Shakespeare expands the emotional and intellectual horizons of his audience using Othello as a medium to convey his purpose of jealousy. It takes the audience on a journey in which they learn of the castigations of jealousy. In Elizabethan times, the world was dominated by men and women were seen as inferior. Women were seen as untrustworthy and this view was reflected as jealousy in male relationships. Shakespeare highlights the dangers of jealousy using Othello’s tragic flaw: his blind and absolute trust in men. He shows that once they are jealous, men are easily manipulated and lose all ability to use logic or reason. Throughout the play, Shakespeare shows the audience how easy it is for jealousy to be fuelled by circumstantial evidence. It is easy to manipulate others using circumstantial evidence, especially to make them jealous. Shakespeare’s Othello contains a didactic warning, telling the audience of the volatile nature of jealousy. Shakespeare seeks to explain how minor flaws in human character can ultimately lead to the fall of great men, which is a characteristic of many Shakespearian tragedies. He is taking the audience on their journey through the exploration of the concepts and themes of jealousy.
That women were not trusted in Elizabethan times is a key element of the play. Shakespeare gives Othello an automatic mistrust in Desdemona, and because of this Othello becomes jealous easily. Shakespeare utilises these ideas of mistrust in women when he has Iago manipulate Othello. In Act 1 Scene 3, Othello entrusts Desdemona to Iago. Othello says “My wife … to thee”. There is irony here, in that he believes his wife to be false later in the play, and dramatic irony that Othello calls Iago honest, while the audience knows he is not. Shakespeare raises tension using this dramatic irony, while saying that women do not have the capacity to look after themselves; he establishes a viewpoint on women. This lays a foundation of mistrust in women that can be built upon. Also in Act 1 Scene 3, Shakespeare uses Iago’s soliloquy to reveal to the audience that he intends to play on the mistrust of women during the downfall of Othello. Iago says “That thinks … asses are”. This new information promotes dramatic irony, as other characters continually label him as honest, while the audience can see his true duplicitous nature.
Shakespeare uses a simile here to highlight the fact that Othello is very trusting and easy to manipulate. Shakespeare has written this speech to foreshadow the coming events in the play and the use of mistrust of women against Othello. In Act 3 Scene 4 Shakespeare uses the handkerchief as an extended metaphor for Othello and Desdemona’s love. By having him ask for the handkerchief, Shakespeare is having Othello indirectly state that he believes Desdemona is being unfaithful. Othello says “Fetch me … mind misgives”. Shakespeare uses repetition of the word handkerchief to reinforce its importance. Shakespeare also draws focus to the phrase “my mind misgives” using alliteration. He is implying that Desdemona is being unfaithful, although he is being very discreet. Shakespeare is showing us that this mistrust in women has led to the assumption of infidelity, and will later cause Othello’s downfall. Shakespeare expands our intellectual horizons by showing us the destructive power of jealousy and mistrust. Othello’s tragic flaw is that he has absolute trust in men. Shakespeare has made this so as to allow Othello to be completely controlled through his jealousy. Othello continually misjudges Iago’s character and fails to see him as he is. In Act 3 Scene 3, Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind. Shakespeare writes “Ha! … you coming”. Iago is accusing Desdemona of being unfaithful while acting unsure to remove suspicion from himself as a liar. Iago allows Othello to make the judgements himself to minimise his involvement. Iambic pentameter is used here to highlight how crafty and clever Iago is in in speech. Shakespeare is showing the beginning of Othello’s loss of reason when he accepts what Iago says rather than trusting his wife.
He is showing the dangers of blind trust when later in that scene Othello decides to murder Desdemona. In Act3 Scene 4, Othello chooses to trust the accusations made by Iago. Instead of confronting his wife, he asks for the handkerchief. Othello says “Is’t lost … of th’way?”. In this he is also asking if she is being unfaithful. However she does not know this and therefore cannot defend herself. It is ironic that Othello is a courageous solider but he cannot confront his wife. Othello is judging her based purely on Iago’s word, and in this Shakespeare is again highlighting the dangers of this blind trust in men. Shakespeare has used multiple characters with this blind trust in men to reinforce the importance of this flaw. Roderigo also shows blind trust in Act 2 Scene 1 when he says “I will … any opportunity”. Shakespeare has used hyperbole in Iago’s previous speech to show how dangerous blind trust in men can be, particularly when there is obvious exaggeration. Shakespeare is also foreshadowing Othello’s blind trust later in the play. He has shown the audience how jealousy can obstruct reason, leaving people to be extremely open to suggestion and subject to the perils associated with blind trust. The intellectual journey Shakespeare takes us on has several aspects. The didactic element he has shown us warning us of blind trust is one of ideas he explores. Another aspect of the jealousy seen in Othello is the circumstantial evidence used to aggravate the characters’ jealousy. Shakespeare uses this false evidence throughout his play to show how easily people can be manipulated by jealousy. In Act 3 Scene 3 Cassio talks to Desdemona and then leaves as Othello enters. He says “madam, I’ll take my leave”. Shakespeare uses this circumstantial evidence as a pivotal point for Othello’s jealousy.
There is dramatic irony in the fact that Othello has misinterpreted Cassio’s behaviour. The audience know Cassio has done nothing wrong, but Shakespeare has used this to heighten Othello’s jealousy. Shakespeare is using this dramatic irony to raise tension in preparation for the climax. A prime example of how evidence can be used to provoke jealousy is seen through the handkerchief. The handkerchief is the most significant aspect of the play in terms of jealousy. Using a metaphor like this encourages the audience to think and is part of the intellectual journey of the play. In Act 3 Scene 4, when Othello realises Desdemona does not have the handkerchief he is filled with jealousy and rage. This circumstantial evidence is taken by Othello as proof of her infidelity. Emilia says “Is not this man jealous?”. Shakespeare uses this rhetorical question to make the audience question Othello and think about his jealousy. The audience must contemplate Othello’s jealous behaviour, reinforcing the idea of jealousy. In Act 4 Scene 1, Shakespeare has Iago tell Othello that Cassio has confessed to sleeping with Desdemona. Iago says “with her… what you will”. In Othello’s mind, which is full of doubt and void of reason, this statement is evidence against Desdemona. Repetition of the word lie is used to draw focus to the alleged act. Shakespeare then has Othello fall into a trance to show how circumstantial evidence can be devastating. Shakespeare is portraying Othello as an insane, vicious animal, in preparation for him to murder Desdemona. Shakespeare has used circumstantial evidence to enrage the characters and intensify their jealousy.
The play contains a didactic warning of the perils of jealousy. Shakespeare has used our emotional bond with the characters to show how destructive circumstantial evidence can be. Shakespeare has shown us that mistrust in women will lead to jealousy. This is done by having Othello constantly jealous after mistrusting Desdemona. Shakespeare has also shown his audience that it is very unwise to have such an extreme blind trust in me. He has shown the audience this by having Othello place absolute trust in Iago, who uses it to manipulate him. Such blind trust leaves men open to the destruction from manipulation and jealousy. He shows us that circumstantial evidence can be used to fuel jealousy, and is very dangerous in this way. Shakespeare has used coincidental events in the play as circumstantial evidence to fuel the envy of the characters.
As an audience, we can see how these events are coincidental, but are very dangerous when used as evidence. It is through the didactic elements of Shakespeare’s Othello that he takes the audience on an emotional and intellectual journey. The audience can look back on what has been learned in each aspect of the play, and apply it to current time. This application of Shakespeare’s play to today’s society makes the text valuable. It contains issues of jealousy that will always be around and can be applied to anytime. In this, Shakespeare has expanded the views of his audience, exposing them to the idea of jealousy and looking at how it can be fuelled in different ways, taking them on a journey through the play.