In Othello, jealousy and anger are the two major emotions that control the play. In the play jealousy is evident in the words and actions of Iago and Othello in particular. There is also an element of pride that influences some of the characters of the play to behave or act in a certain way. Brabantio’s pride is hurt by Desdemona’s decision to marry an African man. Othello’s pride is wounded by his belief that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. But the emotion that shapes and controls the entire play is neither jealousy nor pride but an intense and uncontrolled anger. Anger is the driving force behind the cunning plans of Iago, the murders of Roderigo, Desdemona and Emilia and the suicide of Othello.
The uncontrolled anger of Othello led to him murdering his wife Desdemona. At the start of the play, he is a very calm, patient and rational person. But he fell a prey to Iago’s manipulation believed blindly that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. In Act I, Scene II, when Brabantio confronts Othello and blames him for stealing his daughter from him, he humbly asks Brabantio how he can prove his charges wrong “Where will you that I go / To answer this your charge?” He is a proud man. He takes pride in his achievement and services that he has done to the Venetians. When Iago suggests that Othello run away since Brabantio is coming for him and plans to prosecute him, he says to Iago, “My services, which I have done the signory/ Shall out-tongue his complaints”, indicating that he is confident of proving the charges of Brabantio on the basis of him services to the Venetians. It takes Iago much effort to manipulate Othello and convince him of Desdemona and Cassio’s affair. Othello asks Iago for an “ocular proof” that Desdemona is cheating on him. He is furious when Iago allows him to see the handkerchief which he gave to Desdemona when he first met her. Enraged by the proof, he starts believing everything that Iago says. He is no more a patient, rational and soft-spoken general but an angry, blood thirsty beast. Once Desdemona was his soul’s joy but now he intends to kill her: “I will chop her into messes!”
Iago, who cunningly plans the downfall of Othello and other characters, is also driven by anger. Iago’s hatred for Othello is due to the fact that he was denied a promotion to lieutenancy by Othello. Michael Cassio is appointed lieutenant in his stead, whom Iago considers an outsider and an inexperienced and incompetent officer “mere prattle without practice”. In addition to this, Iago suspects that Othello and his wife Emilia have had an affair; in a soliloquy at the end of act I, scene III he reveals possibly the true nature of his hatred for Othello: “I hate the Moor; And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets He has done my office”. Iago is a proud Venetian. He calls Cassio a “Florentine” and Othello a “Moor”. He hates the fact that an African man, Othello, is honoured and respected in the Venetian society. His hatred for Othello leads to a jealousy in him. He cannot stand to see the qualities of a noble man in the Moor and a beautiful Venetian girl, whom he also loves, as the wife of the Moor “The Moor – howbeit that I endure him not / Is of constant, loving, noble nature”. He takes out his anger by devising cunning plans against Othello and Cassio. Most of his evil plots are not pre-planned but he just does whatever it takes to hurt others. Maddened by his rage, he never thinks of the catastrophic consequences of his wicked plans; the deaths of Emilia and Desdemona were not the initial goal of his plan. Although, his anger is raging and intense, he has control over himself. He cunningly twists his words and sympathizes with the tragedy of every character. He wins the trust of everyone and gets the name of “Honest Iago”. Everyone seeks Iago’s advice in difficult times. Towards the end of the play, Othello depends heavily upon Iago’s words and declares him a wise man “O, thou art wise, ‘tis certain”. Despite the fact that Iago is respected and honoured by other characters as a wise and an honest man, Iago’s anger is not quelled but intensifies as the play goes on. He chose wickedness to make others suffer and pacify his anger.
In the course of the play, other characters exhibit anger in their actions. Roderigo, a long-time suitor of Desdemona, is angry as Desdemona chooses to marry Othello instead of him. Unlike Iago and Othello, Roderigo does not intend to take out his anger on others or hurt them. His only goal is to win Desdemona’s heart and he will go to any extent to achieve that. Towards the end of the play he is furious with Iago when he finds out that all the gifts that he has sent to Desdemona through Iago have not reached her. He finds out that Iago has been keeping all the money and gifts and did not do what he promised to do “You have told me she hath received them / But I find none.” Roderigo is also the first character in the play to realize that Iago does not keep his word and he is not to be trusted “Your words and performances are no kin together.” Desdemona’s decision to marry Othello also causes anger in Brabantio. He is enraged as his daughter has married a black man without his consent. He blames Othello for using sorcery to steal his daughter from him. Previously, she was so opposed to marriage that she even rejected “The wealthy” and “curled darlings” of Venice. He unsuccessfully attempts to break the relationship of Othello and Desdemona in court and to put Othello in jail for his “theft”. He cannot overcome his rage over his daughter’s marriage to the Moor and succumbs to his anger. Emilia is Desdemona’s devoted handmaiden and is maddened with anger when Othello confronts her with his misguided convictions concerning Desdemona’s chastity. However, to please her husband, she steals the handkerchief of her beloved Desdemona, and this leads to the completion of Iago’s cunning and monstrous plans. She resents Othello and even wishes that Desdemona “had never seen him”. She is also the first character to suspect that “some cogging, cozening slave” has manipulated Othello and “devised this slander” to get “some office”. In short, not only Othello or Iago are driven by their anger but other character’s actions are also influenced by anger.
However, in Othello, there are characters who do not surrender to their anger. Bianca is Cassio’s mistress. She is not happy with Cassio when he gives her a handkerchief to copy. She suspects that Cassio is having an affair with someone else and the handkerchief is a “token from a newer friend”. Unlike Othello, she does not lose her mind but she acts rationally and even invites Cassio to her house for a dinner. She is the sole character of the play who confronts Iago and does not seek his advice. Even if she had found herself in a tight situation, she would not ask Iago for his help or advice. Her mature and rational approach would have been an obstacle for Iago to influence her. She resolutely denies the charges of murder against her. She explains that she and Cassio had a dinner together at her house earlier that night. Desdemona does not display any sign of anger or jealousy throughout the entire play. She is a kind hearted, loving and innocent woman. She truly loves Othello. Even when Othello does not treat her well, she is not disappointed but worried about what ails her “lord”. At the end of the play, while lying on her death bed, she tries to neutralise any legal ramifications for Othello following her death by taking blame for her own murder “Nobody – I myself – farewell”. Arguably, Desdemona and Bianca are two of the few characters of the play who are not prompted by their anger to take any inappropriate decisions.
Apart from Desdemona and Bianca, almost all other characters’ thoughts and actions are influenced by anger. Iago’s anger at being passed over, arouses jealousy in him and makes him plot his evil plans against others. Brabantio cannot overcome his anger and disappointment with Desdemona and is eventually killed by it. Othello’s thoughts and decisions are dominated by anger. He turns from a noble and honourable army general to a murderer. Iago was propelled by his anger to plan his deceitful plans against others and arouses anger in them. The anger in other characters results into the tragedy of the play.