Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Interpretation of the Temptation Scene (Act 3, Scene 3) in Othello

The Act 3, Scene 3 in Othello, in which honest Othello is tempted by the ‘serpent’ Iago to the damnation emotion of jealousy, constitutes the central scene of the play. This very long scene is mainly a long study in temptation and damnation. Here Iago, the master villain is in his best and tempts Othello and leads him,bit by bit , to the damnation. Here Iago speaks carefully with Othello and plants the seeds of suspicion and jealousy which eventually bring about the tragic events of the play.

It covers perhaps the widest range of feelings from happiness, innocence, and trust to torment and revenge. It begins with Desdemona’s well meaning assurances to Cassio and ends with Othello’s determination to swiftly kill "the fair devil". It is the most important scene in the play, for it brings out the jealousy, the fatal flaw, of Othello, which will lead to his undoing and the tragic end of the play.

But apart from the theme of the sexual jealousy ,the scene draws our attention to other things such as the pressure group complicity, the chance happenings ,the prevailing notion about women etc which helped Iago have his job done. The scene is also an excellent example of Shakespeare’s use of imagery.

Sometimes the villainy gives us pleasure .It is nowhere more true than in the scene. It is interesting as well as pathetic to see the master villainy of Iago. Iago anticipates and manipulates the other characters so skillfully that they seem to be acting simultaneously of their own free will and as Iago’s puppets. Now let us see how Iago makes Othello a fallen man and what are the things that precipitated the tragedy are.

The scene is divided into seven parts.

Sub-scene 1

The temptation scene opens in the loveliest scene in the entire play: the garden of the Cyprian castle. Desdemona is talking with Cassio and tells him that she is sure that she can influence her husband in Cassio's behalf. Emilia also hopes that Desdemona will be successful. Desdemona is most reassuring and jests to Cassio saying: As Cassio's solicitor, she would "rather die / Than give [his] cause away" (27–28).These last word with Cassio will ultimately prove to be prophetic.

Sub-scene 2

Emilia then notes that Othello and Iago are approaching. When the Moor and Iago enter, Cassio excuses himself hurriedly, saying that he is too ill at ease to speak with the general at this time. And it is at this point that Iago, who is ready to make the most of every incident and occasion, begins to taint Othello's belief in Desdemona's fidelity.

Iago: Ha, I like not that.
Othello: What dost thou say?
Iago: Nothing ,my lord or if – I know not what.
Othello: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?
Iago: Cassioo,my lord?,sure ,I cannot think it,
That he would sneak away so guilty-like,
Seeing you coming.

Iago represents himself as an honest, but reluctant, witness. His "Ha! I like not that!" (35) is a blatant lie; this fraudulent tsk-tsking hides Iago's true delight; nothing could satisfy his perversity more. But because Othello sees nothing amiss, Iago must make a show of not wanting to speak of it, or of Cassio, while all the time insinuating that Cassio was not just leaving, but that he was "steal[ing] away so guilty-like" (39). Iago's words here are filled with forceful innuendo, and as he pretends to be a man who cannot believe what he sees, he introduces jealousy into Othello's subconscious.By pretending to be reluctant to articulate his suspicions ,Iago encourages Othello to question what he has observed.

Sub-scene 3

Desdemona greets her husband and, without guilt, introduces Cassio's name into their conversation. Here, fate plays a major role in this tragedy; not even Iago wholly arranged this swift, coincidental confrontation of Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio, and certainly the pathos of Desdemona's position here is largely due to no other factor than fate. Desdemona could not purposely have chosen a worse time to mention Cassio's name to her husband. In addition, she innocently refers to Cassio as a "suitor." All these coincidences will fester later in Othello's subconscious as Iago continues to fire the Moor's jealousy. But for now, Othello is without suspicion and seems to be concerned with other matters. Obviously, he will do what his wife asks, but his thoughts are on other things. He does not wish to call Cassio back at the moment, but Desdemona is insistent. Even though she did promise Cassio not to delay speaking to Othello about the matter, such annoying insistence seems unnecessary, and it leads to Othello's becoming mildly vexed with his wife's childish pestering: "Prithee, no more; let him come when he will, / I will deny thee nothing" (74–75).

Desdemona realizes that Othello's answer is curt, and she emphasizes that this is an important matter and not a trifle that she is asking. To this, Othello stresses again that he will deny her nothing, but, in return, he asks for a bit of time so that he can be alone; he will join her shortly.

Sub-scene 4

As Desdemona leaves, Othello chides himself for being irritated by his wife. Lovingly he sighs, "Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul, / But I do love thee! and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again" (90–92). Othello seems far more comfortable expressing his love for Desdemona when she is absent. Perhaps this is because her presence makes him conscious of her claim upon him and of his obligation to honor her requests, or perhaps this is because he is more in love with some idea or image of Desdemona than he is with Desdemona herself. The lines just quoted indicate how much his image of her means to him: if he stops loving her, the entire universe stops making sense for him, and the world is reduced to “Chaos.”

There is an element of prophecy here not only in Desdemona's and Othello's farewells to one another, but also in their lines and in the remainder of the Moor's first speech after Desdemona leaves. In a metaphorical sense, perdition will soon catch Othello's soul, and chaos will soon replace order in his life.

When Iago is alone with Othello, he resumes his attack on his general's soul. Out of seemingly idle curiosity, he asks if Desdemona was correct when she referred to the days when Othello was courting her; did Cassio indeed "know of your love?" (95). Here he prods Othello's memory to recall that Desdemona and Cassio have known each other for some time. Then again playing the reluctant confidant, he begs, as it were, not to be pressed about certain of his dark thoughts. One can see how skillfully Iago makes use of his public reputation for honesty.

Othello is alarmed by Iago's hesitations and "pursed brow".Othello is convinced that Iago is withholding something and asks for his ruminations, the "worst of thoughts / The worst of words" (132–133). What Iago is doing, of course, is making Othello believe that Iago's honor is at stake if he confesses his fears. Thus he lies to Othello again, saying that he is unwilling to speak further because he may be "vicious in [his] guess" (145).

One should never doubt that Iago will speak the "worst of thoughts" (132), although at first he does not answer directly. First, he speaks only the word "jealousy" aloud, fixing it in Othello's imagination; then, sanctimoniously, he warns his general against this evil, this "green ey'd monster" (166), and refers to the "wisdom" of Othello, implying that the general is not one to be trapped by his emotions.Iago urges his master not be jealous,without telling him directly why he should be jealous.Othello insists that he is not given to jealousy ,but we see that his mind is clearly moving in the very direction Iago intended.

Iago knows he has ensnared his victim.Then in order to drve home the advantage he has gained, Iago uses the cultural prejudice against women to further fuel Othello’s suspicion.He reminds Othello that Desdemona is a Venetian lady and "in Venice they [wives] do not let [even God] see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands" (202–203). In other words, the faithless wife is a well-known member of Venetian society.Iago also urges Othello to recall that Desdemona deceived her own father by marrying Othello. To Brabantio, Desdemona pretended to be afraid of Othello's dark looks; she pretended to shake and tremble at Othello's exotic demeanor, yet "she lov'd them [Othello's features] most" (207). The implication is clear; Iago does not have to state it: If Desdemona deceived her own flesh and blood, she might just as naturally deceive her husband.The logic of these lines is forceful, and Iago is astute enough to pause now and then, begging his superior's forgiveness, and, at the same time, attributing his own frankness to his devotion and regard for Othello. When we hear the Moor say, "I am bound to thee for ever" (213), we feel that indeed he has been irrevocably trapped. Apart from the cultural prejudice against women,Iago also subtly instills the inferiority complex into Othello’s mind for his low racial identity.

Sub-scene 5

Now we hear Othello in a soliloquy (258–277), and the range of the imagery he uses underscores the appalling change in his character.He suffers from the infriority complex for his identity as well as for his age. Othello's mind and soul are torn with irrational images of Desdemona's infidelity and of his own unworthiness. Othello is deeply insecure about his personal qualities and his marriage, as insecurity becomes a theme that weakens his resolve not to doubt Desdemona. Othello uses his black skin as a symbol for how poorly spoken and unattractive he thinks he is. All of his claims are very much beside the point; his words are actually more complex and beautiful than those spoken by any other character in the play. Othello doubts that Desdemona could love him, because of his misconception of himself as being uncouth, poorly spoken, and old; and because he begins to believe that Desdemona cannot love him, he starts to believe her guilty of infidelity. The leap is great, but it is all a product of Othello's own insecurities and his incorrect conception of himself, another theme of the play. How Othello sees himself directly influences how he views Desdemona's love, though there should be a disconnection between these two things.

Othello begins to use the black/ white imagery found throughout the play, to express his grief and rage at Desdemona's alleged treachery. "My name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face," Othello says. Thus we see how much Iago is successful in instilling the self-hatred into Othello’s mind.
When Desdemona returns to her husband, her beauty immediately softens his heart, but he is still out of sorts. Desdemona notices that he is not himself and innocently asks what is wrong. He complains of a pain in his head, so she strokes his brow with her handkerchief. Othello, however, cannot relax and pushes her hand away, causing the fateful handkerchief to drop. Here Othello’s rejection of Desdemona’s offer of her handkerchief is an emphatic rejection of Desdemona herself.

Sub-scene 6

In the fifth episode, Iago takes the handkerchief from Emilia, who seems to be completely dominated by her husband. Iago knows that he can use the handkerchief as proof against Desdemona and Cassio. In fact, he has wooed his wife "a hundred times" to steal it from her mistress, for he can "plant" the handkerchief on Cassio as proof of the affair. It is to be noted that the innocent Emilia neither knows nor cares why Iago has an interest in the handkerchief.

After Emilia leaves, he reveals the next step in his plan: he will go to Cassio's lodgings, leave the handkerchief there, and let Cassio find it. Cassio will keep it and then Othello will see it in the ex-lieutenant's possession. Othello will then conclude that Desdemona either gave the handkerchief to Cassio as a token of their love or left it at Cassio's lodgings after a rendezvous.

Sub-scene 7

The third sub-scene brings Iago to Othello, and he continues to make his wretched insinuations. He reminds the general how Cassio has slipped away from Desdemona as they approached; he also reminds Othello how Cassio has appeared to play a part in Othello’s wooing of Desdemona, giving the two of them time together. Othello is forced to listen to this evil man, for he has a reputation for he is "full of love and honesty." After some general remarks on "good name", "jealousy", and the sophistication of Venetian women, Iago refers to Desdemona’s deception of her own father, implying she is also capable of deceiving a husband. Iago succeeds in raising Othello’s jealousy, which Iago appropriately calls "the green-eyed monster." Othello thanks the wretched man and says, "I am bound to thee forever."

In the fourth part of the scene, Othello is at first alone, delivering a soliloquy. He states his trust in the "exceeding honesty" of Iago and his appreciation for his revelations. He then discusses his need for proof about his wife; he does not want to believe her infidelity is true, but he will accept it if there is proof. Thirdly, he chastises himself for his black skin, his lack of social knowledge, and his advanced years; he feels it is these things that have turned his wife against him. This is a total contrast to the proud and self-confident general that has been seen throughout the play.

In the last and sixth sub-scene, a totally distraught Othello returns; it is obvious that he has succumbed to Iago’s machinations and is a jealous, "fallen" man. All he needs now is proof; Iago is eager to oblige. He wickedly and basely describes Cassio’s dream of Desdemona, which is totally invented by Iago. But Othello accepts it as the proof he needs and cries, "O monstrous! monstrous.!" Like a raging maniac, he declares he will destroy his wife. Iago is still worried that Othello may relent, so he manufactures one more important lie. He tells of Cassio using Desdemona’s handkerchief, Othello’s first gift to his wife, to wipe his beard. Othello is totally enraged.

Iago urges Othello to be patient, arguing that he may change his mind, and there follows the well-known Pontic Sea (i.e., the Black Sea) simile, in which Othello compares his "bloody thoughts" (447) to the sea's compulsive current, one which never ebbs but keeps on its course until it reaches its destination, the junction of the Propontic and the Hellespont (453–460). In this simile, Othello stresses his high status (as we might expect a tragic hero to do), identifying himself with large and mighty elements of nature. Equally important, this simile makes clear the absoluteness in Othello's character; once he has decided which course to take, he cannot turn back, and this decision does much to make plausible the almost incredible actions that follow.

Othello falls to his knees and promises to have revenge on evil. He uses such words as heaven, reverence, and sacred, and it is as though he sees himself as a rightful scourge of evil, as executing public justice and not merely doing personal revenge. He ends the scene by stating his intention to kill Desdemona; Iago promises to take care of Cassio. For his efforts, Iago is promoted to the coveted position of lieutenant.

By the end of Act III, Scene 3, Iago has secured a shaky dominance over Othello. He is within reach of his original objective of driving Othello to despair, but his victory is not secure, as Othello may yet think to blame Iago again for his suffering and turn against him. While Cassio and Desdemona live, Iago has gained only a little time in which to secure his position.

The end of Act III, scene iii, is the climax of Othello. Convinced of his wife’s corruption, Othello makes a sacred oath never to change his mind about her or to soften his feelings toward her until he enacts a violent revenge. At this point, Othello is fixed in his course, and the disastrous ending of the play is unavoidable. Othello engages Iago in a perverse marriage ceremony, in which each kneels and solemnly pledges to the other to take vengeance on Desdemona and Cassio. Just as the play replaces the security of peace with the anxiety of domestic strife, Othello replaces the security of his marriage with the hateful paranoia of an alliance with Iago. Iago’s final words in this scene chillingly mock the language of love and marriage: “I am your own forever” (III.iii.482).