Iago´s Iniquitous Cajolery of the Suspicious Othello

An Investigation of Jealousy and Revenge in William Shakespeare´s 'Othello' within the Context of Elizabethan Tragedy and Theatre

Term Paper, 2007

21 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Othello within the Historical Context of the Elizabethan Age
2.1. Othello and Elizabethan Tragedy
2.2. Othello’s History of Origin and Elizabethan Theatre

3. Jealousy and Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Othello
3.1. Machiavel’s Supreme Descendent – Iago the Intriguer
3.2. Iago’s Motivation for Envy
3.3. Iago’s Iniquitous Cajolery of the Suspicious Othello

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

Criticism of William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616)1 Othello (1603/04) incorporates a miscellany of concerns such as xenophobia, genre, double-time, vengeance, and covetousness. Thomas Rymer’s (1643-1713) A Short View of Tragedy (1693)2 inaugurates the exposition of Othello discrediting it as “a Bloody Farce, without salt or savour” owing to its alleged futility,3 and bewails the infringement of “poetic justice” in Desdemona’s decease.4 While Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) delineates Iago as “the motive- hunting of motiveless malignity”, a gratification in abuse, other reviewers avow his abundance of stimuli.5 Modern exegesis of Othello commences with A. C. Bradley’s (1851-1935) Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) which situates Iago as the “supreme among Shakespeare’s evil characters” (Watts 10). Until the 1980s, criticism of Othello was governed by Bradley, and F. R. Leavis6 (1895-1978) who demeans Iago as “a necessary piece of dramatic mechanism”.7 Though postmodern critics move away from characterization to larger contexts, Shakespeare is esteemed as originator of character.8

Othello has often been entitled a “tragedy of character” (Scott 411).

This paper expatiates on the topic of jealousy and revenge as it emanates from the play. Lily B. Campbell labels Othello “A Tragedy of Jealousy”.9 Certainly, for most recipients, Othello is about jealousy and, thus, “shocking, even horrible”.10 Harold Bloom announces that Othello’s “name in effect becomes jealousy” (Fernie 19). Critics characterise Othello as not smoothly jealous, inherently jealous, and too eagerly beguiled so that he becomes fervently resentful (cf. Davison 13). While Davison regards jealousy as a calamitous vigour in Othello, Mason grants the mastery of maleficence.11 I will verify my thesis that the envious Iago causes Othello’s jealousy which culminates in frantic reprisal. Hence, I retain that Iago’s malice and fake honesty annihilate Othello’s bond.

To fathom the tragedy of Othello, it is indispensable to specify the cognitive theory of jealousy and envy which eventuates from psychology’s interest in anthropoid liaisons, and is primordial and reiterative in literature. Tales of cruel jealousy appealed to Elizabethans on account of the notion that women are impious and that the husband’s reputation is contingent on his wife’s celibacy. Shakespeare’s interest in jealousy stems from Elizabeth Cary’s (c. 1585-1639) closet drama Mariam (1603/1613). Traditionally, jealousy supervenes in comedy and is linked to sexual possessiveness.12 The theory of humours13 defines jealousy as “a species of envy, which is in turn a species of hatred” (Honigmann 33). Although jealousy has come to be used frequently for envy, both terms should be separated. While jealousy connotes what you own and do not fancy to be deprived of, envy is what you would like to retain but do not have. Spinoza specifies jealousy as “the hatred towards an object loved […] with the envy of another”.14

In 2.1., I will discuss Othello as domestic and revenge tragedy. For Stanley Wells explains that Shakespeare fosters “the emotional response of his audiences”,15 in 2.2., I will convey Othello ’s origin within Elizabethan theatre. In 3.1. and 3.2., I will scrutinize Iago’s vice tradition and motivation. This is vital for the temptation scene which I will analyse, in 3.3. For “the study and the stage” are “often separate” (Matteo 1), I will include the stage. In 4., I will reflect my results.

2. Othello within the Historical Context of the Elizabethan Age

Most critics disagree about the generic identity of Othello (cf. Davison 16). Hence, I will prove in how far Othello can be received as domestic and revenge tragedy and discuss Othello within the frame of Elizabethan theatre.

2.1. Othello and Elizabethan Tragedy

Shakespeare’s drama comprises history plays, romances, comedies, and tragedies. His tragedies start with Julius Caesar (1599) but Titus Andronicus (c. 1594) and Romeo and Juliet (1597) can be seen as primary endeavours at tragedy16 because they echo Seneca’s drama. Bradley classes Hamlet (c. 1602), Othello, King Lear (c. 1605), and Macbeth (1606) as Shakespeare’s outstanding tragedies which involve a gloomier aura.

Domesticity, time, and race set Othello apart from the other tragedies. Although most critics honour Hamlet or King Lear as the most splendid tragedy, Othello is most moving because of its universality.17

Shakespeare wrote his later tragedy Othello, “The Moor of Venice”, between 1601 and 1604, which arises the controversy if Othello is Elizabethan or Jacobean. While Iago expresses Jacobean feelings, Bradley sees the most romantic and Elizabethan of Shakespeare’s heroes in Othello. Michael Hay claims that Othello can be read as medieval “Romance of low-life” with Cassio as arbiter (Fielitz 75). Honigmann argues that Othello existed by 1602, for, like Measure for Measure, it adapts Giovanni Batista Giraldi Cinthio’s (1504-1573) tale.18

In the Elizabethan era (1558-1603),19 tragedy was revitalized out of mystery and morality plays whose jocular exuberance of the wicked character endures in Iago. Elizabethan tragedy is shaped on Seneca’s (c. 4 BC-AD 65) histrionic five-act plays which stress infidelity and vengeance. T. S. Eliot’s (1888-1965) “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca” (1927) depicts Othello as a paramount specimen of imperfection and imposture (Fielitz 97). Thomas Kyd’s (1558-94) The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1592) established the revenge tragedy which was acclaimed in Elizabethan England. In revenge tragedy, the protagonist executes reprisal to compensate for atrocities and dies. Explicit motives, fraud, exigencies of corroboration, and the death of an innocent designate this genre. It is disputed whether Iago’s rationales are intelligible but the blameless Desdemona dies, and Othello solicits optical validation. Yet, unlike in Othello, the revenge motive “never arise[s] from […] jealousy […]”.20 Elizabethan revenge elements contain the phantom, aberration, the play-within-a-play, manifold homicides, and the avenger’s expiration. In Othello, Shakespeare embeds a symbolic evocation of the skirmish in Othello’s psyche. While the apparition pushes the retaliator into lunacy, Othello is absorbed by passion. His apoplexy can be considered a play-within-a-play. Besides, multitudinous murders occur, and Othello dies.21

Vaughan protests that Othello has been disparaged as domestic tragedy too repeatedly. In fact, many critics assess Othello as domestic tragedy but Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) is superb. This subgenre shows conjugal middle-class life of non-noble position. Othello turns to domesticity after Act One but does not emphasize the English middle-class but gentry. A discord originates from the fickle wife who is expelled and forgiven by her spouse. In Othello, the deficiency of the domestic rather is tragic because Desdemona is exposed to a vagrant setting, for a warrior has no firm abode, and the conflict derives from assumed infidelity without mercy.22

While Othello reiterates Seneca’s and Kyd’s drama, the temptation issue appears in John Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice and John Webster’s (c. 1580-1625) The Duchess of Malfi (1623). From 1660 to 1730, Shakespeare’s plays were often adapted but tragedy declined.23 All in all, Othello contains elements of subgenres, such as marital problems and murder, but considerably deviates from them.

2.2. Othello ’s History of Origin and Elizabethan Theatre

Othello is based on Cinthio’s “The story of Disdemona of Venice and the Moorish Captain”,24 the seventh novella in the third decade of Gli Hecatommithi (1565/66), a set of marital tales shaped on Boccaccio’s Decameron. The seventh story treats the husband’s reprisal for the alleged adultery of his wife. Othello appeared in the First Quarto (1622) as The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, First Folio (1623), and Second Quarto (1630). Shakespeare’s scripts are lost but a Restoration file of Othello abides at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre.25

In 1599, Shakespeare was entailed in erecting the Globe Theatre, the largest London outdoor theatre. Othello was first staged by the King’s Men as “The Moor of Venis” by “Shaxberd” at court, and at the Globe, in 1604. It was often revived thanks to sensitive allure but basically cut in the eighteenth century. In 1613, the Globe burned off, was rebuilt but torn down, definitely, in 1644. Sam Wanamaker (1919-1993) reconstructed it, in 1996, for “live theatre needs […] the frightening” (Kiernan 3). Welcome Msomi prizes “the connectedness” among actor and audience at the Globe (Kiernan 37). Othello chiefly involves the audience so that many obstructed Othello ’s close with terror. In 1822, a soldier assaulted the Othello actor with the protest that a black cannot kill a white. This is due to the Elizabethan view of theatre that “All the world’s a stage” (AYL III.vii.139).26

Shakespeare’s aeon can be seen as the golden times of English drama but witnessed severe criticism for the theatre’s dispersion of depravity.27

3. Jealousy and Revenge in William Shakespeare’s Othello

In Othello, Iago exploits Roderigo and Cassio to conspire his revenge against Othello who confidentially espoused Desdemona. Iago induces Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity, whereupon Othello slaughters his spouse and commits suicide.28 I will discuss

Iago’s iniquity, in 3.1., and his motivation, in 3.2. In 3.3., I will analyse how Iago leads Othello to mad revenge.

3.1. Machiavel’s Supreme Descendent – Iago the Intriguer

Niccolò Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) Il Principle (1513/1532) predated Machiavel, the father of all villains, who embodies “murder” and “villainy”.29 Edgar Elmer Stoll argues that Iago is “a product of a dramatic tradition” of which “the longevity of the Vice” is in arrears to his clowning proficiency.30 Hence, Iago can be seen as “a descendant of the intriguing slave” of Greek slapstick, who ridicules others (Honigmann 75). In the sixteenth century, the vice figure gave way to the collaborator who spreads lies behind the mask of the victim’s companion and expounds his evil objectives to the audience in soliloquies, like Iago (cf. Fielitz 28, 71), whose “a Florentine” alludes to Machiavel and, thus, to Iago himself.31 Although Wyndham Lewis describes Iago as “an ordinary man” (Scott, ed. 435), Rymer defines him as a “false, insinuating rascal” (Wain 28; cf. Fielitz 91). In Hecatommithi, the Ensign is specified as “this false man, the deceiver,” and the “worst of all scoundrels” (Honigmann 373, 378, 385).

Leavis’s declaration that “the essential traitor is within the gates” and W. H. Auden’s (1907-1973) portrayal of Iago as “the joker in the pack” explicate Iago’s “godlike sense of power” because he disguises himself with uprightness and wit by means of “putting on” the mask to mislead his butts (Fernie 36; Wain 19; Honigmann 39, cf. 40-41; Oth., ed. Honigmann 2.1.236-237). Iago’s revelation of “I am not what I am” indicates his split personality because he is “two-faced” and assumes treacherous identities (Oth. 1.1.64, 1.2.33; cf. Smith 11). While he counterfeits honesty in society, he displays wickedness in soliloquies (cf. Honigmann 40-41), which is echoed by Iago’s affirmation of “What he might be; if what he might, he is not,” (Oth. 4.1.271). Iago is frequently perceived as “good” and “Honest Iago” throughout the play so that “his universal reputation for honesty” is founded on “bluff”, and, thus, on the paradox of “honest Iago”.32


1 For a sketch of Shakespeare’s life cf. Giles E. Dawson, The Life of William Shakespeare (Boston: Folger Books, 1979); and Park Honan, Shakespeare. A Life (Oxford, N.Y.: Oxford U P, 1998).

2 Cf. Thomas Rymer, “From a Short View of Tragedy,” ed. John Wain, Shakespeare: Othello. A Casebook, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke [et al.]: Macmillan, 1994) 37-50.

3 Peter H. Davison, Othello. The Critics Debate (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988) 10.

4 Cf. Sonja Fielitz, Othello. Shakespeare und kein Ende 3 (Bochum: Kamp, 2004) 89. Gino J. Matteo, Shakespeare’s Othello: The Study and the Stage 1604-1904, ed. James Hogg (Salzburg: Institut für englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974) 25, 40, 42.

5 Fielitz, Othello 94. Helen Gardner, “The Noble Moor” (1955), ed. Wain, Shakespeare: Othello. A Casebook, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke [et al.]: Macmillan, 1994) 156. E. A. J. Honigmann, ed., The Arden Shakespeare Othello (London: Thomson Learning, 2006) 34. Cedric Watts, ed., Introduction, Othello, by William Shakespeare (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001) 10. Cf. A. C. Bradley, “Iago,” ed. Mark W. Scott, Shakespeare for Students. Critical Interpretations of AYL, […] Oth., and Rom, assoc. ed. Joseph C. Tardiff (Detroit: Gale Research, 1992) 439.

6 Frank Raymond Leavis stresses the significance of close reading and textual analysis (Macey).

7 Fielitz Oth. 98. Wain, ed. 18, cf. 20. Watts, ed. 10. Cf. Lena Cowen Orlin, ed., et al., Othello. Contemporary Critical Essays. New Casebooks (Houndmills [et al.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) 2.

8 Cf. Fielitz Oth. 100. Honigmann 13. Ina Schabert, Shakespeare Handbuch, 4th ed. (Stuttgart: Kröner, 2000) 530.

9 Peter Bettinger, Shakespeare’s Oth. im Spiegel der literarischen Kritik (Frankf: H&H, 1977) xiv.

10 Davison 16. Cf. Ewan Fernie, “Shame in Othello,” The @Cambridge Quarterly 28 (1999, 1, pp. 19-45) 19. D. R. Godfrey, “Jealousy,” ed. Scott 417.

11 Cf. Davison 19. H. A. Mason, Shakespeare’s Tragedies of Love. An Examination of the Possibility of Common Readings of Rom., Oth., Lr., […]. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970) 105.

12 Emrys Jones relates Othello to comedy because of its facetious constituents, such as intrigue and sexual resentment (cf. Davison 18-19; Fielitz Oth. 68-69).

13 The theory of humours influenced dramatists on the creation of characters (cf. Cuddon 404).

14 Gregory L. White and Paul E. Mullen, Jealousy. Theory, Research, and Clinical Strategies (N.Y., London: The Guilford P, 1989) 218-219. Cf. Godfrey 421. Honigmann 75. W. Gerrod Parrott, “The Emotional Experiences of Envy and Jealousy,” The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy, by Peter Salovey, ed. (N.Y., London: The Guilford P, 1991) 4, 6-7, 15, 23. Philip Shaver, Foreword, eds. White and Mullen vi. White 1. Peter van Sommers, Jealousy. What is it and who feels it? (London [et al.]: Penguin Books, 1988) 1. Virginia Mason Vaughan, Othello. A Contextual History, 1st ed. (Cambridge [et al.]: Cambridge U P, 1996) 74, 77, 84, 87-88.

15 Pauline Kiernan, Staging Shakespeare at the New Globe. Early Modern Literature in History, ed. Cedric C. Brown (London [et al.]: Macmillan P, 1999) 24.

16 Tragedy derives from Greek “goat song” and emerged in Athens, in 533 BC (Cuddon 926-929).

17 Cf. Davison 41. Dawson 22. Stephen Greenblatt, ed., et al., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th ed. 2 vols. (N.Y., London: Norton & Company, 2006) 1: 1058-1060. Honigmann 1. Orlin 2. Schabert 491. Scott 411. Watts 9.

18 Cf. Bradley, “From Shakespearean Tragedy” (1904), ed. Wain 57. Davison 38. Fielitz Oth. 16, 73-74. Honigmann 1-2, 344-345. Wain 11.

19 For some critics, the Elizabethan era lasts to 1642, when theatres were shut, including the Jacobean (1603-25) and Caroline (1625-49) period (cf. Cuddon 255-256).

20 Charles A. Hallett and Elaine S. Hallett, The Revenger’s Madness. A Study of Revenge Tragedy Motifs (Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1980) 120.

21 Cf. “Revenge Tragedy.” “Tragedy.” J. A. Cuddon, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, (London: Penguin Books, 1999) 744-746, 926-933. Celia R. Daileader, Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth. Inter-racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee, (Cambridge [et al.]: Cambridge U P, 2005) 3. Fernie 21. René Girard, “Revenge,” ed. Scott 97-98. Greenblatt 1: 507. Hallett 3, 8-10, 14, 41, 88, 96, 98-99. Schabert 54-56, 66-67. Stevie Simkin, ed., et al., New Casebooks. Revenge Tragedy (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001) 2. “Rachetragödie.” Gero von Wilpert, Sachwörterbuch der Literatur, 7th ed. (Stuttgart: Kröner, 1989) 737.

22 Cf. “Domestic Tragedy,” Cuddon 235. Davison 16-17. Fielitz 67. Honigmann 73-74. Schabert 67-68. Emma Smith, Writers and their Work. William Shakespeare. Othello (Horndon, Devon: Northcote House Publishers, 2005) 50-51, 54, 57. Vaughan 6.

23 Cf. “Tragedy,” Cuddon 932. Greenblatt 1: 1461-62; for The Duchess of Malfi see 1: 1462-1535. Honan 415. Matteo 27.

24 For Cinthio’s narrative see Honigmann, Appendix 3, 370-386.

25 Cf. Bettinger xiii. Dawson 25. Fielitz 133. Honigmann 1-2, 12, 90, 368-370. Matteo 4, 60, 62. Schabert 544-545. Smith 4. Vaughan 3. Wain 11.

26 Adrian Poole, Tragedy. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford [et al.]: Oxford U P, 2005) 14.

27 Cf. Davison 60. Dawson 16. Fielitz 114, 133. Greenberg 1: 1058. Honigmann 91-92. Matteo 19-20, 25-27, 29. Orlin 1-2. Tanya Pollard, ed. Shakespeare’s Theatre. A Sourcebook (Oxford [et al.]: Blackwell Publishing, 2004) x, xi, xiii, xiv. Schabert 72, 81, 150. Simkin 3. Wain 11.

28 In Cinthio’s tale, the Moor is avenged by Disdemona’s relatives.

29 “Machiavel.” Cuddon 486. Cf. Fielitz 55.

30 Davison 29, cf. 27. Janette Dillon, The Cambridge Introduction to Early English Theatre (Cambridge [et al.]: Cambridge U P, 2006) 155.

31 Cf. William Shakespeare, Othello, 113-332, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann, The Arden Shakespeare Othello (London: Thomson Learning, 2006) 1.1.19.

32 Godfrey, ed. Scott 421. Cf. Davison 50. Fielitz 53. Honigmann 58. Cf. Oth. 2.1.97, 2.1.206, 2.3.6, 2.3.173, 2.3.330, 3.3.5.

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Iago´s Iniquitous Cajolery of the Suspicious Othello
An Investigation of Jealousy and Revenge in William Shakespeare´s 'Othello' within the Context of Elizabethan Tragedy and Theatre
University of Marburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, FB 10)
Preparatory Seminar to the Shakespeare Excursion to London
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Iago´s, Iniquitous, Cajolery, Suspicious, Othello, Preparatory, Seminar, Shakespeare, Excursion, London, The Globe Theatre
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M.A. Oliver Baum (Author), 2007, Iago´s Iniquitous Cajolery of the Suspicious Othello, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/123115


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