Othello’s Blunder: Volume of pain in Shakespeare’s Othello

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  • Post last modified:October 22, 2019

Why does Shakespeare subject Othello to pain?

That soldiers are born to die whether in war or at home is what Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ seems to be trying to prove. Nothing can be worse for a military general than being made an object of sympathy and being called a weakling and a cuckold. Shakespeare subjects Othello to a kind of pain that is the worst nightmare of a soldier. Shakespeare’s Othello takes the pain of relationships to a new height. Why does the author subject the army general to such a fate? Where does Othello trip? Othello is not a criminal. He is an honest soldier. Then what is the reason he is rewarded with pain and death. Is Shakespeare playing with his characters and making them do odd things against their desire like God does with his men or is he trying to teach us to manage relationships? Othello keeps making the same mistake and lets someone else pull the strings in his personal life.

Othello is a proud servant of the state of Venice; a responsible and loyal general. He has fought for it and proved himself suitable for promotion. However, the reward of being a courageous and loyal soldier is so painful. Has Othello become blind and cannot see Desdemona’s innocence? A general who is an expert at combat strategy cannot see a lie from a truth and believes every lie Iago tells. For some time he tries to fight and doubts what Iago has been telling him but soon doubt creeps in and he loses his hold on the situation fast. He is used to commanding obedience and loyalty and even the thought of being betrayed in his personal life and by the one he has loved most leaves him deeply unsettled. Family matters are of course sensitive but has the war turned Othello evil or is he just blind to the poor woman’s love and loyalty. War changes many things inside a man and perhaps Shakespeare too intends to prove that politics and war destroy relationships. Winning a war is not always equal to winning peace but winning a war can mean bringing more pain home. If you can kill that does not make you a man and if you can win a war that can make you a lion but not a loving and caring husband. Love tests you more than anything else but it tests you less than war, violence or politics. It is not just Desdemona’s fidelity but the strength of Othello’s love too that Iago has put to test and while he is cunning, he subjects himself to a worse pain than Othello. The feeling of jealousy is even worse than the feeling of distrust.

Othello is a husband and a little immature to understand and properly deal with his personal relationships and his family. Desdemona is a wife and not a slave who is not trying to rule her husband but only wants to see him winning in every field. She is a partner and to build a strong partnership, you must treat your partner as an equal. Othello is feeling betrayed on the one hand and on the other, he is dealing with discrimination. To balance himself becomes all the more difficult as his relationship with his wife gets all the more strained. Emilia speaks appropriately of Venetian men and their poor treatment of the women; if they do not stop treating their women as mere toys, they will lose their honour and prestige. Othello is a proud general, but fails to listen to his conscience and return the love that his wife has for him. If he could only handle his relationship with Desdemona with some more courage, confidence and honour, his life would have been better. This is the truth that Shakespeare has brought out through his drama. The kind of pain he has subjected Othello to is a lot like making someone face the fir of hell alive.

Shakespeare’s work shows that relationships are brittle like glass and you need to handle them with care or breaking a thread takes a second but to mend a broken thread takes a lifetime. Iago is a rattle snake and his bite makes Othello’s heart bleed because he kills not people but their relationships. So, Shakespeare proves again that if you do not have the courage to face your conscience, you are not a man. There is nothing worse than believing someone else than your own. Othello has created a hell for himself because his shadow abandons him when he starts believing Iago. He knew using the sword but never knew how it felt being on its receiving end and Othello uses a more cruel weapon than steel to break relationships. A rotten tongue’s bite can be worse than the sword and the venom Iago has poured into his ears has numbed his mind. Having grown blind to Desdemona’s love and loyalty, her beauty appears a punishment to him and gives rise in him an inferiority complex that turns Othello into a dimwit. This is the pain Othello feels in his heart – useless, trashed, on the brink of hell and a lot worse while Iago is celebrating behind his back.

Desdemona’s love could have healed Othello’s heart but he has become blind and can see only what Iago wants him to. Such a poor end for a highly ranked and influential general! Why ‘Othello’ takes us to the peak of pain if not to teach us a lesson that the hands that handle the sword are not as strong as the hands that nurture relationships? The love in Othello’s life dies the moment the respect for his woman dies in his heart. Desdemona has been trying her best to make her family a garden of bliss but she cannot change the social norms and nor Othello’s perspective. Othello is not very different from the  men in his society who know nothing of their women’s emotions and instead only believe in what the social norms dictate. They are gullible and quick to suspect their wives, a weakness that Iago exploits and leads two lovers to a horrible death.

Had Othello relied on his woman instead of another man, his fate would have been different and he would have lived a better life. All the while Iago is having a loud laugh behind everyone’s back. Shakespeare has knit the entire drama to teach a simple lesson which is about the value of trust and the importance of personal relationships. The brave general was stabbed in the back – a poor death for a military officer. When you are in so many eyes, the risks are always greater. Othello made the mistake to ignore all risks and ended up in a poor state. It is easier to commit suicide than to worship your woman – a woman who has loved you more than her life. The crime Othello committed was big and not even Gods could save him from his sad fate. Iago has made Othello go through the real test in his life. By the time Othello gets to know, it is too late and he cannot go back and bring Desdemona back to life. There is no end of his pain and the one who could save him from all the pain was his beloved wife whom he kills with his own hands. It is not in Desdemona’s hands to save her husband from the pain of ignominy growing inside him. He is courageous and confident, but the tide of hatred rising inside him is too difficult to control. Iago makes Othello believe he is ugly, no match for Desdemona and this is why she does not like him but his subordinate. He has poured lead into the man’s ears and the way it has influenced his psychology is not an anomaly in a male dominated society. Men will be men and for them to be any different would never be possible. Shakespeare so artistically brings us before situations where we see Othello’s patience and mental strength being tested. If this pain is ever going to stop, it is when he dies and so it does. Othello’s story is soaked in pain and the Moor keeps bearing the punishment for having turned his family and personal life into a war. Love and war both are like the game of chess and to win you need to remain attentive and careful.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.