On Horror’s Head Horrors Accumulate

Othello, Act III

As I delve deeper and deeper into the tragic consequences wrought by Iago’s foul play, I can’t help but wonder: how blameless is Othello in all that transpires?  

While it’s safe to say that without Iago’s meddling, none of this wickedness would have happened, it might also be said that without Othello’s suspicions and fits of jealous rage, Iago would not have had the flame to fuel.  Indeed, jealousy is a green-eyed monster – and all Iago had to do was prick Othello’s own imagination by feeding it ambiguous clues.

I’m intrigued by how quickly Othello accepts these suspicions, even though at first he denies that he’s the sort of man to be susceptible to them.  Iago dastardly withholds proof, cleverly “defending” Cassio with faint support, all the while leading Othello to believe Iago the more “honest” for not rushing to provide the dirty details.

She wore a strawberry beret...the kind you can't find in a second-hand store

She wore a strawberry beret…the kind you can’t find in a second-hand store

I was struck by the suddenness of Othello’s transition from trusting husband to enraged lover, especially when he backs himself into a stark corner by saying:

Even so my bloody thoughts with violent pace,

Shall n’er look back, n’er ebb to humble love,

Till that a capable and wide revenge 

Swallow them up.

(he kneels)

Now, by yond marble heaven,

In the due reverence of a sacred vow

I here engage my words.

Though the evidence can’t help but be circumstantial, and flimsy at that, since Cassio and Desdemona are wholly innocent of all charges, Othello as much as orders Iago to assassinate Cassio, while Desdemona’s fate he leaves to himself.

Iago, whose devilish work of provoking Othello has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, himself pulls back from the ultimate guilt of what he’s done by telling Othello:

My friend is dead; t’is done at your request.

But let her live.

Iago seems now to backpeddle from his out-of-control creation like Dr. Frankenstein from his monster.

Indeed, the inevitable next step occurs when Othello lets loose his rage upon Iago, thereby raising the stakes on all that has hitherto transpired.  Once provoked, Othello then demands hard, cold, physical evidence or else Iago will suffer for having been the one to insert the cancerous doubt into Othello’s head in the first place.  This firmly locks the door behind Iago.  He has no choice but proceed and see his plans through to the end.

At this point, who but Othello can choose a different path and avoid the tragedy?  We certainly don’t expect it of Iago, who has stated (and proven) time and again that he’s only in this for himself.

But what about Othello, the heroic general?  Were he not so bent on revenge, not so willing to take “justice” into his own hands, might he not prevent the carnage that now seems destined to follow?

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