To come to an understanding of the play Othello by William Shakespeare, it is essential to interpret the central characters actions and motivations. Without a clear view of the characters one cannot truly explore the ideas behind the story line and form an own interpretation of the play. I believe that any view of the play needs to consider other various interpretations that have been put forward over time, to develop an individual view of the play. My perception of the play is shaped by studying the different interpretations of A.C. Bradley’s and F.R. Leavis’ views.
Leavis advocates that Othello is “egotistical”, and “self-centred”. Bradley however, describes him as “noble” but is flawed due to the “demi-devil” Iago, who plays upon his emotions.
Through the study of Othello, the transformation of his respectable, romantic human characteristics convert to jealousy and devastating weaknesses. As we see through Brabantio’s reaction of hearing that an “old black ram” is tupping his “white ewe”, the Venetian society sees Othello as a hero, and as one of them, however when they view he is with the fair Desdemona, they become disgusted and hypocritical. This brings Othello to his egotistical nature and self-dramatization.
The power of his love for Desdemona and their marriage is revealed to be based not on sexual desire but intellectual compatibility: “But to be free and bounteous to her mind.” This highly romantic nature of Othello appears to be a personal strength; however his imaginative and passionate tendencies lead to fits of jealousy when this trust is challenged. The conviction he has in his wife’s honesty is clear: “My life upon her faith!” His tendency to trust is also explored through his complete faith in Iago and the repetition of the word “honest” throughout the entire play: “A man he is of honesty and trust.” The contrast between Iago and Othello comes from Iago’s disassociation with the human characteristics of love and trust.
The overthrow of Othello’s self-control and trust can be seen, as he becomes controlled by Iago’s manipulation and thrown into personal anarchy. His unwavering trust in Iago allows him to be deceived, and the audience witnesses a shift from his contented love to passionate jealousy over Desdemona’s supposed infidelity. This error of judgement in trusting Iago is clear to the audience, Iago’s charm and frankness is highly deceptive: “Men should be what they seem; or those that are not, would they might seem none!” As Iago separates himself from human sympathy and compassion, and instead mercilessly manipulates the other characters, he gains power over them. This shows further how Othello’s most noble characteristics are leading to his deception. Although Iago’s devilish mind creates plenty of havoc, he is not the