The Manifestation of the Seven Deadly Sins in Othello's Iago
The seven deadly sins have been used for centuries to educate humanity on their own tendency to sin. These immoralities consist of: sloth, wrath, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and pride. A figure that was greatly influenced by one of these sins was Lucifer. His greatest sin was pride, which was the reason he fell from heaven. He wanted to be God and when he couldn’t, he rebelled. After falling, Satan became the instigator of sin in mankind. He lured Eve into eating the apple and therefore created the first sin in the human race. As Lucifer tainted mankind, Iago corrupted Othello and others around him in the play Othello. Iago’s pride drove him to commit other deadly sins and also pushed him to persuade others to sin.
Iago was passed over for a promotion before the beginning of the play. This obviously hurt his pride to a great extent. He came to resent Othello because of his wounded pride. Iago has an image of himself that he holds in the highest regards. The fact that there is someone “more qualified” than him doesn’t fit that self-image. After this, most people would not make it their life’s purpose to sabotage and injure the person they blame for their misfortunes. Iago could have just worked hard to show Othello that he had made the wrong choice in promoting Cassio. This is not an ideal option for Iago because of another sin: sloth. Instead of putting the work in he manipulates others to get what he wants. Iago is lazy because doing good acts would take longer to be recognized for. Sabotaging others is a faster and more immediate path to gratification. These sinful shortcuts will affect the people in Iago’s path of destruction.
Envy of others can be a very powerful emotion to have. One does not only covet what others have. Consequently, they can sabotage and cause hardship on the people they envy. They then may perceive themselves in a better light and may gain from such actions. Not only does Iago do this with Othello, but Cassio as well. Iago may yearn for the love that Othello and Desdemona share. This would motivate him to attempt at destroying their relationship. Iago and Emilia’s relationship does not have the same love and compassion as Othello and Desdemona’s. Emilia states that Iago has asked for Desdemona’s handkerchief “one hundred times.”
When he pulls off these schemes, Iago is quite pleased with himself. He felt prideful in the fact that he could manipulate and outmaneuver his enemies. Iago is paralleling the devil in the story of Eden. Satan wanted to show God that he had made a mistake in picking man over him. He then enticed Eve to sin in order to show God that he had made the wrong choice. Iago enticed Cassio to be gluttonous with his drink and this caused Cassio to become too drunk to fulfill his duty. This was ultimately done to prove Othello had made the wrong choice when promoting Cassio over Iago. Not only does Iago incite gluttony in Othello and Cassio, he is gluttonous in his revenge. After he had gotten the promotion he originally wanted he still wanted more. He will stop at nothing to destroy Othello. He wanted to feel the gratification of inflicting as much pain as he could to others. This caused him to become extremely greedy and wrathful.
How could someone kill the one they loved? Othello claimed to love Desdemona but he violently strangled her. When Iago puts him into a fit of rage, he is no longer himself; he is the sin wrath incarnated. He is not only wrathful but he is gluttonous in his actions. He goes to the extreme of killing Desdemona. Othello is a higher up soldier even though he is a man of color. This is very unusual for this time period and would be very hard to attain. From this, one can come to the conclusion that Othello must be respectable in some manner. How does someone who is respectable kill the one they loved? Pride is a very unassuming sin. Thinking too highly of one’s self does not seem like the worst thing that could happen. A small amount of pride is not only acceptable, but most would say it is important to have. It is when a person possesses too much pride where things start to go south. Too much pride is why Lucifer challenged God. Too much pride is why Iago becomes malicious and destructive. When he focuses on only his image he loses his humanity. He has no time to care about others because he is only concerned with himself. Too much pride is why respectable Othello murders his loving wife. Othello is a good man and esteemed by his peers and people above him. He was not outwardly prideful when addressing Brabantio and the Duke. “Rude am I in my speech” 1.3.81 Othello is quite eloquent for being a foreign warrior with little to no proper schooling. He is humble, which is the opposing virtue of the vice pride.
3.3.155-161“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash. ‘Tis something, nothing: ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”
Iago believes that nothing is more important to people than their own name. A person can have no material valuables but they always have their name. This infers that a person’s reputation is all they have. Moreover, this is a very vain thing to believe. Vanity can be traced back to how a person wants to be seen by others. By doing this, people are focusing solely on themselves, which is an aspect of pride. Money does not mean much to Iago. We see this when he asks time and time again for Roderigo to put money in his purse. Iago does not care for material wealth. He wanted Rodrigo’s trust and to see how far he could push him. Money has many owners and can change hands easily. Pride and a good reputation are more difficult to gain. The ironic part of the passage is Iago states the fault in his own logic. When someone damages another’s reputation, they do not gain their own. They only inflict pain without payment. Iago later talks about jealousy the green eyed monster. This monster makes a fool out of its victims. Jealousy is envy and greed infused with pride. Othello is greedy for Desdemona’s love. He has it, but he wants more and he believes that Cassio is taking some away from him. Wanting to take Desdemona’s perceived “love” away from Cassio makes Othello envious of him. His is pride is wounded and that makes Othello insecure. He trusted Desdemona and now has a demented sense of justice. His justice is not actual justice; it is a byproduct of his wrath.
He has to kill for justice. What justice? The fault was against his pride. He still loves her and will love her after he kills her even though she “cheated” on him. He doesn’t want her to cheat on other men. Othello is so obsessed with Desdemona confessing her sin even though she hasn’t sinned. It’s ironic because he is in a stage of wrath. 4.2.51 “I should have found in some place of my soul a drop of patience.” Patience is the contrasting virtue to the vice of wrath. Othello rushed his prosecution of Desdemona and did not allow her the same rights he requested. She pleaded with him to bring Cassio but he denied her. His lack of patience and impulsive actions lead to her death.
Lust is Iago’s best weapon against Emilia. He rewards her with sex after she gives Desdemona’s handkerchief to him. Sex is supposed to be a loving act between people who love each other. Iago destroys this purity by tainting this unsullied act by using sex to manipulate Emilia. He does not love her; he just uses her and returns the favor with sex. This is hurtful to Emilia because she does care for him. She will make the effort to give him what he wants even though she has no inclination of the ultimate repercussions. “I nothing but to please his fantasy” 3.3.297 Later on she comes to understand the ramifications of her actions. She sees the good in Desdemona and the evil in Iago.
The handkerchief represented chastity and kindness. To Othello, the handkerchief is Desdemona’s trust in their relationship; looking deeper into the book we can find the symbolism of the handkerchief to Desdemona. Why is she so upset when she cannot find the handkerchief? Why does she not tell Othello about the loss rather than lying to him? Both of these questions come to mind while reading this play. We know that she does not have the intention of hurting Othello or want to keep it a secret, but if she loves him so deeply she would have to talk to him about the loss. Desdemona is terrified for their relationship especially when Othello tells her the meaning of the handkerchief. While she explains to him later that it is misplaced, not lost, Othello leaves angry. Poor Desdemona is never given a chance. The handkerchief to Desdemona is the evil ending of their love. Without the handkerchief she knows Othello will not love her the same.
Why doesn’t Desdemona come out and say that she lost the handkerchief from the beginning. Why does Othello listen to all of Iago’s lies rather than talking to his wife about what is happening? Their relationship is tested and fails because of miscommunication and lack of open-ness in their marriage. If Othello would not have assumed from Iago that everything was true, and if Desdemona went and talked to Othello in the first place, their relationship would have been much stronger rather than dead, literally and figuratively. The handkerchief is once again used as a sense of healing and is the symbolic take on their relationship. When the handkerchief is still with Desdemona all is well and healed in their relationship. The moment the handkerchief is missing, whether either of them knows the truth about the whereabouts of the handkerchief, their relationship crumbles. All trust is lost and suspicion rises. The handkerchief is the one object that is driving this couple’s love and trust; and without it, everything is lost.
The fact that Emilia listens to her husband and then lies to Desdemona about the whereabouts of her most precious possession tells us that the handkerchief brings out the sense of drama from many characters throughout the play.
The handkerchief is not only prized and built up with trust by Othello but also in a sense by Iago. Iago wants the handkerchief throughout the whole play and once his wife is deceived into taking the handkerchief for him, he builds trust in the handkerchief. He knows that through the handkerchief his plan can play out, as he wants. The handkerchief is symbolized as a prize for Iago. Without the handkerchief Iago would not have been able to manipulate as many people as he did. In the end the handkerchief becomes the catalyst for envy, wrath, and pride.
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