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Module 1: Marriages, Tragedies and Questioning

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The Triumph of Jealousy

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Hello and welcome to yet another session of the NPTEL course, Introduction to world literature. Today we continue to look at Shakespeare’s iconic play, the tragedy-Othello. We had given a brief introduction in the previous session. Today we try to look at some of the scenes and some of the segments in a fairly detailed way so that we also get a hang of how this play is positioned. I also encourage you to take a look at the play in original in this link which also has a modern translation given alongside. If you notice, you can also see that there is a different kind of English which was used in the, during the Elizabethan times and even till the early 17th century, that is when this play was written. And if you feel that that is a little inaccessible for obvious reasons, you can always take a look at the modern translations also alongside. However, it would be a useful exercise to read the play in original in 17th-century English to also understand how Shakespeare played with language and how he used several new ways in which language could be used, new words, new coinages and the emotions which he could convey through language and the staged representations. (Refer Slide Time 1:26) So here we continue looking at the play and we will not be doing a thorough reading of the play across 5 acts in different scenes, we will only go through certain important segments and some important scenes which were also turning points as far as this story is concerned. We begin looking at act I, scene I and we find that this is set in Venice. And a brief insight at this point, if you are familiar with Shakespeare’s plays, you will notice that he had not set his plays in contemporary England, in the England of the 16th century or the 17th-century. He either chose imaginary locations as he does in plays such as A Midsummer night’s dream or he chose faraway locations in Rome, in Venice and this some say, some critics say is also to avoid running into any legal complications or any political controversy because his predecessors, the University Wits, as we know they were also political in their approach and they also had run into various issues on account of that. So we find here a genius dramatist, a genius playwright who also knows how to use his craft in a very skilful way and how to get that across the audience. So here we have this play which is set in Venice and the opening scene is in one of the streets and we have Iago and Rodrigo having this conversation and halfway through the conversation, Iago is telling Roderigo that he also hates Othello. So this is the context of the opening scene. They all get to know that Desdemona, Brabantio‘s daughter who is also from a family of a high social standing, who is part of the governing Council of the city-state, she has run away with Othello, the moor, who is also the general of the Army and Iago who is supposed to be the trusted confidante of Othello is found to be sharing this with Roderigo who also had Desdemona as his object of desire. So here Iago is telling Rodrigo, despise me if I do not. Three great ones of the city in a personal suit to make me his lieutenant. Off-capped to him and by the faith of man I know my price, I am worth no worse a place. But he as loving his own pride and purposes, evades them with the bombast circumstance horribly stuffed with epithets of war and in conclusion nonsuits my mediators. For “Certes” he says “I have already chosen my officer”. And what was he? (Refer Slide Time 4:05) Forsooth, a great arithmetician. One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, a fellow almost damned in a fair wife. So this is what Iago is trying to share with Roderigo. He is upset with Othello that he was not chosen as the lieutenant. Iago thinks that he was best suited for that position but someone else gets chosen instead of Iago. In Iago’s own words, I am worth no worse a place. And then he recalls this incident where Othello tells him “I have already chosen my officer”. And who is he? Michael Cassio, a Florentine. And there is this reference, a very personal reference to him here by saying that he cannot even control his own wife and we find that Othello is someone who will always use uncouth language and this tone is set right from the opening scene. We get to know about the nature of Othello that he is someone who would go to any length perhaps if he does not like someone. And as this conversation progresses, we also get to know who Iago is as far as his relationship with Othello, the moor is concerned. And I, bless the mark, his Moorship’s ancient. There is a way in which we get to understand that Iago is connected to Othello, Iago is seen as a trusted friend by Othello as well as by Roderigo here but we also know that the way he is presenting various details about people and the way he is presenting his own resentment and his agony, there is a kind of suspicion and a kind of reluctance that the audience already begins to feel about Iago. (Refer Slide Time) And as he continues, “Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. In following him, I follow but myself. Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty. But seeming so, for my peculiar end. For when outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart In compliment extern, it is not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.” He is telling us that in following the Moor, in is presenting himself as a trusted aide to Othello low, he is actually not following Othello but he is only following himself. It is to meet his own ends and he also says very directly in act I, scene I itself that I am not what I am and whatever I seem to be in front of different people, it is not what I am. He is also warning Rodrigo who will, in fact, face a very violent death on account of the schemes and plans of Iago. It was an inadvertently done, it was accidental death but, we get to know that right from the outset Iago is being very cunning and he also tells at the outset of the play which of course only the audience may catch and it remains very hidden, it remains obscure as far as the other characters are concerned. (Refer Slide Time 7:15) We are given to understand that Brabantio’s daughter, Desdemona had eloped with Othello. So, Iago and Rodrigo, they decide to go to Brabantio’s place, this is Desdemona’s father to wake him up and inform him about what has happened to his daughter. Wake up, Brabantio, wake up. Thieves thieves. Check on your daughter, your house, your money thieves. So he is not presenting this as an elopement, elopement out of her own will. Desdemona left with Othello out of her own will. That is being presented as some burglary, some robbery which had happened in Brabantio’s house and he is also now informing Brabantio as an anonymous person. It is very important to know that, if you read through that scene, you will know that Iago is not presenting himself as Iago because to the world outside, to the public, Iago is someone who is closely associated with Othello, one of the closest allies of Othello. But here, he is just being an anonymous informant and we do not, the Brabantio does not really know who that is. (Refer Slide Time 8:23) And after that, he continues to use very filthy language and he also referring to this love affair between Desdemona and Othello in very base terms. Look at the kind of language that Iago uses here that too to talk to Brabantio about his own daughter. “Zounds, sir, you are robbed. For shame, put on your gown. Your heart is burst, you lost half your soul. Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise, Awake the snorting citizens with the bell or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.” And look at the imagery which is being used here. He is using a very base, sexual imagery to talk about their relationship. He is referring to Othello as the old black ram. Here we also find racist prejudice at work and he is also saying, and he is also telling Brabantio in one certain term that if you do not alert the citizens and if you do not prevent this union, tonight the devil, it may even provide you with a grandson. And this is the kind of language and this is the kind of thoughts Iago has. And I give these segments in great details to you so that you will know that at the outset of the play, it is the playwright’s intention, Shakespeare intends that we know about who Iago is. Iago is talking with various people, with Rodrigo first, with Brabantio and soon you will find Iago interacting with Othello as well. And just like he points out, I am not what I am and I can talk in different ways, I can behave in different ways and there is no way in which in fact we get to know what Iago is actually. And just like he tells us, I am not what I am, throughout the play we realise that he continues to be very very elusive. He can transform his self, he can transform his loyalties in a matter of a fragment of seconds. And even at the end of the play, we realise that he is someone who hardly changes. There is no loyalty to anyone. There is no remorse, there is no regret and we have absolutely no idea why he is behaving in such away. And this, his character, it has been constructed so well in such a refined manner that he continues to be seen as one of the most significant and supreme villainous characters ever conceived in literature. (Refer Slide Time 10:45) Now we move on to Act I, scene 3. Here Othello is speaking and in course of time, you also will get to know that Othello is being summoned before Council of generals to give a testimony about what had happened with Othello and we find him doing all of that in a style and in a classy way that befits a general. And in Othello’s own words, “Rude am I in my speech and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace for since these arms of mine had seven years pith. Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used their the dearest action in the tented field and little of this great world can I speak.” So this is a long speech, a fairly long speech that Othello gives. He tells us about the difficulties that he went through in his life and how Brabantio himself used to invite Othello to his home and it was a veneration of these adventures and this tough life that he had that attracted Desdemona towards Othello. (Refer Slide Time 11:46) And he is also trying to refute the charges made by Brabantio that it is not through “What drugs, what charms, What conjuration, what mighty magic, For such proceeding, I am charged withal. I won his daughter.” So he is giving a long speech where he is also telling the audience and the council of generals about how he had won Brabantio’s daughter and that narration gives us a glimpse into the past life that Othello had. And we also get to know that he belongs to a different class, a different ethnic group altogether and his life experiences were also coarse and harsh and not sophisticated and smooth like Desdemona or the many others that whom you would meet in the play. (Refer Slide Time 12:31) In act 1, scene 3, we find Iago coming back to the stage again and he is very directly telling us, I hate the moor. And there is no particular reason that we can find throughout the play. We find that Iago is always searching for a reason it appears so. And here he says, “He has done my office. He did not give him the promotion, the position of the lieutenant that he had been coveting. I know not if it be true but I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety. He holds me well. The better shall my purpose work on him. Cassio’s a proper man.” We find Iago, the villain himself saying that perhaps Cassio is the right kind of pawn that he can use for his gain. He also talks about something which he does not know if it is true and even if he is only suspicious about that thing which is, which he is not now sure of, he will just do as if for surety. So what is that thing? It is that it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets, he has done my office. So here, he is referring to a rumour that Othello and his own wife had adulterous relationships with each other. But he also says there is no proof that he can present but perhaps this is the reason that he can use against Othello for undoing him, for finishing him off not at a professional level but more at a personal level and you will see the intricate ways in which he manipulates and he works his way through towards this end. (Refer Slide Time 14:11) And about Cassio also, he makes this totally unfounded remark. Cassio loves her, that is Desdemona. And I do well believe it. That she loves him, it is apt and of great credit. So he is now beginning to plot how he will take this action forward and look at the very obnoxious ways in which his mind works. Now I do love her too. The reference is to Desdemona. Not out of absolute lust. Though peradventure I stand accountant for as great a sin. But partly led to diet my revenge for that I do suspect the lusty Moor hath leapt into my seat. He is saying, he is plotting his revenge and he is also willing to desire it to lust for Desdemona because he thinks that Othello also had perhaps taken his position by having a relationship with his wife and but one is not too sure whether this had happened or not. And as the play progresses, we will also get to know that this is all Iago’s own doing. He is just imagining it up and trying to give himself a reason for doing all of these things against Othello. And there is very little evidence within the play to tell us that he is even genuinely upset about losing the position of the lieutenant. But the revenge that he plots against Othello is in a very disproportionate manner and he also does this single-handedly. The way he convinces Rodrigo to stand by him is by telling him that he will help him in some way or the other to get Desdemona’s hand in marriage. And Rodrigo is really not aware of the cunning plan and the violent things that he is imagining up in his mind. So we find that he is pretty much alone and he can do this and flawlessly execute this though he does not have any support, he does not look forward to having any support and he is pretty much self-sufficient as far as that is concerned and he says the line, evened with him, wife for wife. And throughout he seems to refer to this as if to give a proper rationale for levelling this out, for taking this revenge on Othello who otherwise has not done anything, any harm to Iago or anyone as far as we can see in the play. (Refer Slide Time 16:32) And this is how we find Cassio talking about Iago. Surprisingly throughout the play, we find almost every character, almost every significant character in the play having a high regard for Iago because Iago is not who he is. He has been presenting a very flattering impression of himself. He has been presenting before others a very impressive figure and the of things that he has been doing also is very very impressive that we will see. And in act 3 scene 1, Cassio is saying, I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest. And honest seems to be this adjective that most people, especially Othello he keeps on referring to Iago as honest Iago and we know that he could be anything but that. (Refer Slide Time 17:22) And Desdemona while she is speaking about Iago, oh that is an honest fellow. Do not doubt, Cassio. So we find Desdemona also having the same kind of impression about Iago. Desdemona is telling Cassio about Iago, oh, that is an honest fellow. Do not doubt, Cassio. But I will have my Lord and you again as friendly as you were. This another context, a background to this, Cassio has had a fallout with Othello and this also was engineered very craftily by Iago himself. Iago gets Cassio drunk and he is caught in a brawl. Othello walking into that situation, he decides to immediately dismiss Cassio. Hello and welcome to today’s session of the NPTEL course, Introduction to world literature. Today we continue discussing, the iconic play by William Shakespeare, Othello, the significant tragedy written by him in the early 17th century. In the last 2 sections where we have been discussing this play, Othello, we were trying to do a close reading of at least some of the important acts and scenes where we find the characters at their best and also be find a plot unfolding. (Refer Slide Time 0:45) Today having completed the first 3 series, we look at act 4, scene 1. And here we find Iago trying to tell that my Lord is fallen into epilepsy. This is his 2nd fit. He had one yesterday. We find that Othello is going through a very tough time not just emotionally but this is also beginning to affect him physically. And interestingly, according to how the tragic hero is being shaped with a tragic flaw, with a hamartia, we find that this is also one convenient way in which Shakespeare presents Othello as someone who also has many weaknesses. First of all, he is susceptible to whatever Iago is telling him. He is unable to use his own rational, his own thinking power, his own experience, his own wealth of knowledge about the world to filter out the information that Iago is giving him and secondly we also find him getting extremely weak during these situations and this in the light of and this becomes all the more acute when we look at Othello in the light of the wealth of experience that he had, remember the first act where he himself narrates the kind of audience that he went through in his life. The adventurous life that he had been narrating to Brabantio and how Desdemona got attracted to him through that, the kind of fearful situations that he had overcome with such resilience and such courage. And we find the same man, this general become extremely weak even physically when faced with such a trying situation. We do not find him even making an effort to overcome this or even trying to address this directly with Desdemona and resolve the issues. (Refer Slide Time 2:50) And now we find that gradually but in a very firm way, Othello is headed towards his own doom and even the doom of the loved ones around him. In act 4, scene 1. How shall I murder him, Iago? So it has come to this. He comes to know about this supposed infidelity between Desdemona and Cassio. There is hardly any reason for him to believe that they have been having an affair behind his back except that Iago showed him this handkerchief, this napkin that he had gifted Desdemona and Iago says he had found Cassio wiping his beard with this napkin. And Othello chooses to believe him. This is his most significant flaw. And the kind of jealousy inside him, the rage inside him is so powerful that he just wants to murder him for that. And remember at the beginning of the play, it has also been told to us that Cassio had already, Cassio was actually favoured over Iago to be appointed at to the position of lieutenant and Cassio was also a close friend of Othello. And the fall now from such an elevated position also indicates the kind of power that Iago has over Othello and also about his absolute lack of perception that Othello himself has. The rage we find is now detected against Desdemona as well. Look at this. Ay, let her rot and perish and be damned tonight, for she shall not live. No, my heart is turned to stone. I strike it and it hurts my hand. Oh, the world hath not a sweeter creature, she might lie by an emperor’s side and command him tasks. He has entirely changed and in these 10 lines between these 10 lines, from initially having to murder Cassio and then wishing that Desdemona herself will rot and perish and be damned and then also decided to refuse her the right to live any more, we find Othello being transformed in such a way that there is no coming back for him. (Refer Slide Time 5:16) And it is almost strange when Iago tries to give him advice. He is trying to supplement him with a lot of ideas about how he can do this. And in act 4, scene 1, do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed even the bed she hath contaminated. Here we see how vengeful Iago is. His malice is unbelievable. And even when Othello begins contemplating murder because he is now in a fit of rage because he is unable to think clearly because he is now in this condition where jealousy has overtaken everything, jealousy has taken control of his life altogether and Iago just feeds this emotion and he says, strangle her in bed even the bed she hath contaminated. And this also appears as the right kind of revenge for Othello as if like trying to pay back in the same way that she had hurt him and she had corrupt him. (Refer Slide Time 6:15) It is not as if the change that Othello is going through is not noticeable to the others. Lodovico, when he is visiting Venice, he is found wandering, my lord this would not be believed in Venice. Though I should swear I saw it. It is very much. Make her amends, she weeps. Is this the noble moor whom our full Senate Call all in all-sufficient? Is this nature whom passion could not shake? Whose solid virtue. The shot of accident nor dart of chance Could neither graze nor pierce. Lodovico is completely surprised seeing the kind of change has come about in Othello. So we now get to know that the fall, it is not just personal, it is not just emotional, it is physical we saw, this, the bouts of epilepsy, it is also professional. He is unable to function well and he who was seen as this all-sufficient man, in possession of nature Whom passion could not shake is now completely devastated. Lodovico perhaps does not understand the role played by Iago, no one does. But people do notice the kind of change that has come about in Othello’s demeanour, in the way in which he goes about his work, his inattentiveness rather towards his work and at one point this Lodovico also says he was considered to be all-sufficient and very very efficient and we also saw that working out in the first few scenes. (Refer Slide Time 7:45) Now we come to the final act, act 5. And this is the act which finally undoes Iago but not before people continuing to believe that he is still this honest, brave, just friend who also is willing to help people out, willing to help friends out during their misery. (Refer Slide Time 8:11) And the first person to realize that Iago is not what he is is unfortunately Rodrigo. Rodrigo also gets killed in this process. This happens as an accident. The intention was to kill Cassio but instead of that, Rodrigo gets killed and Rodrigo dies saying, O damned Iago, the O inhuman dog! And the way Rodrigo gets murdered and the role played by Iago in this exposes him completely. And by this time, the audience, the ones who are reading the play, they also get to know that the malice which is there, the rage which is inside Iago, it is not just that he keeps talking about it but he is actually capable of committing murder. He does not just instigate people. But he can actually see murder being committed, he can live with it. There is not a single moment of remorse despite how Iago had been actually taking money from Rodrigo and spending time with him extensively. In fact, when the play opens, we find Iago with Rodrigo. He has been there almost throughout and we find that Rodrigo, he may have certain unholy intentions. Maybe he continues to desire Desdemona even after her marriage with Othello but other than that, we find him coming across as more honest and naive and that is a way in which Iago successfully manipulates him through this and finally, this is the first revelation in act 5 about the violent capacity, about the lengths to which Iago could go in terms of his violent capacity. (Refer Slide Time 10:03) And by the end of act 5, Iago also realises that it is a dangerous game. Not that now he wants to back off, not that he regrets it but he realises that this is a dangerous game and he says this is the night that either makes me or for does me quite. And despite this realisation, he wants to go on and this is what makes Iago such a precious and such a brilliant piece of artistic work. The character of Iago, the villainous character of Iago has been sketched out to perfection. One would say that this motiveless malice that he carries within him and the way he goes about it consistently persistently without faltering even for a moment, planning meticulously, not getting confused at any point and also not having any remorse, significantly not regretting that even for a moment even when he knows that this is the night which would either make him or completely undo him. And he knows that if he loses out, there is no way of getting out of this alive and then he still chooses to go on and take the risk but what is all that for? That is something that they would never get to know even after the play ends. That is perhaps the beauty of this character, Iago. That is perhaps the ironical charm that the character of Iago also has. (Refer Slide Time 11:31) And in act 5, scene 2, we find Othello already to commit the murder. Yet she must die, else she will betray more men. His sorrows are heavenly. It strikes it doth loves. I would not kill thy unprepared spirit. Othello is ready to kill Desdemona in her bed. She asks for some time to pray. She is totally confused. She did see that things were not really going right but she obviously had not seen this coming. And look at this, this is very interesting. This is the reason that Othello gives. If she does not that, she may betray more men. This also makes it present like a larger act of humanity, a larger act of kindness that Othello is performing for the rest of the world. And this does not, he does not present that as a result of petty jealousy about petty gossips. He rather presents that as a very honourable thing and he even brings in this divine intervention to justify his actions. It strikes where it doth love. And there is the strong illusion to the biblical ideas of the Christian God striking the ones whom he loves to discipline them. So here, Othello is also being equated, till that position, Othello himself is doing that and by this and by appearing to be very very generous by saying I will not kill thy unprepared spirit, the violence of this at least in the mind of Othello, it is undermined completely. Instead, he glorifies this act, he presents that as an honourable thing that a man of his stature would do. We find that even towards the end, he is actually a prisoner of those images himself. That is how he wants to position his act of murder and not present that as a murder out of jealousy, out of pettiness but present that as murder to save the men, to discipline this wayward woman and more importantly, to liberate her from the wayward life that she has been leading.