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How important is revenge as a motivating factor in the tragedy of Othello?

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Introduction

How important is revenge as a motivating factor in the tragedy of "Othello"? Revenge tragedies were a continuation of the medieval morality plays which focused on the destructive influence of jealousy. Shakespeare's early play "Titus Andronicus" has revenge as a central theme, where the later Hamlet also uses the process of revenge as a means of protecting the protagonist. "Othello" follows this style to some extent, and one of the main themes is the concept of revenge. Revenge is indeed a motive for Iago's attempt at destroying Othello. Shakespeare introduces the idea of revenge at the start of Act One, in Iago's bitter outburst, "I know my price; I am worth no worse a place," Here, Iago is outraged that Cassio, a "Florentine" and "Great arithmetician", was promoted over himself. Iago uses his sense of justice to scheme against Cassio and Othello. However, this motive becomes less and less substantial throughout the course of the play. This is because even though Cassio is sacked and Iago is made Othello's lieutenant, he continues to scheme against him, which implies that the promotion was not the main motive. Iago's concise, energetic, pragmatic style lends weight to the hatred he professes for Othello. ...read more.

Middle

Formed carefully, Iago's plan reveals a Machiavellian intellect, making good use of overheard threats from Brabantio - "Look to her Moor, if thou hast eyes to see, /She has deceived her father, and may thee;" and comments from Othello's own mouth about his "blood" beginning his "safer guides to rule". However, other critics believed that Iago does not have any motives for destroying Othello's life and as suggested by Coleridge the "motive-hunting of motiveless malignity" is Iago's mainspring for revenge. "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know/From this time I never will speak any word." Critics such as F.R. Leavis suggested that Iago is a "necessary piece of dramatic mechanism" designed to wreak havoc. Here, since Iago has been found out and his plan is in ruins, he has no more dishonesty to spread and is therefore dramatically irrelevant for the rest of the play. Since Iago's main function is to spread lies, his usefulness has run out since there are no more lies to spread. In this way Iago is similar to Aaron in "Titus Andronicus" in that they spread havoc for no real purpose, desiring an Old Testament style revenge of equal suffering. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, critics criticized the assertation that Othello is a just executioner since the real reason for Othello's murder is to get revenge on her for sleeping with Cassio. He simply invents the justice reasoning to make himself appear nobler. After having killed Desdemona and discovered that she was not having an affair, Othello then has to avenge Desdemona's death by killing himself. Othello also insists that he did not murder Desdemona out of revenge, but out of love. "Of one that loved not wisely, but too well" Ironically, Othello can only avenge Desdemona's violent death by his own violent death. He insists that he did not murder Desdemona out of revenge, but because she was supposedly in love with Cassio, and he wanted her for himself. However, T.S. Elliot criticizes this view, questioning whether Othello had really learnt from the events. He believed that Othello was simply "cheering himself up" by insisting that he didn't murder out of revenge, but out of love. In conclusion, despite his protestations, Othello does murder Desdemona out of revenge against her supposed affair and, with the discovery of the handkerchief, violently kills himself. However Iago's primary motive isn't revenge since Iago's main role is to play the tragic villain and doesn't need a motive to ruin people's lives. ...read more.

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