Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Difference in Righteousness

Where is the line between a sinner and a savior? How does one define righteousness? Is one who is righteous always good? It is human nature to make good and evil black and white. However, very often, justice can become revenge and godliness can become ignorance. Are the circumstances what decipher the difference or is the determining factor in the individual? “Virtue? A Fig! Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to which our will are gardeners.”
(Iago 1.3.322-324). The theme of jealousy is represented through two contrasting characters, Iago and Othello. Each character possesses this fundamental of human nature but only one is righteous. In Shakespear’s Othello, jealousy is given the ability to contaminate, to control, and to be overcome. The personal motivation to do each makes the difference in righteous.
After he looses the position of lieutenant to a Florentine and is given the less desirable position of ancient, Shakespeare’s Iago is given enough ammunition to reflect his true character; a combination of malice, greed, betrayal, and manipulation. “We can not all be masters nor all masters can be truly followed. You shall mark many a duteous and knee-crooking knave that, dotting on his own obsequious bondage, wears out his time, much like his master’s ass, for naught but provender and, when, he’s old, who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty, keep yet their hearts attending on themselves; and throwing but shows of service on their lords, do well by thrive by them; and when they’ve lined their coats, do themselves homage.” (1.1.40-55). Iago rebels Othello’s superiority. He proves to be remarkably cunning rather than noble. Iago would approach the position he serves, whether it be lieutenant or ancient, with the same ulterior motive. When he speaks of wearing out his time, he considers this an investment in wearing down his master’s suspicion. An investment of time and duty would be the work of false loyalty or “forms and visages,” allowing Iago to collect on the advantages; in other words “line his coat.” This revelation of intention suggests that Iago is a selfish and greedy man. “And he grows angry. Now, whether he kills Casio or Casio him or each do kill the other, every way makes my gain…of gold and jewels that I bobbed from him as gifts to Desdemona.” (5.1.11-17). This is the second reference Iago makes to money suggesting that Iago is greedy of superficial value. His morale is much less than that of Othello, possibly why Shakespeare often refers to animals of lesser class in the dialogue of Othello. (Introduction to William Shakespeare’s Othello). Iago is compared to the voice of Lucifer, often telling others to give in to their selfish wants. “Her eye must be fed; and what delight shall she have to look on the devil?” (2.1.226-227) This comparison to evil can be supported by Shakespeare’s choice to use the name Iago. Iago is a Spanish name. At the time when Shakespeare wrote Othello, Spain was England’s worst enemy. (www.monmouth .com.)
The sacrifice that Iago makes of himself to his emotions demonstrates the ability jealousy has to contaminate. “It could be the intellectual frustration of knowing that others are missing the point. It could be the social irritation of having to tolerate rude behavior. It could be the humiliating insult of not having our expectations fulfilled. But insult it is, and we feel the urge to pick up weapons—whether physical (i.e., guns and bombs) or verbal (i.e., sarcasm and curses)—and turn them on others or turn them on ourselves as a form of unconsciously motivated self-sabotage.” (www.guidetopsychology.com/anger). It is because of Iago’s disappointment in not having his expectations fulfilled and/or feeling unappreciated that he not only acts on his frustration but also sabotages himself to be consumed with hatred; indifferent to the risks he takes (loosing his wife, his position, his trust, his respect, ECT). “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; for I mine own gained knowledge should profane if I would time expend with such a snipe but for my sport and profit. I hate the more; and it is though abroad that twixt my sheets…Cassio’s a proper man: let me see now: to get his place.” (1.3.382-393). Iago feels immense hatred and a powerful need for revenge. Both Cassio and Othello have succeeded him, making him feel inferior and causing him to lash out. “Many persons blindly follow the path of violence—and in so doing, they “get angry” to avoid feeling the hurt that holds the acknowledgment of their own vulnerability.” (www.guidetopsychology.com/anger). Iago feels no mercy. He is simply a victim to his whims.
It would not be difficult to conclude that Iago is pulling the strings, leading each character to their own demise. It is the devil, implanted by Iago that leads Othello on a quest of revenge when the need for revenge is out of Othello’s character. The relationship between Iago and Othello represents the ability that jealousy has to control. Iago uses jealousy to weaken Othello, therefore controlling him. “Come, go with me apart: I will withdraw, to furnish me with some swift means of death for the fair devil. Now art though my lieutenant!” (3.3.477-480.) Othello speaks to the devil but directs Iago. At this point, Othello embraces Iago as his leader. Othello embraces the devil. When he says he will withdraw this means he will let down the sword of his values. “The Moore is of free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so, and will as tenderly be led by th’nose as asses are.” (1.3.399-402). It is hard to believe that a bond as strong as the one between Othello and Desdemona could be so easily broken down and destroyed by a much weaker individual such as Iago. However, Othello is trusting and loyal and in that sense remains ignorant to the trap he is led into. Jealousy is the enabling factor that leads to Othello’s moral demise.
Othello’s character possesses noble qualities of honesty, loyalty, trustfulness, wisdom, friendship, compassion, and most importantly, love. “It gives me wonder great as my content to see you here before me. O my soul’s joy! May the winds blow till they have wakened death! And let the labouring bark climb hills of seas Olympus-high and duck again as low as hell’s from heaven! If it were now to die, ‘twere now to be most happy for I fear my soul hath-her content so absolute that not another comfort like this succeeds in unknown fate.”(2.1.182-192). Othello demonstrates with certainty, the satisfaction of his genuine love for his wife Desdemona. Earlier when Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, places Othello’s love on trial, Othello is loyal to the sincerity of his feelings and has conviction enough to approach Brabantio in humility; trusting that his love with Desdemona will prove itself. “How may the duke be therewith satisfied, whose messengers are here about my side, upon some present business of the state to bring me to him?” (1.3.87-91). In a most memorable speech, Othello explain the means in which he wins the hand of Desdemona. His only argument is the intense bond that they share because of one mutual declaration of loyalty to the other. Desdemona is simply in awe of Othello’s accomplishments and Othello is reliant on her praise. The simplicity of Othello’s argument shows how innocent his intentions are. As superficial as this initial bond is, the explanation of it, to Othello, is conclusive. This is real love fueled by characteristics of limerance*. “My story having done, she gave me for my pains, a world of sighs: she swore in faith ‘twas strange ‘twas passing strange; ‘twas pitiful ‘twas wondrous pitiful, she wished she had not heard it, yet she wished that heaven had made her such a man; she thanked me and bade me, if I had a friend that loved her, I should but teach him how to tell my story, and that would woo her, upon this hint I spake, she loved me for the danger I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them.” (1.3.160-170). The complexities of love come with thought and tangibility. Without thought, there remains to be intention. Because there is no intention, Othello’s love is purely intuitive; purely feeling. Othello continues with this theme of innocence in his trustfulness of Iago. His unconditional belief in Iago can be interpreted as a strong value in friendship but also a proneness to ignorance. In other words, Othello can be described as being too good for his own good. “Iago is most honest. Michael, goodnight, tomorrow with your earliest let me have speech with you. Come, my dear love, the purchase made, the fruits are to ensure; that profits yet to come ‘tween me and you. Goodnight.” (2.2.6-10)/ In addition, Othello possess an innate trust in abstract ideas such as fate or karma. He continues to be daringly optimistic and trusting in goodness even when the stakes are high and the circumstances are naturally suspicious. Even when the circumstances would expect otherwise, Othello possesses compassion. “What noise is this? – Not dead? Not yet quite dead? I that am cruel am yet merciful; I would not have thee linger in thy pain. So, so.” (5.2.89-92). Othello assumes betrayal and has been manipulated by jealousy to such a debilitating state that he kills the love of his life. His morality is still evident, however. Through rage, Othello still can manage to be compassionate.
Othello represents the theme of jealousy through his ability to overcome it. He was temporarily immersed in jealousy however, his intentions were noble. Othello vowed to kill his love because she was no longer honest. He killed for justice not to inflict pain. He loved his wife, even during her last moments. “An honourable murdere, if you will; for naught did I hate, but all in honour.”(5.2.296-297) Othello never once feels malice. He merely feels the need for justice. Even in taking his own life, Othello attempts to redeem his love by getting justice on that which contaminated it.
The line between a sinner and a savior lies in the intentions of the individual. Righteousness is in accordance with virtue or morality. Those who are righteous are not always good but they are never malicious. Othello lived and died with the belief that honor should take priority over all; even his own life.

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