|Shakespearean dramas are often studies of human frailty. Use Othello to focus a discussion on the extent to which this is true.
“Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we: For such as we are made of, such we be”, here William Shakespeare puts into light the imperfection of humanity, we all have our faults. Shakespeare wrote plays that reflected the society of his era; he explored the extreme possibilities if our human frailty were to take over our better judgement, this is evident in his play Othello. Iago, who is the master manipulator in the play, exploits the weakness and frailty in the characters around him, through his use of the Seven Deadly Sins. These sins were used by the early Christians to educate and instruct believers concerning the human frailty of the tendency to sin. If these sins were committed it created the threat of eternal damnation for the sinner. The reader follows the characters to their tragic end through wrath, pride, envy, lust, sloth, greed and gluttony.
One of the most prominent sins working in Othello is wrath, which spurs Iago to exact his revenge on Othello. To the reader, the origins of Iago’s wrath seem petty and are not enough to justify his actions. In Iago’s eyes Cassio’s experience in battle is not adequate, he has “never set a squadron in the field” and compared to Iago he is not fit for the position of lieutenant. Iago expresses the anger he feels towards Othello’s choice for Cassio over himself for lieutenant in his soliloquies, comparing his hatred to “hell-pains”. This is a biblical illusion that can compare Iago to Satan, also known as the accuser and the illustration of the sin wrath. Satan tempts humans to sin or commit evil deeds; Iago does the same by challenging Othello’s faith in Desdemona and later accuses Othello of sleeping with his wife Emilia, without any concrete evidence. Iago is now looking for an excuse to get even with Othello, and instead of an eye for eye it is “wife for wife”. So in retaliation for the wrath he feels, Iago taints Othello’s image of Desdemona’s purity to reflect that of a “strumpet”, to ruin their relationship.
Motivated by wrath Iago is able to bring out the Seven Deadly Sins in other characters such as Othello. Othello is the tragic hero who, through pride the sin commonly associated with Lucifer, was destined to fall. The Greek translation for Lucifer is Phosphoros who carries a magic torch like the magic staff Prospero holds in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Tempest is also a study of human frailty, an example of this was Prospero’s dealings with books of magic after his throne was stolen from him. If Prospero carried on with his spell casting and abusing the power this gave him over the people around him he would have been destined to fall like Othello. However in the last Act Prospero put wrongs right and in a soliloquy he exclaims, “I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book”, so he relinquished his books of magic because he realises that even though his kingdom was lost and his pride bruised, revenge would only consume and destroy him. Othello on the other hand believed that he had been made a fool of by Desdemona and Cassio. Iago knew that under the proud warrior there was a frail and easily mouldable boy who would trust anyone who offered kindness. So Iago took advantage of Othello’s pride by showering him with praise, greeting him with “my noble lord” and addressing him in prose to show his lower status compared to Othello. Through this flattery Othello unquestionably trusted him, thus making it easy for Iago to convince Othello that Desdemona was having an affair with Cassio. With a bruised pride Othello was consumed by revenge against his so called unfaithful wife, and eventually Othello destroyed himself through killing his love, Desdemona.
Through the course of the play the reader wonders why Iago would hold so much wrath for Othello, we can see that he is angry in Othello’s choice for Lieutenant but can this one action make Iago look for the worst in Othello? Othello is truly blessed with a high status in a society that does not accept his heritage and is happy with the beautiful and fair Desdemona. Iago is envious of these pleasures and intends to put the “Moor” in his rightful place. Iago knows firsthand the obsession of an envious feeling and he has also recognised of how important envious feelings are in the deception of others, such feelings that swell under the surface can be related to that of a Leviathan. A Leviathan is a sea monster that the bible portrays as the sin of envy, it is “the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” while keeping its victim coiled in its vice like grip, this reflects to the bind Iago has Roderigo in. Roderigo is envious of Othello because of Desdemona’s love for him, Roderigo’s envy has always been lurking beneath the surface, all it took was Iago’s false word that he will win Desdemona for him in order to exploit Roderigo and take his money.
Not only does Iago exploit the envy of Roderigo but also the lustfulness of Desdemona. Love is a strong theme in Othello and even though “love's the noblest frailty of the mind”, where do we draw the line between love and lust? In the era of this play women did not have the freedom as they do now, Desdemona was a woman of great strength who pursued her love, Othello, and was not afraid to deal with her father over her decision. Iago used Desdemona’s determined nature to trick Othello into thinking that her interaction with Cassio was a lustful one. Othello contemplated “that we can call these delicate creatures ours and not their appetites”, because he was aware and afraid of his wife’s assertive temperament and her ability to twist people’s sexual desires, even if she did not know it. Desdemona was a sort after woman; we can see this in the Roderigo’s lust for her and to an extent Iago, who comes to realise that “now I do love her too” in the glee that he will use her to get to Othello. Because of this, Desdemona can be related to the demon of lust, Asmodeus, who would sentence a person to an eternity in the second level of Hell, if he or she was to fall for Asmodeus’ way, this is justified with the death of Roderigo.
Sloth, being one of the Seven Deadly Sins is hidden in the play but is still functioning. Iago like the demon Belphegor, seduces people and tempts them by means of laziness, this is prominent in Roderigo who believed that if he kept paying him Iago would deal with Othello and make Desdemona love him. Another is Othello who put blind faith in Iago’s words believing that he is a fellow “of exceeding honesty, and knows all qualities, with a learned spirit of human dealings”, with this false representation Othello did not follow up Iago’s claims. Othello does demand “ocular proof” but all Iago gives him is an image of Desdemona and Cassio together, Othello’s sloth causes him to over look the fact that this is not visible or tangible proof. These characters are so swayed with the promises that Iago offers that they trust him fully to the point where they are willing to put blind faith in him and his actions, Roderigo and Othello’s slothful behaviour was a weakness that Iago was able to take advantage of.
Greed and gluttony are another of humanities frailties which work well together for Iago who seeks power. While his objective is somewhat shadowed and unclear, Iago seems to enjoy the power he has over other characters. He is amused to misleadingly satisfy Roderigo’s greed who wants Desdemona for himself, and in return for his deceitful services he gets “money in thy purse”, which fills his own greed. Iago also abuses others gluttony by encouraging Cassio to drink then humiliating him in public for his gluttonous drinking habits. Iago’s gluttonous and greedy behaviour can be likened to Beelzebub and a Mammon. Mammon is a term derived from the Bible used to describe wealth or greed; also both Beelzebub and Mammon are personified as false gods in the New Testament for unjust worldly gain. Iago is a false god for the characters around him, he promises to give them what they desire by playing on their gluttony and indulgence of their wants but never delivering.
Sinfulness seems to seep from Othello; the reader can see that every character has been tainted by a sin, and each meets their tragic end because of their lack of contrition. Contrition is sincere and complete remorse for the sins committed, Cassio is remorseful for the sin of his gluttonous drinking claiming that he has “lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial”, he pleads that “I will rather sue to be despised than to deceive so good a commander with so slight, so drunken, and indiscreet an officer” and in doing so has asked for contrition to save himself from Iago dragging him down with him. Othello may have been late in seeing the error of his ways but he asked for forgiveness before he killed himself, in doing so acted as a sacrificial lamb to cleanse all that Iago had done wrong to him and others, such as Desdemona. Desdemona was still oblivious to Iago’s deception and manipulation of her lover Othello, but forgave Othello for all the hurt he caused her and the death he would deliver her. This shows us that Desdemona’s purity out weights the lustful image men see of her, because she did not tempt men and for fill the illusion of a “strumpet” Iago made her out to be, she was not destined for damnation like Iago.
“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” This quote from Mark 8:36 illustrates Iago’s decent through the manipulation of the Seven Deadly Sins on himself and other characters in William Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago may have exacted his revenge on Othello due to the death of Desdemona but in doing so through his human frailty to commit evil deeds he forfeited his soul to each demon of the Seven Deadly Sins. Iago was not the only one punished for his deeds, Othello, Roderigo and Desdemona died because they were too late in seeing Iago’s evil tempting ways, in other words Iago was Lucifer in the Garden of Eden who tempted characters with sin to try and lead them to damnation.