'Every day in the courts, men get off murder charges because the victims "nagged" them; in one such case in England, a man who drowned his common law wife by holding her head in a plastic garbage can full of home-made beer was set free by the judge who was deeply moved by his tale of the wounding things she said to him. As he left the court, the murderer said, "Don't get me wrong; she was a lovely person" - or words to that effect. Nobody seemed to think that it would have been preferable to have gone to the pub to escape her railing than to have killed her. He was provoked you see' (Germaine Greer. 'The Male Backlash', The Age, 9/5/92).
To encounter these words after reading Othello is a salutary experience. The effect on me is to cause hasty agreement: yes, the murder Othello committed was ghastly, premeditated, pre-emptive and brutal; yes, there was no excuse for it; yes the idea that 'he was provoked' is palpably inadequate.
And yet a reading of Othello, rather than just a reaction to the plot, demands a more complex response, for only hard-headed readers do not find themselves swept by the soaring poetry of the language into, if not abandoning their condemnation of Othello, at least offering a myriad of extenuating circumstances as explanations for Othello's actions.
The power of the language is evident in the very first scene of the play. Our sympathy is drawn towards Iago, the manifestation of bitterness. We may be disgusted by his imagery and the gross disloyalty he demonstrates, but we cannot help but share the relish with which he approaches his self-appointed task. The energy of his part of the exchange with Brabantio is pulsating:
Zounds, sir, y'are robbed!...