This essay will discuss who is the most responsible for Desdemona and Othello’s deaths in the play Othello by William Shakespeare. It will argue how many characters play a part, and how some parts are bigger than others. In the early 1600’s, society was very much defined and you socialised in your social class. Daughters were supposed to serve their fathers and not be dishonest or dishonourable to them. So when Desdemona marries Othello (a black soldier, not in the same class as Desdemona or her father) without her father’s knowledge, the marriage was in trouble from the very beginning, without anyone else’s involvement. Iago’s lies and deceit are also a very important factor to their deaths, and it would be very easy to just lay all the blame on him, but I believe that he alone did not cause the deaths of Desdemona and Othello.
One of the people who had a part in their deaths was Iago. His jealously and hatred of Othello caused him to manipulate and lie to almost everyone in the play. Iago was against Othello from the very beginning, even being one of the two people to tell Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, about the secret wedding. He informs him by saying; “A black ram is tupping your white ewe,” (Act 1, Scene 1), which is deliberately stirring up trouble and aggravating Brabantio. Iago even says in the very first scene; “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” (Act 1, Scene 1). This is saying that the only reason Iago served Othello is that it meant he could get close enough to him to exact his revenge upon him. This is already showing the audience, right at the beginning, that Iago isn’t as honest as Othello thinks.
It also shows that he would go to great lengths to get revenge. Iago is the one who invents the rumours that Desdemona is having an affair with the newly appointed Lieutenant and convinces Othello to kill his wife. He does this by getting close and friendly with many of the characters and using their trust to spin his own web of lies. Each character was told a different story by him and it all came together in the end. Iago is an extremely manipulative character; he is often called ‘honest Iago’ to which he is the complete opposite. All the characters believe him to be a good, honest man, when in reality he is a lying fraud. Iago is also not shy of speaking out about his hatred to certain people. One reason for Iago’s hatred is mentioned;
“I hate the Moor;
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety.” (Act 1, Scene 3).
Iago believes that Othello has previously slept with Emelia, Iago’s wife, and does not deserve his position as the Moor. There is no proof of this accusation, but Iago thinks that just because there is a slight suspicion of that something happened; he can do Othello harm.
Othello is another person involved in his own and Desdemona’s death. He seems a very unstable person and even goes into a trance, (Act 4, Scene 1) when he is informed about Desdemona’s supposed affair. He is quick to believe Iago’s lies, even without asking the accused. This means that he doesn’t have much trust in Desdemona and Cassio, who are his wife and Lieutenant. This shows that he doesn’t have confidence in them, when they are two people that he should have the most trust in.
“The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.” (Act 1, Scene 3).
Iago says that Othello is a fool and puts his trust into the wrong people. He also says that Othello can be lead easily. Iago took advantage of Othello’s stupidity and made him believe his lies. Therefore Othello played as much a part as Iago did. If he had trusted the right people then Iago would have been killed very early on and not the innocent people; Desdemona, Emelia, and Roderigo.
Finally, someone who played a small but definitive part in the deaths was Desdemona. She deceived her father very early on, leading Brabantio to warn Othello; “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee.” (Act 1, Scene 3). This may have been the catalyst for Othello having doubts in his mind about Desdemona’s loyalty. The ease at which she lied to her father might make it seem, especially to Othello, that she could easily lie to whoever she wished, even those close to her. Iago used this against them;
“She did deceive her father, marrying you;
And when she seem’d to shake and fear your looks
She lov’d them most.” (Act 5, Scene 3).
This may have been one of the final things said to push Othello into accepting Iago’s lies. All of this together, because of Othello’s unstable mentality, however small and petty it may seem, could cause someone such as Othello to react hastily and without any thought. Therefore, I believe that Desdemona should have been honest with everyone, especially her father, from the beginning. Had she been, I think Othello would have thought of her as more honest, and he would have had no reason to doubt her loyalty.
Overall, I believe that Iago, Othello, and Desdemona all had a hand in the deaths. Even though Iago created the whole problem and started the rumours, I think that if Othello had been more trusting and Desdemona more honest, their marriage would not have been so vulnerable, and that the lies would have been discovered before it resulted in anything so tragic. To conclude, the play was a case of somebody doing something which allowed something else to happen; it was a chain of unfortunate events.