O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on
The famous image of the green eyed jealous monster is but one of the famous images in Othello, one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and certainly a play relevant today. So many themes are explored in the play: race, jealousy, love, lust, deceit, acceptance, feminity… the list goes on.
The play’s main character, Othello, is a Moorish general in the Venetian army. His deeds are great and he is well loved, but he has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian, Roderigo. Meanwhile Iago, Othello’s ensign, harbours secret rage against the general because a younger man, Cassio, was promoted above him. It is on this basis that the rest of the play unfolds, both in Venice and in Cyprus. As is shown in the picture above, the play Othello is not solely about its namesake, and in fact it is the actions of Iago which send the play spiralling into the depths of tragedy. Most of the main characters are played skilfully by Iago, and it is Othello which bears the brunt of these machinations. No character goes unscathed.
Here, Othello is a character for which the audience ends up having many sympathies, even when he might be wrong. His skin colour automatically pits people against him; for all his greatness men still question his motives toward Desdemona because of the way he looks. Here, blackness is meant to synonymous with darkness, an impurity of spirit, charges which we know to be merely judgemental. By contrast, Desdemona’s whiteness makes her pure, far purer that Othello deserves. Iago too is white, but the blackness of his motives is ignored and unseen because of how he looks.
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe
(photocredit: The National Theatre)