Iago's Plan to Unleash the Green-eyed Monster (2.1.301)
Any who devote more than cursory attention to Othello recognize that jealousy is the emotion Iago provokes in Othello which leads to his downfall. The word "jealous" or "jealousy" appears 16 times in Othello, and most of these are in the crucial scene 3.3. Yet, the first appearance of "jealousy" is in Iago's second soliloquy (2.1), where he muses on his developing plot to destabilize Othello. He will "put the Moor/ At least into a jealousy so strong/ That judgment cannot cure (2.1.300-302)." At the same time, Iago will devise a way to "Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me,/ For making him egregiously an ass (2.1.308-309)." Even though Iago has earlier said that he will "abuse Othello's ear/ That he (Cassio) is too familiar with his (Othello's) wife (1.3.395-396)," now he throws down the gauntlet by focusing on the word "jealousy." Jealousy it will be.
Though often underestimated by scholars of this play, Iago says that one of the reasons behind his plot is his own suspicions about Othello's designs with his wife Emilia. "For that I do suspect the lusty Moor/ Hath leap'd into my seat; the thought whereof/ Doth (like a poisonous mineral) gnaw my inwards (2.1.295-297)." The earliest impression we received of Iago was that he was resentful at Othello for being passed over for promotion to lieutenancy (1.1), and this explanation in 2.1 may both add to the richness of Iago's character but confuse us as to the "real motivation" for his malignity.
But Iago will describe jealousy in a manner here which is consistent with his description in 3.3. Here jealousy gnaws his inwards; like some kind of caustic and corrosive mineral, in contrast to a pill that salves, the inner torment of jealousy consumes its possessor. In 3.3, when Iago is gradually insinuating himself into Othello's mind with hints of Desdemona's infidelity, he further exacerbates the situation by exploding, "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!/ It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on (3.3.165-167)." Jealousy is a consumptive force, a cancer, that not only feeds on its victim but mocks the victim as it does so. It toys with its victim, utterly convinced of the victim's inability to let reason rule and establish a more "rational" approach to feelings of jealousy. Iago can caution Othello about the cancerous mocker jealousy in 3.3 because he himself felt its consumptive power in 2.1. By putting the Moor into a "jealousy so strong/ That judgment cannot cure (2.1.301-302)," Iago is as it were transferring his jealousy over to the Moor.
But one does wonder for a moment about the intensity of Iago's jealousy toward Othello or Cassio, whom he also says he suspects has taken on his "night-cap" (2.1.307) in the light of Cassio's greeting of Iago's wife Emilia upon landing in Cyprus. Cassio kisses her on the lips right in front of Iago, explaining to him that it ought not to gall him: "'tis my breeding/ That gives me this bold show of courtesy (2.1.99)." Iago seemingly has no reaction, and begins to criticize, rather than defend his wife, in the next several lines.
Jealousy and Modern Psychology
Modern psychologists differentiate between envy and jealousy. Whereas the former is a term used to describe longings for someone else's possessions or position in life, jealousy is confined to suspicions or resentment related to actual or supposed sexual transgressions. Jealousy evokes such irrationally strong emotions because it means that the jealous person has been or suspects that he/she is being rejected, rebuffed and shamed. It is an intensely personal emotion, combining in its intensity the feelings of rage, betrayal, envy and shame. Often there is a rational basis to jealousy, but sometimes it is just a "dragon" let out of a closet that consumes the subject and objects of the jealousy. It is an emotion felt by men and women alike, though teenage girls are probably the ones who feel it with most regularity. Nevertheless, it is no "teenage" emotion; it rules the mind like a terrifying beast that will not be satisfied until it destroys everything in its wake.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long