Male Motivation in Othello, the Play
The behavior and characteristics of the male protagonists carries more significance to the details, plot and language of the play than any other characters, male or female. It is the issues of masculinity and the connotations that come with masculinity that form the basis of this play. Without Shakespeare’s male characters portraying some kind of behavior that is a result of strong and false masculinity. For example it could be said that Iago’s hatred of Othello lies in the truth that Othello is a stronger, younger and more powerful man than he is.
Also I will explain why the actions of Othello, Iago and Brabantio are all, to some extent controlled or influenced by their masculinity and their male tendencies. Of course these assertions are not unfounded. Shakespeare projects these issues quite clearly through language and representative behavior meaning for example when Othello suffers a seizure represents his physical and physiological inability to cope with the so called `proof` provided by Iago that Desdemona is unfaithful to him.
The relatively established issues about the differences in the male and female actions are of course somewhat dictated by the distinct lack of communication between the two male and female protagonists. This could be seen as a result of an inability in Othello to communicate with Desdemona properly or Iago’s will to miscommunicate to every other character and can only reveal his true thoughts to the intimate audience One key point is the honour of Othello and Iago which inevitably result in the downfall of both of them. In Iago it is his quest for revenge as he still believes that Othello slept with his wife Emilia.
He is also aware of the destructive power of jealousy however he does not accept himself as a victim of the “green eyed monster”. He only dwells on bringing down Othello and any others that happen to be useful to Iago. Further more he knows precisely how to manipulate Othello’s honour as it his honour that is befouled by Desdemona’s possible affair . For example in Scene 3 Act 3 Iago referring to Desdemona becoming repelled by Othello’s looks says “My lord, I would I might entreat your honour to scan this thing no farther.
Which apart from playing on Othello’s insecurities precisely, also brings the issue of Othello’s honour out into their intimate relationship. By advising Othello not to dwell over the issue several times in this scene he appears to be respecting and attempting to protect Othello’s honour is provoking Othello to break down. It is Othello’s inability to cope with the situation rationally that results in his seizure and mental break down but whether Iago knows this is very open to interpretation but it is clear that Iago revels in it saying “… general? Have you not hurt your head? ” suggesting that Othello is becoming a beast.
The insecurities of Othello that Iago provocates “his unbookish jealousy” forces the general to protect his honour by acting violently towards Desdemona, who in his mind causing Othello to question his own flaws. It is therefore his pride and dignity that renders him defenseless against the “green eyed monster” that is jealousy. What further indicates that Othello cared more for his reputation then for Desdemona is in Act 3 Scene 2 where he says that “if I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings, I’d whistle her off, and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.
This further objectifies here suggesting that she could be disposed of as easily as a bird keeper could set a bird free as a necessary sacrifice. This tells the audience that if Othello were to find Desdemona “haggard” he would be unable to control and separate the brutality that he possesses on the battle field from the affection and transparency that he must employ when in the domestic scene. This inability progresses in Othello as it is his militaristic background that results in him confusing the two ways of life.
For example he says “I had been happy if the general camp, pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body so I had nothing known nothing”. This way of thinking is what results in the violent cruel death of Desdemona which Othello sees as a fitting corporal punishment that she be killed. An aspect that affects every other of the play is its setting. The majority of the play is set in a male dominated military environment base on pride, dignity, trust and violence. It is important to remember that in such a male environment as the confined barracks of Cyprus, Iago cannot possibly escape from the goading reminders that feed his jealousy.
He is in the presence of Othello the great general who he loathes for passing Iago up for promotion and has slept with his wife. In such a soldiers life protecting ones honour to protect ones self-respect is Iago’s only motive. This is what results in the revenge itself. The difference between Othello and Iago is the he finds subtle outlets to confess his rage to Othello which provides him all the more relief and satisfaction as Othello does not realize what Iago is indicating. For example Iago proclaims that his he considers his sole worthless suggesting that he is among other things not to be trusted refers to trust as “foolish honesty”.
He, Iago also claims that ” Good name in man and Woman… who steals my purse, steals trash: tis something, nothing” in the same scene (Scene 3 Act 3) proving to the audience, not Othello that he is to be among other things not trusted. However in such a militaristic male environment it is understandable that Othello would dismiss this as nothing more than bravado and an extension of Iago advice telling Othello not to let these thoughts get the best of him until Iago implants the idea of Cassio, his officer is stealing Desdemona by playing on Othello sense of military honour when he complements Iago saying “with mine officer! .
This is all the more relevant in such a claustrophobic atmosphere that is the barracks. And with so many men and a potential audience that are his superiors his thoughts become overwhelmed with defending his status in manhood and masculinity by proclaiming to Iago “I will chop her into messes. Cuckold me! “. As a powerful general his respect is his most valuable asset is the respect of his men and in such a culture he fears becoming the object of ridicule so must seek justice and revenge.
In his mind this is obligatory and eventually comes to terms with his decided fait. Iago’s desire for revenge is, undoubtedly linked to his frustration at what he thinks is an injustice to the military system that he, Othello’s faithful has been passed over for promotion and serves under a moor and Cassio an attractive wealthy popular noble who Iago hates for those reasons. This frustration is given away by Iago in a rather involuntarily however this statement is dubious.
What matters is that this is his rational justification for what he does and can be seen in some of the lines that Shakespeare gave to Iago. He is seen to be hinting his anger to Othello when he says “tis the curse of service; preferment goes by letter and affection, not by old gradation”. This sense of incredulous injustice is just one emotive factor that would only be seen in male servitude as for women where generally and always expected to live in a certain degree of servitude to a man eventually.
What further degrades Iago is Othello’s blackness and literal size compared to Iago. This undoubtedly provokes feelings of inferiority and sexual jealousy against the moor for he always suspects Othello of stealing his wife, further more Iago lacks to dwell on any of Othello’s good qualities for any period of time as he knows how to control his jealousy well enough to be calm and calculated to live out his jealous wishes.
The language Shakespeare uses with Iago suggests that Iago does not see Othello as neither a man nor even a moor but a beast and is gleeful when his thoughts are confirmed by Othello himself when he falls into an epileptic fit Iago sees this as a break out of “savage madness”. He then goes on in act 4 scene 1 asks Othello whether he should announce him as “… all in the spleen and nothing of a man” subtly implying that he is a savage who relies on his brutish bestial instinct and uncontrollable compulsive aggression.
Of course this is exactly what Iago dislike over him. The irony is of course is that in performing these subversive malicious acts against the moor he himself is becoming what he sees in Othello and is overtaken by the “green eyed monster”. The distinguishing factor between the male and female is that the environment of the play is an extremely male one where honour and self indulgent respect is prevalent. These would not traits thought to be possessed by woman, especially in to a Jacobean audience of the time.
Woman would have nothing to feel protective and possessive over, especially of something like honour or male masculinity. Emilia and Desdemona ironically have one main objective as the Jacobean audience would have seen it and that is foe the female characters to please their husbands however unknowingly they become the whoa in Othello’s and Iago’s lives. It simply is woman and every connotation that can come with the characters in this Shakespearian tragedy acts as the object around which all of Iago’s, Othello’s and even Cassio’s willing want, anger and ambition are for.