The Failure of Love in Shakespeare's Othello

Essay by McCheatyHigh School, 12th gradeA+, March 2008

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In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, there are numerous important ideas that are expressed throughout the play. One of the more significant ones is love, which is demonstrated in different types, through various characters. Shakespeare is conveying the message that the occurrence of negative incidents will overthrow even the strongest feelings of love. The relationship between Othello and Desdemona, the brotherly love between the Moor and Cassio, and the fatherly care Brabantio shows towards his daughter all nevertheless lead to upsetting outcomes. Othello’s love for his wife turns to jealousy which leads to her murder, Cassio’s reckless behavior has Othello fire him even though the two are very close, and Brabantio is deceived by Desdemona despite the fact that he loves her dearly and wants the best for her. These three examples help greatly enforce Shakespeare’s theory on love.

It is Othello’s adventurous life stories that attract Desdemona to him, and that eventually lead to their marriage.

The two fall madly in love, and appear to be inseparable when Desdemona pleads to the Duke to allow her to accompany Othello to Cyprus. Othello expresses his emotions for Desdemona when he says:“It gives me wonder great as my content / To see you here before me. O my soul’s joy! / If after every tempest come such calms, / May the winds blow till they have wakened death.” (Othello, II i, 181-184)However, once Iago begins planting false ideas in the General’s mind, the latter becomes increasingly envious of Cassio, and shows much needless anger and disgust towards his spouse. Once Othello is fully persuaded that Desdemona is cheating on him, he begins plotting her murder. He strangles her to death in their own bed as a result of his blind jealousy. Othello adores Desdemona, yet after undergoing vast changes because of Iago, he sees it as his duty to kill the foul “strumpet” he has for a wife. It is well demonstrated in this example that, although Othello and Desdemona start off as a loving couple, their fates both end in disastrous manners due to harmful external forces; in this case Iago’s lies and treachery.

Othello portrays loving sentiments towards characters other than his wife, such as his close personal friend Cassio, whom he is affectionate for in an almost brotherly manner. This is made clear when the Moor promotes his comrade to the position of lieutenant. But Iago comes into play once again, boozing up Michael Cassio to the point where he begins a brawl with Roderigo, during which he wounds Montano, the governor of Cyprus. Othello then arrives to the scene, and once his ancient informs him of all that has taken places, he strips Cassio of his military rank and says: “Cassio, I love thee; / But never more be officer of mine.” (Othello, II iii, 247-248) Othello and Cassio show great affection towards one another, yet things take a wrong turn in their friendship in the presence of Iago. Another event that occurs which impacts how Othello perceives his friend is when he sees the handkerchief, which he had given to Desdemona as a gift, in Cassio’s hands. After witnessing this, Othello feels certain that his wife is having an affair with the young Florentine and therefore says to his ancient: “How shall I murder him, / Iago?” (Othello, IV i, 171) At this point, the Moor absolutely loathes his former friend, and wishes to see him dead. Othello and Cassio greatly respect each other in the early stages of the play, yet Cassio’s demotion and Othello’s suspicions are the factors that gradually set the two friends apart.

The third example depicted by Shakespeare to further establish his love-related message is the father-daughter relationship between Brabantio and Desdemona. The senator shows immense concern over the fact that his daughter is marrying the Moor. He is being protective of his daughter, as he states that she would never “fall in love with what she feared to look on!” (Othello, I iii, 98) Brabantio is outraged over the fact that his little girl has been taken away from him; once Desdemona reveals the truth to him and confirms that she is marrying Othello however, Brabantio feels like he has been deceived and betrayed. He declares the following to Othello:“Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: / She has deceived her father, and may thee.” (Othello, I iii, 287-288)It is at this point that the senator’s feelings towards his daughter change, and that the love that he once felt for her so strongly no longer exists. Desdemona, too, has always been fond of her father, although when expressing herself in front of the Duke and his council, she confesses that she is marrying Othello, and that he is now the man she must dedicate herself to by saying:“My noble father, / I do perceive here a divided duty. / To you I am bound for life and education; / My life and education both do learn me / How to respect you. You are the lord of duty, / I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband, / And so much duty as my mother showed / To you, preferring you before her father, / So much I challenge that I may profess / Due to the Moor my lord.” (Othello, I iii, 178-187)Although their love for one another is not completely eradicated, it is at this point in the play that Desdemona declares her independence from her father, and that the bond between the two greatly detaches, mainly due to Othello’s role in the situation.

These three instances all have a major role in portraying the idea that even the strongest emotions, in particular love, can fall apart due to unfortunate events or actions. Othello and Desdemona’s passionate love for each other ended in jealousy and murder, Cassio and the Moor’s close, loving friendship finished in hatred and envy, and lastly Brabantio’s love for his daughter Desdemona ended in deceit and heartbreak. Love can be an unstoppable force so long as there is happiness; it can, however, be quickly chased away by an unpleasant experience that may arise. One of Shakespeare’s primary objectives in Othello is to emphasize the flaws of love, and how like every other emotion or feeling, love may only be temporary.