Othello, the 1603 masterpiece of the master playwright William Shakespeare is more psychological than artistic, derived from Donald Metzer’s “Concerning the Stupidity of Evil”. Dr. Johnson says that his [Shakespeare’s] drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies, by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions (Johnson. p. 14). Shakespeare portrayed life as it was seen by him, the people whom he met with, the lives he came to know &c &c. In Othello he gave us enough room to delve into the psyche of his characters, each bearing his/her own individualist one. People most often look into the various traits of Iago; multiple faces of Iago drive the play forward to the catastrophe. Iago and Othello share one thing in common, that is discrepancy. Honest Iago is crooked in private; Warrior Othello is schizophrenic in private. Let us examine if the chameleon like disparity in their exposition of character is real or improvised.
Desdemona is a Venetian beauty while Othello, the warrior belongs to Moor race; he is referred to as a “Barbary horse” (Shakespeare 1.1.113) and a “lascivious Moor” (Shakespeare 1.1.127). E.A.J. Honigmann, the editor of the Arden Shakespeare edition, concluded that Othello's race is ambiguous. "Renaissance representations of the Moor were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory. As critics have established, the term 'Moor' referred to dark-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly ambiguous terms as 'African', 'Ethiopian', 'Negro', and even 'Indian' to designate a figure from Africa or beyond.” (Honningmann). His persistent thought that he does not deserve such a beautiful girl as Desdemona develops in him a sense of self contempt. As many circumstances intervene, his complex increases and he later becomes like schizophrenic. Schizophrenics do not need much to react angrily; they develop things out of imagination. As Iago instigates, Othello grows more schizophrenic. The thought of killing Desdemona evolves off his mere impression that she gave her handkerchief to Cassio, which affirms he is pure schizophrenic. [The medical condition called Othello Syndrome is named after this play.]
Othello can be compared with The Winter’s Tale in which Hermione is accused infidel by her husband and later imprisoned. Hermione reconciles with her husband by taking sixteen years of seclusion. But Desdemona fails to convince her husband of her innocence. Othello agonizes over an empty fiction, and, meaning to execute solemn justice, butchers innocence and strangles love (Bradley). At the beginning we see him in the Council-Chamber of the Senate. The consciousness of his high position never leaves him. At the end, when he is determined to live no longer, he is as anxious as Hamlet not to be misjudged by the great world, and his last speech begins (Bradley). The shift from a high position warrior to a schizophrenic is the product of circumstances. The agony and its affirmation make him grow more schizophrenic. At the peak of his imagination, he decides to slay his loving wife.
Growing suspicious of one’s wife without ample evidence is the symptom of schizophrenia. That cannot be taken as insanity or mental illness; rather, he is in a medical condition that requires a doctor’s advice. He accuses Desdemona of infidelity, but does not want to be remembered as one easily jealous.
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speakOf one that loved not wisely, but too well;Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,Perplexed in the extreme; (Shakespeare 5.2.402-406)
This is one of the signs that make sure he is schizophrenic; they do not admit their doubt is easily bred. They believe their suspicion has solid grounds. The self contempt is more ostensible in Othello’s remarks so often, like:
For she had eyes, and chose me. No, Iago;I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;And on the proof, there is no more but this:Away at once with love or jealousy. (Shakespeare 3.3.207-223)
He believes choosing him as the groom is Desdemona’s decision and she is responsible for it as she had eyes to see him. This is another symptom of schizophrenia; having little or no value at all about oneself, and asserting that he doubts because of solid reasons.
There are many instances like these which show that Othello is schizophrenic. He is flexible to the instigations of Iago, but does not take into account Emilia in whatsoever conditions. The conversation between Othello and Iago, given below, shows that his intellect is pawned:
OTHELLO. Get me some poison, Iago, this night: I'll notexpostulate with her lest her body and beautyunprovide my mind again. This night, Iago.IAGO. Do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated.OTHELLO. Good, good. The justice of it pleases. Very good. (Shakespeare 4.1.223-229)
Othello easily gets ensnared by Iago, like all schizophrenic husbands. The marital relationship between Othello and Desdemona goes through many distortions. Feelings of envy and jealousy demonstrate these distortions, and to Harry Stack Sullivan, such feelings reveal a limited capacity for satisfaction in interpersonal relations. With envy, a real thing or person is longed for as the object that will reduce a sense of inadequacy. "Envy," says Sullivan, "is an acute discomfort caused by discovering that somebody else has something that one feels one ought to have." (Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis). The jealousy and envy of Othello drives him to commit killing his loving wife and his love.
The signs of Schizophrenia Othello exhibits are real, and we can see such cases in our modern present also. Cases have been reported about husbands suspecting wives for no reason at all; this play still has relevance. For example, in 2004, The Huffington Post reported that killing wife out of suspicion has become so surprisingly common by citing many US incidents. It says at least a third of all women killed in the United States are by the male partners. (At least A Third of all Women Murdered in the US are Killed by the Male Partners). In this technological present, husbands do not pry; they have tools to inspect what happens in their wife’s life. The way in which Desdemona reacted to her husband’s suspicion is not recommended of a woman of prudence. In this context, Hermione in The Winter’s Tale is more practical. Being close to a suspecting husband may lead to difficulties, this is one of the messages Shakespeare gives us through Othello.
The conclusion we can arrive at is that Othello is sane, but his love for his wife is insane and blind. If Othello and Hermione were couples, there would never be any slaying.
Shakespeare, William, and Edward Pechter. Othello: Authoritative Text, Sources and Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.
Bradley, Andrew C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. London: MacMillan, 1992. Print.
Shakespeare, William, Suzanne Gossett, and Richard Proudfoot. The Arden Shakespeare: Third Series. London: AS, 2004. Print.
Johnson, Samuel, and Samuel Johnson. Preface to Shakespeare:. Gloucester: Dodo, 2007. Print.
Segan, Saundra. "Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis." Psycartjournal. PsycartJournal, 25 Aug. 2005. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Scheller, Alissa. "At Least A Third Of All Women Murdered In The U.S. Are Killed By Male Partners." The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 09 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.