will “pour pestilence into his [Othello’s] ear” (II. iii., l. 353). As the pestilence begins to course through Othello, it weakens him by weakening his trust in Desdemona, a part of himself. Despite Iago’s artful deceptions and manipulations, there remains the problem of Othello’s seemingly blind acceptance of hearsay as evidence for betrayal. Why would a man renowned for his valiant and noble character judge another as quickly as he does, on such seemingly unstable grounds? When first discussing the possibility of cuckoldry, Othello asks Iago for proof before he doubts his wife and his lieutenant: No, Iago; I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; And on the proof there is no more but this: Away at once with love or jealousy! (III. iii., ll. 190-192) He never receives any concrete proof, nor does he even confront either Desdemona or Cassio until he is already convinced of their guilt. In fact, he does not confront his lieutenant with an accusation at all. Othello focuses his jealousy and rage primarily on Desdemona. This provides an important clue to understanding Iago’s efficacy, and Othello’s acceptance. Iago strikes at Othello’s core, and threatens him with the betrayal of one who Othello feels is integral to his being. Essentially, Iago makes infirm the very ground on which Othello would conventionally confront a enemy. He forces Othello into position where he has no armor to protect himself, and no foundation to support himself. Once the seed of doubt begins to sprout within him, Othello can no longer trust his Desdemona, creating a void. Instead of standing alone, Othello chooses to deepen his trust in Iago, a seemingly natural response which eventually leads to his downfall. Iago maneuvers himself into a position where he appears to serve as the only remaining bastion of truth and loyalty. An examination of the differences in the attitudes of the newlyweds toward each other further illuminates the isolation of Othello’s position. After being struck by Othello and accused of adultery, Desdemona remains loyal to her husband. Even after Othello accuses her of attempting to deceive him, she maintains her devotion to him, as she confesses to Emilia in private: My love doth so approve him That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns— Prithee unpin me—have grace and favor. (IV. ii., 20-22) While it may seem that her love for Othello is stronger than his for her, it is not necessarily so. Desdemona is not threatened with the betrayal of her beloved husband. It seems that she perceives Othello’s anger and jealousy to be the result of misunderstanding, and that his actions amount merely to stubbornness, checks, and frowns, even though he has already threatened and then struck her. Again, it appears that Iago has masterfully selected as his target the new and frail love of two newlyweds to prey upon. The frailty does not reflect upon the depth of their feelings for each other (on the contrary, the depth of these feelings is what drives their relationship to such peril), but rather, it results from their lack of time together. Strong emotions can arise relatively quickly, but the establishment of trust requires much more time. The former can dwell in the heart without the latter, however, and where it does, the seeds of disaster lay. Iago’s poison works upon its victim in a subtle fashion. It defeats Othello’s defenses by attacking them from within. By attacking in such a manner, the pestilence corrupts the mettle of the man, and without the man inside to support it, the armor collapses upon itself. By directing his assault against Desdemona, or rather by manipulating Othello into an assault against Desdemona, Iago causes Othello to doubt, then destroy her, thereby destroying himself.