Study Guide

Othello Jealousy

By William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1

One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damned in a fair wife,
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster—unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the togèd consuls can propose
As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practice
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election;
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be beleed and
By debitor and creditor. This counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be (1.1.21-34)

Here, Iago claims he hates Othello because Othello passed him, Iago, over for a promotion, giving "one Michael Cassio" the job as his military lieutenant instead. Iago claims he's far more qualified than Cassio, who lacks Iago's experience on the field of battle. Clearly, Iago seems pretty jealous. But is this the real reason Iago sets out to destroy Othello? Or, is this merely an excuse to go after him? In other words, does Iago say all of this in order to manipulate Roderigo? (Roderigo, as we soon learn, is completely envious of Othello for marrying Desdemona.)

Act 1, Scene 3

Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery—How, how? Let's see.
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
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.
I have 't. It is engendered. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light. (1.3.435-447)

A few lines earlier (see above passage), Iago claimed that he suspects Othello has been sleeping with his wife, Emilia. Here, Iago shares his plot to destroy Othello with the audience – since Othello is so gullible, Iago will lead him "by the nose," making Othello believe that his, Othello's, wife is having an affair with Cassio. Iago plans to plant the seeds of jealousy in Othello. What's interesting about this passage is the way Iago sees his evil plan as a "monstrous birth," a thing that he will bring to "light." What's up with that?

I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets
'Has done my office. I know not if 't be true,
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. (1.3.329-433)

Now this is interesting. Earlier, Iago said he hates Othello because "the Moor" passed him over for a promotion. Yet, here, Iago says he hates Othello because he's heard a rumor that Othello has been hooking up with Iago's wife, Emilia, "twixt [Iago's] sheets." Iago says he doesn't exactly know if the rumor's true, but he's decided to go ahead and ruin Othello's life anyway. Seems like Iago has listed a couple of incompatible motives for seeking to destroy Othello, wouldn't you say? So, we're just not sure we can believe that Iago's jealous of Othello's supposed relationship with Emilia.

Act 3, Scene 3

Why, why is this?
Think'st thou I'd make a life of jealousy,
To follow still the changes of the moon
With fresh suspicions? No. To be once in doubt
Is once to be resolved. Exchange me for a goat,
When I shall turn the business of my soul
To such exsufflicate and blown surmises,
Matching thy inference. 'Tis not to make me jealous
To say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company,
Is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well.
Where virtue is, these are more virtuous.
Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw
The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt,
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. (3.3.207-223)

Here, Othello claims that he won't be destroyed by jealousy. He reasons that Desdemona "had eyes, and chose [him]" despite, presumably, the fact that he is black. But, then, Othello lets slip that he may in fact be a bit more jealous and suspicious of his wife than he lets on – he says he wants some "proof" of Desdemona's infidelity. Looks like Iago's master plan may work out after all.


The Moor already changes with my poison;
Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons,
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood
Burn like the mines of Sulphur.

                                   Enter Othello.
                                                   I did say so.
Look, where he comes. Not poppy, nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday. (3.3.373-382)

Iago realizes the unbelievable power of jealousy. Here, he claims that he has poisoned Othello's mind by suggesting Desdemona may be up to something naughty. Because Iago has succeeded in making Othello suspicious, Othello will never, ever have a good night of sleep again, not even if he used the best sleeping medicine in the world.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; (3.3.195-197)

Iago's pretty good at manipulating Othello, don't you think? Here, he pretends to warn Othello not to be a jealous man, pointing out that jealousy ends up destroying the heart of the man who falls prey to it.

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ. This may do something. (3.3.370-372)

Iago realizes that real proof of Desdemona's supposed infidelity is not necessary because mere suspicion is enough to feed Othello's jealousy. In the case of Othello, Iago will use the handkerchief Othello gave Desdemona in order to convince Othello that Desdemona's been cheating. (Remember, when Desdemona dropped her handkerchief by accident, Emilia picked it up and gave it to Iago. Iago says he's going to drop it for Cassio to find.) Even though the handkerchief is a mere "trifle, light as air," once Othello sees it in another man's possession, he'll think he has solid proof that Desdemona is unfaithful. When Iago says the handkerchief will be "as proofs of holy writ" to Othello, he means that Othello will see the handkerchief as the gospel truth that Desdemona's a cheater.

Act 3, Scene 4

Pray heaven it be
state-matters, as you think, and no conception
nor no jealous toy concerning you.
Alas the day, I never gave him cause!
But jealous souls will not be answered so.
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous. It is a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.
Heaven keep that monster from Othello's mind! (3.4.176-184)

Emilia understands the nature of jealousy. Here, she points out that jealous husbands like Othello never really need any cause to be jealous – they just are jealous. What's interesting about this passage is the way Emilia explains that jealousy is like a "monster / begot on itself, born on itself." In other words, jealousy is generated out of nothing and multiplies or reproduces by feeding on itself. Compare Emilia's description of jealousy to what Iago has to say about bringing his "monstrous birth" to light in 1.3.398, above.


Where should I lose that handkerchief, Emilia?
I know not, madam.
Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse
Full of crusadoes. And, but my noble Moor
Is true of mind and made of no such baseness
As jealous creatures are, it were enough
To put him to ill thinking.
Is he not jealous?
Who, he? I think the sun where he was born
Drew all such humors from him. (3.4.23-32)

Desdemona is frantic when she discovers she's lost her handkerchief, as it was a meaningful gift from her husband. What's interesting is that poor Desdemona has no idea how her husband will react – she says Othello isn't the jealous type so there's no need to worry. According to her, Othello's "true of mind" and much too "noble" to stoop to "such baseness."

Act 5, Scene 2

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; (5.2.402-406)

Othello begs to be spoken of as a man so "perplex'd" that he didn't know what he was doing when he accused Desdemona of infidelity and murdered her. He doesn't want to be remembered as a man who was "easily jealous." Why is that?