Othello is another of Shakespeare’s characters that constantly puzzles and challenges me. How could a man so accustomed to making major decisions, affecting the lives of thousands, be manipulated by a scheming underling? Why did he believe and accept Iago’s suggestions over the word of Desdemona, the woman he loved and married?
It involves a complicated set of circumstances, not uncommon to this very day. People in power often build close, trusting relationships with a single person, often over a period of years; someone who has seen them struggle and survive; someone who knows their fears and vulnerabilities; someone who has helped them overcome personal and professional problems, and someone who knows their weaknesses and strengths. Ultimately, given some twist in that relationship, the aide is in a position of enormous power to destroy his leader if he so wishes.
Why now? Why does Iago try to destroy his leader? Two events occur at the same time: one, Othello bypasses Iago, giving Cassio the position of lieutenant Iago long hoped would be his; and two, Othello marries a young, beautiful woman from Venetian nobility. In both cases, Iago loses standing with Othello. Out of jealousy and anger, Iago is now in a position to change the dynamics of the relationship.
Othello now becomes the victim of Iago’s evil plan. His fears and vulnerabilities are brought to the surface by Iago’s succession of suggestions. Yes, Othello was afraid Desdemona would leave him for a younger man; yes, he was afraid if he lost his position of power and glamour, and she was no longer the “commander’s wife,” she would leave him. And, yes, those fears were based on real possibilities.
Influenced by Iago’s suggestions, Othello goes over the edge. The only way he can prevent her from leaving him, in his irrational state of mind, is to kill her.
Only too late, does Othello see what Iago’s evil plan has wrought. Does he know he has been manipulated? Does he know it was he who gave Iago the power over him?