Othello

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Othello, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Jealousy Theme Icon

Iago refers to jealousy as the "green-eyed monster." As this metaphor suggests, jealousy is closely associated with the theme of appearance and reality. For instance, at one point Othello demands that Iago provide "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity—he demands to see reality. But Iago instead provides the circumstantial evidence of the handkerchief, which Othello, consumed by his jealousy, accepts as a substitute for "ocular proof." Othello's jealousy impedes his ability to distinguish between reality and appearance. While the prejudiced characters in the play denigrate Othello as an animal or a beast based on his race, Othello's obvious honor and intelligence makes these attacks obviously ridiculous. Yet when Othello is overcome by jealousy, he does become beast-like, falling into epileptic fits that rob him of the ability to speak intelligibly.

Othello is also not the only character in Othello to feel jealousy. Both Iago and Roderigo act to destroy Othello out of jealousy, with disastrous consequences.

Jealousy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Jealousy appears in each scene of Othello. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Jealousy Quotes in Othello

Below you will find the important quotes in Othello related to the theme of Jealousy.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t'incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight."
Related Characters: Brabantio (speaker), Othello, Desdemona
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.2.82-90
Explanation and Analysis:

Brabantio and his men have arrived at the inn where Othello is staying. Iago has advised Othello to go inside in order to avoid a confrontation with Brabantio, but Othello has decided to stay, declaring that he is a loyal soldier and husband to Desdemona and thus he has nothing to be ashamed of. Brabantio, having learned about his daughter's marriage, accuses Othello of enchanting Desdemona and binding her in "chains of magic"; he claims there is no other explanation for why she would choose to marry Othello. He uses racist language to describe Othello, calling him a "thing" with a "sooty bosom," and saying that it would make more sense to fear him as opposed to love him. 

This speech is a pertinent example of the racial prejudice directed at Othello by the other characters. Brabantio's words reflect the widespread idea that Othello is not a normal human, but is either an animal-like "thing" or a fantastical being with supernatural powers. Note that Brabantio's horror emerges in particular from the thought of his daughter, whom he describes in terms that evoke pure white womanhood ("a maid, so tender, fair, and happy"), being intimate with Othello ("run... to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou"). Desdemona is presented as de-sexualized, an innocent child, whereas Othello is suggested to have sinister sexual powers akin to magical enchantment. As well as indicting Othello, this idea robs Desdemona of agency; Brabantio considers it impossible that she has chosen to marry Othello of her own free will. 

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Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"The Moor 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' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:

Roderigo has confessed to Iago that he is miserable at the thought that he has lost Desdemona to Othello; Iago has told him not to indulge these sentimental emotions, and has promised to help Roderigo win Desdemona if Roderigo pays him. Alone onstage, Iago reflects on his own hatred of Othello and details his plan to bring about Othello's downfall. In this passage, Iago notes that Othello is an open, trusting person, and that because of this, manipulating him will be easy, like leading a donkey by the nose.

This is one of the many instances in the play in which Othello is compared to an animal. Iago's reference to an ass (donkey) in particular highlights that the racist view of Moors as animalistic is closely entwined with the idea that Moors are naturally subservient and unintelligent. Iago's view that Othello is feebleminded is clearly false; Othello has already demonstrated that he is not only a highly skilled soldier, but also talented in rhetoric. On the other hand, Iago's observation that Othello is overly trusting is correct. Indeed, Othello's readiness to believe in appearances is the fatal flaw that––as Iago predicts––ultimately leads to his downfall.

However, the extent to which this trusting nature is actually a flaw remains ambiguous. Othello's "free and open nature" is contrasted with Iago's duplicitous cunning, and although Shakespeare shows that gullibility is dangerous, it is still presented as morally preferable to selfish scheming and deceitful appearances.

Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.195-197
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, having been cautioned by Iago about the importance of reputation, demands to know what Iago is really thinking. Iago evades the question, and instead warns Othello to beware of jealousy, famously likening it to a "green-eyed monster" that mocks the jealous person. As in the rest of this exchange, Iago's words are technically correct, and in a different context would constitute good advice. Indeed, his warning directly prefigures the chaotic impact that jealousy will have on Othello's life, and foreshadows the way in which Othello's irrational jealousy will make a fool out of and destroy him. At the same time, Iago knows that telling Othello not to be jealous will only increase his suspicions. The "green-eyed monster" he describes in fact reflects Iago's own role as an envious, parasitic influence who mocks Othello even as he ruins him.

"This honest creature doubtless
Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.283-284
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has requested that Iago ask Emilia to keep an eye on Desdemona, and has urged Iago to report anything he sees back to him. As Iago leaves, Othello says to himself that Iago is honest and probably knows more than he is letting on. Once again, Othello has made an accurate observation without realizing its true meaning. Iago does know more than what he says, though of course he deliberately conceals and misrepresents information in order to undermine Othello––a far cry from the behavior of an "honest creature." Note that, although Othello thinks he is alone when he makes this statement, immediately afterward Iago briefly returns. Depending on the production, Iago is likely to be shown overhearing Othello, a fact that adds further dramatic irony to Othello's words. 

"Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years – yet that's not much –
She's gone."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 3.3.304-3.3.308
Explanation and Analysis:

Still alone, Othello reflects on his conversation with Iago and frets that perhaps it is unrealistic to expect Desdemona to truly love him, considering he is black, uncivilized in speech, and older than she is. Here we see the result of Iago's tactic of reverse psychology; while Iago encouraged Othello not to think too much about the situation before there was more evidence, Othello is left in a fretful, paranoid state, trying to evaluate if he is good enough for Desdemona. It is also clear from Othello's words that his fears are far more emotional than rational, and are rooted in the incoherent logic of racism.

This is the second time that Othello has referred to himself as a crude and unskilled speaker, and yet all evidence points to the falseness of this statement. Meanwhile, the fact that he is older than Desdemona is hardly significant, considering it was common for young women to marry older men at the time. The only objective fact that in this speech is that Othello is black; however, at no point in the play does Desdemona express even the slightest concern over this fact. On the other had, Othello's experience of racism at the hands of the other characters is frequent and severe. Thus, regardless of what Desdemona thinks, he cannot escape the internalized racist idea that their racial difference makes their marriage unviable. 

"Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 3.3.412
Explanation and Analysis:

Emilia has picked up Desdemona's handkerchief, which Iago had requested she bring to him, and dutifully presented it to her husband. Iago takes the handkerchief with the plan of leaving it in Cassio's room, when Othello suddenly enters in a frantic, enraged state, and demands that Iago show him "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity. The fact that Othello behaves aggressively and threateningly to Iago––whom he has multiple times praised as honest and righteous––shows that Othello has already been driven wild by jealousy and is no longer capable of making rational assessments of the situation. Perhaps because he is aware of this, he insists that Iago show him visual evidence of Desdemona's supposed crime, implying Othello believes "ocular proof" is beyond doubt. 

The fact that Iago is carrying the handkerchief during this interaction, however, reminds the audience that appearances can be just as misleading as rumors. Now that Iago has reduced Othello to a state of paranoid jealousy, it is easy for Iago to manipulate visual evidence to support his false claim that Desdemona is unfaithful. Othello's trust in visual appearances reflects his mistaken trust of Iago––and both will soon bring about his downfall. 

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"A horned man's a monster and a beast."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.77
Explanation and Analysis:

Overcome with anguish about Desdemona, Othello has had an epileptic fit, during which time Cassio briefly enters and advises Iago on how to revive Othello. With Cassio offstage gain, Othello has regained consciousness and immediately accuses Iago of mocking him. Iago, bewildered, says that he hasn't, to which Othello responds "a horned man's a monster and a beast." At the time, folklore held that a cuckold––a man whose wife was unfaithful––would grow horns, making his humiliated status visible to the rest of society. Although irrational, this clearly represents a significant fear for Othello. Not only would Desdemona's infidelity ruin his reputation as a noble and manly husband, it would confirm the racist beliefs that, as a Moor, Othello is more like an animal or supernatural creature than a human. 

Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"Put out the light, and then put out the light.
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cuning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have plucked thy rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again;
It must needs wither."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 5.2.7-16
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, holding a light, has entered the bedroom where Desdemona lies sleeping. Watching her, he remarks on the purity of her snow-white skin, and vows not to shed her blood when he kills her. In this passage, he draws a parallel between putting out the light he is holding and extinguishing the light of Desdemona's life, and contemplates the finality of murdering her. Unlike a candle which can be relit, once Desdemona dies she will be gone forever. It seems as if Othello can almost predict the regret he will come to feel after murdering Desdemona and discovering her innocence. 

At the same time, the light in this passage can also be interpreted as a symbol for purity, and Othello's resolve to murder Desdemona is stoked by the fact that he believes she has already destroyed her purity and innocence by having an affair with Cassio. Both these metaphors emphasize the fragility of women's existence in the play, as both their honor and even their lives are at the mercy of men, who––as Othello demonstrates––cannot always be trusted to act rationally. 

"When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him—thus."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.401-417
Explanation and Analysis:

Thanks to Emilia, Othello has finally discovered Iago's scheme, and after Iago kills Emilia, Othello stabs Iago, wounding him but not killing him. Lodovico, meanwhile, has told Othello that he must accompany him back to Venice and give up his position of general. In response, Othello delivers a speech in which he asks the other characters to describe him in the future as he is and not to exaggerate either his good or bad qualities. He admits that, due to being "perplexed in the extreme," he threw away something more precious than anything else. At the end, he asks that they remember the time he killed a Turk with a sword, and parallels the act by stabbing himself. 

Othello's final speech is complex, and betrays Othello's ambiguous judgment of himself and the situation. His request that he neither be overly praised or condemned after death suggests that he is frustrated by a lifetime of being judged according to racist stereotypes, in addition to the pressure of maintaining an honorable reputation. His use of the word "base" in the reference to the Judean who threw the pearl away shows that he blames his own misjudgment for having killed Desdemona. At the same time, however, he notes that he is not "easily jealous" by nature and thus emphasizes Iago's role in misleading him.

Othello's final words about killing the Turk indicate that he wishes to be remembered as a loyal Venetian soldier; by comparing that act to stabbing himself, he implies that his suicide is almost a kind of service to the state of Venice. This aligns with the narrative arc of classical tragedy, which dictates that once the tragic hero has died, a proper, stable hierarchy of power can be restored.