Othello: Religious Motifs
Relationships in which people allow themselves to be manipulated through their weaknesses are truly flawed and have a great potential for failure. These relationships can become tainted by jealousy and rumours nurtured by deceitful individuals. Such is the situation in Shakespeare’s Othello, which depicts the tragic downfall of an apparently perfect relationship. Shakespeare uses images of heaven in the beginning of the play to emphasize the seemingly flawless love between Othello and Desdemona.
Furthermore, as the play progresses, the juxtaposition between heaven and hell is used to represent the manipulative powers of Iago over Othello revealing the weaknesses of Desdemona and Othello’s relationship. As a result, the twisted heaven and hell imagery used near the end of Othello reflects the eventual break down of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. Thus, in Shakespeare’s Othello, the connotation of the religious motifs throughout are used to develop the idea that even the most loving couples have their flaws leaving them vulnerable to the destructive powers of jealousy brought on by the manipulative influences of others, resulting in suspicion and ultimately betrayal. The seemingly perfect love between Othello and Desdemona is initially emphasized by Shakespeare’s use of heavenly images. Through images of heaven, Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona is revealed. After being accused by Brabantio of using enchantments to win over his daughter’s love, Othello swears against it assuring their love is true: And till she come, as truly as to heaven
Othello: Religious Motifs Essay Example
I do confess the vices of my blood, So justly to your grave ears I’ll present How did I thrive in this fair lady’s love, And she in mine (1.3.122-126). Othello swears on heaven that his love for Desdemona and her love for him is not a result of witchcraft, but the result of an honest love for one another. The image of heaven is used to emphasize that Othello believes that the love between him and Desdemona is as pure as heaven itself. To call their love heavenly shows an exaggerated passion between the two further emphasizing the appearance of their perfect union. Similarly, Desdemona feels that the love between her and Othello is destined to be, and through Shakespeare’s use of divine imagery this point is emphasized. Upon arriving in Cyprus, Desdemona and Othello are reunited for the first time since their journey: “The heavens forbid/ But that our loves and comforts should increase/ Even as our days do grow”(2.1.190-192).
For Desdemona to pray that nothing come between them and their eternal happiness shows a great deal of passion. Furthermore, to believe that their love will only die if they die highlights the certainty in which Desdemona feels that their love is more than just a coincidence, but rather fate itself. The intensity of Desdemona’s feelings for Othello adds to the idea that their marriage is ideal. Moreover, images of the soul illustrate Desdemona’s love and her willingness to risk her entire being to be with Othello. When confronted about her love for Othello, Desdemona reveals that [her] heart’s subdued/ Even to the very quality of [her] lord. [She] saw Othello’s visage in his mind,
And to his honours and valiant parts Did [she her] soul and fortunes consecrate (1.3.250-254). “From the beginning, Desdemona has viewed love as a risk and challenge. She has violently uprooted herself from her father’s protection and the conventional expectations of Venetian society…”(Thomas Neely 96). Desdemona believes that a life full of risks and unknown dangers is worth living if she is by Othello’s side. This complete devotion of body and soul reveals Desdemona’s feelings of loyalty towards Othello. The rendering of her soul; her whole entire being, wholly to Othello emphasizes the impeccable love between the two of them. Thus, through heavenly images the apparently perfect union between Desdemona and Othello is portrayed throughout the first scenes of the play.
Despite the apparent perfect relationship between Othello and Desdemona, the flaws within their marriage are revealed through Iago’s manipulative powers as illustrated by the juxtaposition of heaven and hell. Shakespeare uses Iago’s character to bring about the doubt in Othello and Desdemona’s perfect heavenly love through images of hell. During his first soliloquy, part of Iago’s plan is revealed: “I have’t! It is engender’d! Hell and night/ Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light”(1.3.392-393). Desdemona and Othello’s relationship is represented as the good in the world; the light. For their relationship is that of perfection, they both love and trust each other with a deep passion. However, Iago is the opposite of this heavenly light and with him comes hell and corruption. When the characters meet, the sense of perfection is lost and human faults come into play. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of heaven and hell illustrates that Iago is the tempter in Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. After giving Cassio advice on how to approach Othello regarding his job, Iago reveals his true plan: Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on, They do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now (2.3.321-324). By comparing himself to a devil that appears innocent, Iago is revealing his ability to deceive those around him with a façade of kindness. “To interpret Iago as a devil in turn implies …. Iago is more than that: a fiend whose fiendishness remains unproven in [the] play…”(Christofides 19). Furthermore, the contrast of the heaven and hell further highlights the Machiavellian nature of Iago that allows him to manipulate those around him without feeling remorse. Consequently, Iago tricks Othello into believing he is an honest man, thus, giving him the ability to manipulate Othello. Moreover, there is a lack of trust between Othello and Desdemona which is made evident through comparisons to the devil. Clearly, Othello is suspicious of something when he accuses Desdemona’s hand of being “hot, hot, and moist” and requiring a sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer, much castigation, exercise devout; For here’s a young and sweating devil here that commonly rebels (3.4.34-39). By accusing Desdemona of having a moist hand, a symbol of amorous nature, he is accusing her of being unfaithful.
Othello believes that Desdemona is a devil who needs to repent for the crimes she has committed against him. However, Othello has no proof that she has done any harm; he is simply accusing her based on lies told to him by Iago. In addition, the lack of evidence proving Desdemona guilty indicates an absence of trust within their marriage. As a result, perverse images of heaven are used to show that Iago’s trickery has caused Othello to give up on those he loves. While Iago fills Othello’s head with lies of Desdemona and Cassio together, Othello comes to the conclusion that “… ‘tis true….[and] [a]ll [Othello’s] fond love thus do[es] [he] blow to heaven./ ‘Tis gone”(3.3.444-446).
By believing what Iago says to be the truth in such a brash manner, a lack of confidence in Othello is revealed. This lack of confidence causes Othello to doubt other aspects of his life such as his relationship with Desdemona allowing Iago to further manipulate Othello. Therefore, Iago has the power to make Othello believe that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him thus, causing Othello to lose all hope in his marriage. This loss of love is reflected through Othello’s loss of religion. Therefore, Iago’s manipulative influences expose the true weaknesses within Othello and Desdemona’s relationship which is reflected through contrasting images of the divine and damned. Furthermore, due to their marriage’s weaknesses, the eventual breakdown of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is reflected through twisted heaven and hell imagery. Through the ironic use of divine images it is shown that when he is overcome by jealousy, Othello’s sense of justice becomes twisted. When confronted by Emilia, Othello gives reason as to why he killed Desdemona: Cassio did top her. Ask they husband else.
O, I were damn’d beneath all depth in hell But what I did proceed upon just grounds To this extremity (5.2.136-139). Othello’s sense of morality is corrupted; he believes that he is justified in killing Desdemona because of her betrayal. “Here, Othello judges on behalf of God… but, of course, the audience knows Desdemona has been misjudged, that the sword of justice should rightly break”(Christofides 21) for Desdemona is innocent.
Othello has been tricked by Iago into believing that he has the authority to choose what is right and wrong. He then uses this authority misguidedly, resulting in the breakdown of his character and eventually his relationship with Desdemona. Additionally, the ironic reference to damnation further depicts just how twisted his morality is; for he believes that what he did was truly just. Moreover, Shakespeare illustrates the contrast between Othello’s assumed morality and his true crime by once more using images of heaven and hell. After Desdemona is dead, her virtuous nature is compared to Othello’s: “O, the more angel she,/ And you the blacker devil!”(5.2.130-131). Othello lacks confidence within himself due to his differences, which is emphasized through the use of a racial comment. However, these differences had meant nothing in the beginning, for the love between him and Desdemona was too strong. Consequently, Othello lets these differences get to him allowing Iago to manipulate him into losing the morality and honour he first possessed, reducing him to evil; a devil in comparison to Desdemona.
Resulting in the further breakdown of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. Ultimately, as a result of distrust and jealousy Othello betrays Desdemona, as is depicted through the use of religious images. Emilia reveals to Othello the true tragedy of his crime: “This deed of thine is no more worthy heaven/ Than thou wast worthy her”(5.2.160-161). Othello so overcome by jealousy and anger is no longer associated with heavenly images, underlining the idea that he has truly fallen. Consequently, bringing down his entire marriage to Desdemona and ultimately leading to his betrayal of her. However, since Desdemona is still associated with heavenly images, it emphasizes her loyalty which in contrast further underlines Othello’s flaws and the tragedy of his betrayal. Thus, through twisted images of heaven and hell Othello’s betrayal of Desdemona and its consequential ruin of their relationship is portrayed.
The shift from positive to negative connotation of the religious motif throughout Othello is used to develop the idea that even the most loving couples can have their flaws manipulated by others allowing them to be overcome by jealousy, resulting in a lack of trust and ultimately betrayal. In the beginning, heavenly images are used to illustrate an almost perfect love between Othello and Desdemona. Later, near the middle of Othello, the playwright uses contrasting images of heaven and hell to represent Iago’s manipulative powers over Othello revealing the flaws within Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. Thus, the ironic use of heaven and hell imagery near the end of the play mirrors the tragic breakdown of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. Since relationships are not perfect they can become easily tainted when left to the deceitful will of others. For when people allow their weaknesses to rule over their lives true tragedy ensues. It is up to those individuals to decide whether or not to let the lies brought about by others to affect them or not. This is the decision that ultimately determines the strength of a relationship, not the number of flaws within it.