'Of all his tragedies, Othello is Shakespeare's most relentless and excruciating' because it 'concentrates on the systematic immolation of one man' argues Geoffrey Benet of the Antioch Review. Shakespeare's Othello is engrossed with issues of jealousy, sexuality and gender as the audience watches Othello fall into the pit of deception that his ensign, Iago, has dug. Throughout the play, Iago ensnares Othello with doubt of his wife, Desdemona's faithfulness. Though there is no 'ocular' evidence that Desdemona has been disloyal to Othello, Othello's anxious masculinity drives him to bring her life to an end: a sacrifice to the demanding masculine principle. For Othello believes he is part of the restoration of order claiming himself as 'an honorable murderer' (V.ii.33). Othello's seemingly irrational acts are yielded not only from the manipulation of his evil ensign, but also from Othello's deep seeded insecurity in his masculinity.
Desdemona, then exists as a poignant statement against the masculine principle and patriarchy. Even Iago's diabolically convincing words could not have replaced Othello's loyalty and faith in his beloved Desdemona. There is something much deeper at play: Othello is insecure in his masculinity which is shallowly based in the male principle of the age. The result of which makes Iago's poisonous words believable and brings Othello to uxoricide. Othello's anxious masculinity is the seed of tragedy in Shakespeare's Othello'' fed by the penetrating lies of the not-so-honest Iago to reveal the hideous nature of patriarchy and the masculine principle.
Othello, the noble Moore of Venice is a man of conquest and adventure 'of hair-breadth scapes i'th' imminent deadly breach, of being taken by the insolent foe.' (I.iii.135'6). But ultimately he is a man of success and confidence. Greatly respected and trusted captain employed by Venice, Othello is called to duty at the first sign of conflict. In the first scene of the play, Othello is called to wage war against Cyprus (I.iii). In war he is known as a man of duty, service and confident leadership. Michael Cassio, Othello's lieutenant, notes that Othello is not easily troubled' he is a man of power and fortitude.
These qualities initially attract Desdemona to Othello. Othello notes, 'she loved me for the dangers I had passed,/ And I loved her that she did pity them' (I.iii.166'7). Bold Othello also appears nothing but confident in the faithfulness of his wife as the play begins; the same kind of confidence he shows in military conquest. When Desdemona's father warns Othello that since she deceived her father in marrying him, she may also deceive him too. Othello responds 'my life upon her faith.' He places his complete credence in his wife's faithfulness at the same value of his own life. Yet, throughout the course of the play, one observes how Othello's seeming confidence is actually veiled insecurity.
Some would argue that the main issue in Shakespeare's Othello is not patriarchy and anxious masculinity but racism. Claiming that the prejudice and racist tension proved to much for Othello. Othello was first performed in 1604, which according to Martin Orkin was a time in which color prejudice existed in England (Orkin, 167). In 1601, Queen Elizabeth complained about 'the great number or 'Negars and blackamoors' which are crept into the realm...' (166). Orkin quotes V.G. Kiernan stating Europe was 'confronting barbarism' (167). Clearly in the time Shakespeare's Othello reached the stage there was a great degree of racial tension in Europe. 'Heathen customs, sexual orgies and cannibalism...were associated with blackness in the Elizabethan mind, a color that, in turn, suggested negation, dirt, sin and death' (Vaughan, 52). Dark skin was associated with satanic inclinations and perverse sexuality. This is the cultural context framing Othello. The racial tensions of England in the early sixteen hundreds is clearly reflected in Othello as the chief issue, some would argue.
Othello is repeatedly characterized by the nature of his skin. In the first scene of Othello Iago hisses to Barbantio, Desdemona's father, that ' an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe (I.i. 89). Continuing, Iago calls Othello a 'Barbary Horse' (I.i.122). The motif of racial prejudice cannot go ignored in Othello. It would be difficult to imagine that the crowds that gathered to watch were neutral to the topic of race given the historical context. Note Iago's crass comments that center around interracial marriage. As above noted, Iago speaks of Othello with grotesque animal imagery. He frequently associates Othello with the crude acts of animals.
Iago is not the only character who speaks of Othello in such asinine terms. Roderigo
goads Barbantio with news that Othello and Desdemona have eloped. First pointing out Othello's 'thick lips' (I.i.66) he pleads to Barbantio, to save his daughter from 'the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor''' (I.i.137). Barbantio's racist and xenophobic attitudes are ignited by Iago and Roderigo's slander. He too is infected with the age's xenophobia and racism for he cannot make sense of his daughters decision to marry Othello except if there was dark magic involved. He rants, 'Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her...if she in chains of magic were not bound' she would never have run to 'the sooty bosom' (I.ii. 283). For to Barbantio, nothing else but witch craft could be at play for Desdemona to love Othello. In spite of all these malicious terms, the Venetian court is unfazed, illustrating the racism of the time of Othello.
However, Othello is no stranger to the slanders of racism. He shared tales of 'Of being taken by the insolent foe/ And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence' (I.3.137'138). From this we can conclude that Othello has at one time been enslaved by foes and sold into service. Yet he overcame the bonds of slavery. The motif of slavery continues as scenes unravel along with Othello's peace of mind as Iago continues to assault Othello's authority. When Othello asks him to speak freely to him Iago slanders, 'though I am bound to every act of duty/ I am not bound to that all slaves are free to' (III.iii. 1782'1783). Even so, Othello remains unmoved by Iago's words. Othello's life is proof that he has overcome virulent hatred toward his race and culture, it is difficult to believe that prejudice is the primary reason for Othello's sick psychological state at the end of the play. Nothing appears to unnerve Othello except for the unfaithfulness of Desdemona.
Othello hastens not to defend himself of having stolen Desdemona from her father, nor of doing so by using witchcraft. He admits to having 'ta'en away this old man's daughter,/ It is most true; true, I have married her' (I.iii.417'418). Unshaken by Barbantio's accusation, Othello even playfully states that he will describe 'of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,/ What conjuration and what might magic...I won his daughter' (I.iii.431'434). Evidently, Othello is neither surprised nor concerned with the nature of the accusations brought against him in court. Instead of desperately pleading his case asserting that he won Desdemona's heart. Yet if this tale was not enough for the court, Othello asks them to bring Desdemona into the court. His confidence is thus, that if he is found 'foul in her report,' not to only take away his office as general but also his own life.
Unmistakably Othello cannot be shaken from the fact that Desdemona loves him. Consequently, it cannot be that racism leads to Othello's downfall nor that the prejudice that surrounds him yields his death. Orkin states that 'Shakespeare is writing about color prejudice and...is working consciously against color prejudice..' (Orkin, 170). For Othello confronts Barbantio's words. Regardless these words do not break his confidence nor lead to his ruin.
It is most interesting that the prejudice seen in Othello is a reflection of the racial tension of England during the time the play first appeared. Andreas states that the fact that Othello is centered on racial conflict would most likely have been self evident to Shakespeare and his contemporaries (Andreas, 40). In his article 'Othello's African Progeny,' Andreas explains 'audiences no longer needed Iago lashing up racist sentiments...Such explosive preconceptions were ingrained in the psyches of playgoers well before arriving at the theater' (41). Herein lies the argument that racism and color prejudice is the principal reason for Othello's unraveling, for it reflects the sentiments of the time. Yet, for Othello to have pursued and married Desdemona makes plain Othello's fortitude.
For Othello is not incredulous to the time's racial prejudice. A man of such high status, having escaped from slavery and to be granted the title of general of the Venetian army, would have managed against great opposition. Despite the racism of the time, Othello has acquired great respect. Considered the 'noble Moor,' and 'all sufficient.' Hero, and protagonist, Othello is powerful, eloquent and respected. Racial slurs do not disturb his strength. It is clear that Othello has removed himself from the issue of race. He is successful and happily married to the beloved Desdemona. Yet clearly there is a greater issue at play. For Iago's torment alone could not bring the great Othello to collapse. Beneath the veneer or Othello's confident manhood is insecurity. Anxious masculinity and the male principal lead to his downfall.
This deep insecurity and anxious masculinity is evident in the rapid deterioration of Othello's confidence in his beloved Desdemona. 'Honest' Iago quickly brings Othello's insecurity into light through his devilish plan in which he insinuates that Cassio and Desdemona are having sexual intercourse, playing on Othello's hidden fears. It is disturbing how quickly Othello is willing to buy into Barbanzio's impression that for Desdemona to fall in love with Othello would be 'a judgment maimed and most imperfect....against all rules of nature' and could only be done with 'some mixtures o'ver the blood/ Or with some dram conjured to this effect...' (I.i.101'106). Barbanzio asserts that Othello is so unloveable that it would take black magic for his daughter to fall in love with him. Yet Othello is unscathed by these opinions. Prejudice remarks are no match for Othello's resilience. Noticing this, Iago resorts to insinuating Desdemona as guilty of infidelity.
At first, Othello speaks with great trust in his wife, refuting Iago's cunning in declaring that he will not have'the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt,/ for she had eyes and chose me. No, Iago, I'll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove,/ And on the proof there is no more but this:/Away at once with love or jealousy!' For Othello recognizes Desdemona's sincere love. She chose him though clearly aware of Othello's race. Her confidence in choosing him, Othello argues, proves she will be loyal to him. Since Iago is unable to break Othello through racial slurs, he attacks what is more delicate in Othello: his masculinity.
Iago continues to pry at Othello's security in Desdemona's faithfulness, pointing to Othello's 'self-bounty' or goodness as something that would make it easy for him to be fooled by Desdemona. (III.iii. 208). Othello is visibly disturbed by Iago's words, who pretending to comfort him, plants even more suspicion in his mind. Iago is no fool. Having struck Othello's achilles heel, he berates Othello more steadily: manipulating his trust by making vague statements implying Desdemona's disloyalty.
Coaxing Othello as he feigns friendship, Iago divulges 'That cuckold lives in bliss,/Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,/ But, oh, what damned minutes tells he o're/ Who dotes, yet doubts'suspects, yet soundly loves!'At this point in the play, Othello's anxious masculinity are even more rapidly exposed. Now his interactions with Desdemona are stiff, awkward and suspicious. He attempts to restore the patriarchal order in banishing Desdemona from himself at several points in the play. In their next interaction, Othello tells Desdemona 'leave me but a little to myself.' For Othello is bound by the masculine principal which necessitates his dominance. Desdemona's viable unfaithfulness is cause for Othello to begin unravelling psychologically. Due to being enslaved by the masculine values of his world, he is unable to maintain composure.
The masculine principle is a principle based on the submission and subjugation of females rooted in prescribed roles and expectations. It is evident in Othello's rejection of Desdemona he is striving to reinstall patriarchal balance in the relationship. Now that Desdemona has deviated from her prescribed role, Othello feels truly threatened. For Othello is trapped 'in the masculine values in his world which 'place supreme value on the qualities of the masculine principle' (Levin 127).
Patriarchy as defined by Teresa L. Elbert, is 'the organization and division of all practices and signification in culture in terms of gender and the privileging of one gender over the other, giving males control over female sexuality, fertility and labor' (19). More simply, patriarchy is men defining women as other; seeing maleness as superior over the feminine. Lack of understanding and inaccurate assumptions where men are defining women and their roles brings about anxious masculinity where women fail to meet the prescribed expectations set by these men. Othello is caught in these values and ultimately is punished by them.
Because women have no say in what their patriarchal roles are and are therefore inaccurately determined, masculine identity is both built upon and threatened by the very system that is at its foundation. Male attempts to subjugate woman flows out of dread (a feared expectation) of having an unfaithful wife. This fear creates a inner tension necessitating some sort of resolution. Under this fear, in which patriarchy and the masculine principle has been contrived, both male and female are confined. Mark Breitenberg argues that early modern England was especially wrought with what he calls 'anxious masculinity.' This anxious masculinity, he asserts is rooted in the patriarchal roles of the time. Breitenberg explores male fear and jealousy asserting that 'anxious masculinity is poignantly revealed by instances of male sexual jealousy that necessarily confront the fundamental discrepancy between patriarchal figurations of 'woman' and the realities of women's material and sexual lives' (381).
Therefore anxious masculinity is the result of male assumptions confronted with the reality of the role and identity of women. In Othello, anxious masculinity manifests itself in sexual jealousy' what Iago calls 'the green'eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on' (III.iii.15). This reflects the nature of the masculine principle: demolishing confident masculinity while feeding on the dread of cuckoldry. Yet Othello is not the only one suffering from anxious masculinity brought on by the male principal.
Interestingly enough, the motivation behind Iago's hatred of the Moor and his deceit is also anxious masculinity. Two reasons supposedly stimulate Iago's evil scheme: the first is jealousy over Cassio's promotion, the second, is Othello's rumored affair with Iago's wife, Emilia (I.iii.368'372). Iago's anxious masculinity exposed by the suspicion that Othello has insulted his manhood by having intercourse with his wife is enough to ensnare Iago. For Iago is obsessed with contriving Othello's downfall. This is where it comes quite clear that prejudice is not the driving theme of Shakespeare's Othello. Iago suffers from fear of failure in regards to upholding the masculine principal. Emilia escaping from her prescribed role would mean Iago has been displaced as the man of the house. Note that Iago is more concerned with restoring his own masculinity by enmeshing Othello into the same trap then he is concerned with finding out the facts of what happened.
If prejudice chiefly destroyed general Othello, would not have the main antagonist be motivated by it? Though racial slurs are found through out the text, no such motive is suggested.
On the other hand Iago displays his anxious masculinity as he desperately craves Othello's validation. To Iago, receiving promotion to lieutenant would display his masculinity for he would receive Othello's affirmation. This affirmation must come from another male. For males suffering from anxious masculinity, the only medicine is the approval of other males.
Iago is not motivated by racism, but insecurity and jealousy. He is also bound by the masculine principle, wishing to restore justice in having intercourse with Desdemona yet deciding instead to ruin Othello's trust of Desdemona. Perhaps, Iago wishes to destroy Othello with the same humiliation he feels. Breitenberg declares this 'self consuming frustration, anxiety and violence of the jealous man is a 'logical' response to the inequalities of the same patriarchal economy that has engendered his very identity in the first place' (382). Ironically Othello is also prone to frustration, anxiety and violence as his masculinity is questioned in light of Desdemona's potential rebellion in having intercourse with Michael Cassio, a handsome lieutenant hired by Othello. Othello's rash reactions are perhaps not only motivated by Desdemona breaking from her patriarchal role but also by the humiliation of men of lower rank seizing his role in the bedroom.
Othello gives into Iago's persuasion rapidly. For Iago slights Othello by insinuating that he is foolish and naive. It is possible Othello is already concerned that he is 'of a free and open nature, that thinks men honest that but seem to be so, and will as tenderly be led by th' noses as asses are' (I.iii.381'4). Yet instead of fearing that he may be too quick to trust Iago, he is anxious about having misplaced trust in Desdemona. For the masculine principal would make Iago a more credible source. Patriarchy 'giv[es] male control over female sexuality, fertility and labor' (Elbert, 19). According to this masculine principle women are subordinate, suspicious and unable to be truly subjugated. Because those bound to the masculine principal believe that women are unable to truly be subjugated, there is a deep insecurity within the very principal gives males authority over females.
Fear that Desdemona will never truly be under his control drives Othello out of his mind.
For despite the fact that Othello claims to be madly in love with his wife, and trust in her even to the point of his own demise, he has forgone this with trust in Iago who is more trustworthy because he is male. Knowing this, Iago persists to haunt Othello by creating doubt. For when women step outside of their patriarchal roles, as defined by men, it shakes males from their patriarchal security and causes an imbalance in the system. In Othello, this shaking of confidence leads to Desdemona's death and suicide as he attempts to bring justice to her assumed transgression.
Othello simply cannot continue in thinking that his wife has been unfaithful to him. He would rather lose her than live with the shame of having been cheated on by his wife. In the midst of the play, Othello confesses that it is a respected man's fate to have an unfaithful spouse. This fact supports that patriarchy is rooted in the fear that women are unable to be entirely suppressed. From this perspective, female unfaithfulness ''Tis destiny unshunnable like death' (III.iii.279). Othello clearly equates Desdemona's deviation from her prescribed patriarchal role deserves death. For to let her live is to disturb patriarchal order and instill great insecurity in Othello. While noting the severity of female infidelity he also exposes the masculine principal's fragility.
For a brief period, Othello regains some of confidence in his masculinity in Desdemona's obedience: he has successfully reestablished the masculine principle in his home. By banishing Desdemona, he is successful in silencing her and demonstrating his power and control. Her silence and lack of presence is what Callaghan would categorize as 'evidence of injustice and victimization' (Correll 318). Here the 'proper' conduct of Desdemona causes Othello to reflect on her with fondness and trust proclaiming 'Perdition catch my soul/ But I do love thee! And when I love thee not/ Chaos is come again' (III.iii.90'92). Here Othello affirms his love and trust in Desdemona until chaos returns. As long as Dedemona has abided by her role prescribed in patriarchy, Othello finds her irresistible again. Yet Desdemona does not remain irresistible to Othello, for he is thrown by Iago's influence. Chaos reigns in Othello's anxious masculinity which Iago draws out. He soon sinks back into despair.
One of the most clear pictures of Othello's anxious masculinity and confusion lies in his confession to Iago that '[he] thinks [his] wife be honest and think she is not./ I think that thou (Iago) art just and think thou art not' (III.iii.394'5). These lines expose the volatile nature of Othello's anxious masculinity. One moment he is at peace and the next he is riddled with doubt. Uncertainty ravages his mind. For Othello, the worst thing that could happen to a man is to loose his masculinity for 'a horned man' or a man that has been cheated on is 'a monster and a beast' (IV.i.59). This statement illuminates that Othello finds his significance in his ability to live as prescribed by patriarchy, his male role. If Desdemona is found unfaithful, he will be seen as less than a man for his confidence in his masculinity based in the masculine principle and patriarchal roles requires that he be in control. Once patriarchal roles are broken, there is 'chaos' again.
Othello attempts to ward of Iago's vicious attacks by responding to his verbal attacks. He laments 'why did I marry'? later lamenting that 'the curse of marriage/ [is] That we can call these delicate creatures ours/ And not their appetites' then swinging back into disbelief says 'if she be false, heaven mocked itself. I'll not believe 't' (III.iii.247; 272'275). Bent argues 'these outbursts come from wounded pride as much as damaged love' (368). For as much as Othello despairs in Desdemona's unfaithfulness, he is more injured by its offense to his masculinity.
At this point, he is seemingly lost to his wife's unfaithfulness. Anxious masculinity now bleeds from his tortured speech as he speculates that 'Haply for' or perhaps because 'I am black,/ And have not those softer parts of conversation/ That chamberers have; for I am declined/ Into the vale of years'...'she's gone' (III.iii.267'270). Although mentioned, race is not at the core of Othello's demise. He describes is own speech as 'rude' or unpolished and confesses to not be adequate in his speech (I.i.84; 3.3.267). Yet it is not until Othello's patriarchal insecurity is exposed that he is troubled to the point of taking action by his appearance and culture. While before he questioned Desdemona's loyalty, prejudice words never seemed to penetrate Othello's mind. The clear implication is that Othello is deeply insecure in his masculinity. It is at this point of the play Othello has unraveled and will continue to do so under Iago's oppression.
Iago's words which accuse Desdemona of adultery are what penetrate Othello's guard and leave him to grope for some semblance of trust in her loyalty. To be fair, it is not only Iago's malicious duplicity that collapses Othello. He is insecure in his ability to live up to the masculine principal which has been defined by men seeking to keep women in prescribed roles. Othello's increasingly evident insecurity leads him to accept his wife's unfaithfulness as an unfortunate fate aided by his lack of polished speech and youth. Thus Desdemona's tragic fate is a result not only Iago's puppetry but also Othello's anxious masculinity.
Interestingly, we do not know much about Othello's past. Besides what he speaks of it in act one and in connection to the handkerchief. This handkerchief is also bound to patriarchal roles. For his mother held to it to make his father remain loyal to her. Yet if she lost it his 'father's eye/ should hold her loathed and his spirits should hunt/ After new fancies' (III.iv. 2244'2246). Inequitable patriarchal roles are traced back to Othello's childhood. For his mother must charm her husband for him to stay loyal. If he does seek the love of another woman, it is her fault for loosing the handkerchief. Yet this concept does not also work the other way. For infidelity in a woman is punishable by death.
Note that all blame for a male's extramarital affair falls upon the female. Whereas Othello believes Desdemona's death is the only way to justify her supposed unfaithfulness. While patriarchy confines men to anxious masculinity, painting women as suspicious. For under it men are humiliated by a woman's rebellion. Yet women must swallow the blame for a husband's affair. Although initially rebelling against her father to marry Othello, Desdemona is exceptionally loyal to Othello, much more than is fair. Even as Othello accuses her of being a whore, Desdemona does not deviate from her prescribed role. Even as she is bewildered by Othello's hateful words, she submits to them even crying out for his forgiveness: 'if any such there be, heaven pardon him!' (IV.ii. 2902).
Desdemona continues to fall victim to Othello's anxious masculinity, succumbing to his rage and violence: clear signs of Othello as unable 'to overcome male bonds that have behind them the force of patriarchal social norms' (Levin 127). Again and again, Othello's outbursts temporarily sooth his insecurity. Yet he will not be satisfied until she is dead for 'yet she must die, else she'll betray more men' (V.ii.6). Here we see Othello masking his insecurity with a claim to justice. He is deeming his violent will towards Desdemona as righteousness.
Haunted by anxious masculinity, Othello must justify his actions. Desdemona must be sacrificed to the masculine principal for she must die under the suspicion of infidelity. Yet Othello cries out from the oppression of the demands of patriarchy. He confides in Iago 'the pity of it!...O...the pity of it!' (IV.i. 2626'2627). Iago responses 'if you are so fond over her iniquity, give her patent to offend' (IV.i. 2628). This sends Othello into an even greater rage than ever before. His mind has already been occupied by the masculine principal where there is no room for deviation.
Othello's crazed insecurity has driven him into blind fury. Ironically, Othello finds justice in a principal thats basis is on inequality. Desdemona is never even questioned about her fidelity. For Othello is deceived into believing that women are untrustworthy. Lashing out at Desdemona he strikes her calling 'O devil, devil!/ If that the earth could teem with woman's tears,/ Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile/ Out of my sight!' (IV.i.2686'2689). Once again, Othello banishes Desdemona temporarily restoring patriarchal order. For to Othello, Desdemona has deviated from her patriarchal role. Yet this time, banishment is not enough to pacify Othello's anxious masculinity. Justice to the patriarchal order requires that man be dominant. To simply banish Desdemona is to allow her 'iniquity' bringing chaos on the masculine principal.
Again in act four, the masculine principal is reinforced. In indignation Othello confronts Emilia asking her about Desdemona's recent actions. Emilia testifies that Desdemona is 'honest, chaste and true' (IV.ii. 2754). Yet Othello is lost to Desdemona's faith. Though she and her mistress, Emilia plead her innocence, he has been convinced both are lying. As the masculine principle is suspicious of women, Othello trusts Iago despite the testimony of two witnesses. Iago is not only given the strongest influence in Othello's mind but also in the play itself (Bent, 360). Shakespeare emphasizes Iago's domination. Without conscious awareness, Othello reinforces the male principal by allowing Iago the power to sway his trust in Desdemona. As a result, the masculine principal is lived out of anxious masculinity.
Innocent Desdemona has no concept of unfaithfulness. She cannot even fathom the act of a woman cheating on her husband (IV. iii. 3111). Yet Emilia offers a counterpoint, she argues that men under the patriarchal system 'throw...restraint upon us; or say they strike us' stating that men are at fault if women have extramarital affairs. Women who seek male company outside of their marriage are only getting 'revenge' (IV.iii. 3112'3130). For women have the same desire as men. Emilia argues that women are not to be blamed for their husbands infidelity, appearing as the strongest female role in Othello. She will not be dominated by patriarchy as Desdemona allows. In Desdemona's final banishment she still remains committed to Othello. Even 'his stubbornness, his cheques, his frowns'' have grace and favor in them' (IV.iii. 3039'3041).
The final scene of Othello's murder brings an unsatisfying conclusion to the drama of his anxious masculinity. Othello confesses to Desdemona that even if she swore she was innocent of each accusation, she would not change his mind again verifying that because Iago is a male, his perspective is much more trustworthy than Desdemona's own testimony (V.ii.62). The audience is left with the same patriarchal order in place as Desdemona falls victim to Othello's anxious masculinity, even taking the blame for the incident as she responds to Emilia's horrified inquiry of who has done this horrible thing. Desdemona responds 'I myself' (V.ii.113). Othello does not dismantle this idea, establishing that what he has done is honorable: 'for naught I did in hate, but all in honor.' Yet whose honor did Othello kill Desdemona in? It seems as if Othello sacrificed Desdemona to the masculine principal. In turn Iago sacrifices his wife, Emilia. As the truth is revealed to Othello he charges Iago, who takes the opportunity to stab Emilia from behind and run away. In both instances, women have fallen victim to their husbands will.
Iago, having devised Othello's downfall by rumor, should have been savvy to its power. Yet Iago murders his wife under the pretense that she has had intercourse with Othello. It is not enough for Iago to bring Desdemona and Othello to their grave, he must also murder Emilia for her potential crime against him. Iago drives the masculine principal forward. For he is also enslaved by anxious masculinity. Emilia's defiance of Iago in the final scene are too much for him to handle. He is so consumed by his insecurity as he stabs his wife through the back.
Othello's final plea is a plea to be remembered in his masculinity: noble and brave. He implores 'I have done that state some service, and they know 't....speak of me as I am...one that loved not wisely, but too well./ Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,/ Perplexed in the extreme...one whose subdued eyes,/ Albeit unused to the melting mood,/ Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees/ their medicinal gum' (V.ii.360ff). Othello clearly maintains the anxious masculinity that lie dormant before Iago's deception but became apparent as Iago played on his fears. Ironically, although Othello pleads to be remembered as one not easily jealous he is the most susceptible to be made jealous (Bent 368). It is the masculine principal that Othello lives by, and the masculine principal that ends his life and steals his beloved away.
In summary, Othello's cry to be remembered well is a the cry of an 'outraged voice...of the patriarchal social order' which kills Desdemona to 'undo the breach her sexuality has created in the stable male order of things' (Levin quoting Snow 126). Murphy writes retributive acts' at least in the eyes of the jealous 'may go a long way...toward saving face, restoring lost status and honor and thus overcoming the shame of it all' (150). Othello's retribution certainly restores patriarchy and puts any threat to his anxious masculinity to rest. Yet simultaneously he looses Desdemona, who he claims to be beloved by him. The true tragedy of Othello lies not only in the death of Othello, Desdemona, and Emilia but in the perpetuation of the masculine principle and the bondage of male and females under cruel patriarchy derived from fear and fed on insecurity.
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