Question: “The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart” (William Faulkner)
William Shakespeare’s Othello fits into the classical mold of a Greek tragedy, which is based on conflict and depicts the downfall of high-ranking characters who make fatal errors of judgement (hamartia) because of their overwhelming ambition and pride (hubris). The protagonist, Othello, is a high-ranking army general who experiences a tragic fall from grace as a result of his hamartia, which is his extreme error in the judgement of his wife. This hamartia stems from his hubris as he was ambitious in marrying Desdemona in secret and believing that he could balance the roles of husband and soldier. This play of Shakespeare’s perfectly depicts an internal conflict within Othello that ultimately takes hold of his heart and changes who is he. This inner conflict drives Othello insane so that he begins to doubt himself, causing him great mental and physical pain that triggers a violence within him.
Shakespeare reveals the destructive nature of jealousy and how it is a like ‘a green-eyed monster which doth mocks the meat it feeds on’. Through the protagonist, Othello, we come to understand how jealousy can trigger conflict within oneself as it preys on our ability to judge not only others but ourselves as well. It causes us to question our past decisions and actions so that we become consumed with conflicting emotions such as doubt, fear, anger, shock and irritation. Sometimes the biggest battles that we will ever have to face are those that occur within us.
Othello is a play that is centered around the protagonist’s inner conflict, as Othello cannot decide whether to love or to hate his new wife. Othello ponders this indecision aloud in Act 3 “I think my wife is honest and think she is not”. The verb ‘think’ is repeated twice, which shows that Othello does not know what to believe as he isn’t even sure is what Iago is saying about Desdemona is true. Othello’s hamartia is his poor judgement of others, as it brings about his fall from grace when he choses to believe the Machiavellian villain, Iago, over his wife’s love and loyalty. The jealousy that the ‘honest’ Iago invokes within Othello give rise to an inner conflict in which the protagonist is not sure whether Desdemona is his ‘fair warrior’ (Act 1) or a ‘strumpet’ (Act 3). These two descriptions of his wife are at odds with each other as they are both at opposite ends of the spectrum. When Othello first fell in love with Desdemona, he worshipped her and praised her for her loveliness, however, the jealousy raging within him deceives him into thinking that his wife has been disloyal and is no longer worthy of his heart. Although A.C. Bradley described Othello as ‘the most romantic among Shakespeare’s heroes’, this did not make him immune to the destructive nature of jealousy. ‘The jealous are troublesome to others but are a torment to themselves’, explores a feature of the human condition which is our inability to see the truth when we are blinded by jealousy and consumed by conflict. It becomes easy to allow this inner conflict to define us and obscure our perceptions of others. Just like Othello, our poor lack of judgement can come to destroy our relationships with those we love most.
The conflict within Othello’s heart captivates the audience as it begins to prey on Othello’s insecurity and self-doubt. Othello begins as a confident General of the Venetian army, who does not doubt his abilities with people. ‘My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly’, is dialogue from act 1 which portrays Othello’s confidence in himself. The repetition of the word ‘my’ highlights Othello’s self-confidence and his belief in his abilities. This stands in contrast to what Othello begins to believe about himself in act 3, when Iago’s poison begins to inflict self-doubt within Othello as he becomes conflicted over his flaws. ‘Haply for I am black’ portrays Othello’s rising insecurity about his skin colour as the noun ‘black’ shows that he is labelling himself. At the beginning, Othello’s skin colour did not stop him from falling in love with Desdemona or doubting her love for him. However, the jealousy invoked conflict within Othello causes him to become a harsh critic of himself as he begins to identify flaws that he thinks would cause Desdemona to ‘cuckhold’ him. He cannot stop blaming himself for his wife’s lost love. Like Othello, inner conflict feeds off self-doubt and causes us to think less of who we are as put into context by Terri Guillemets, ‘Jealousy injures us with the dagger of self-doubt’. We start to examine all our parts so that we become blinded by our flaws, thus obscuring our vision of our strengths. Jealousy plays a huge part in this, as we compare ourselves to others and find that their merits may be our downfalls.
Finally, Othello’s inner conflict completely transforms his character so that he becomes violent and unpredictable. When Othello is first introduced in act 1, he is portrayed as a composed General, who looks for peaceful solutions to conflict. When Brabantio send guards to arrest Othello, he tries to diffuse the situation by saying "Keep up your bright swords or the dew will rust them’. The adjective ‘bright’ signifies the battle lust of Brabantio’s guards as they hope to bring best the General. Despite this, Othello chose to respond peacefully instead of engaging in violence.
The downfall of Othello’s composed nature takes place during act 3, scene 3, when he experiences a catharsis due to Iago’s poisonous words. Iago ensnares Othello in his web of lies and like a spider, wraps him up in a cocoon of jealousy and deceit. ‘Thou hast set me on the rack’ is a snippet of Othello’s dialogue that portrays his mental and physical pain as he compares it to being a victim of a medieval torture device. Othello’s sense of judgement degenerates so that he is unable to discern truth from lies. This links to a common human flaw, in which we humans become so blinded by emotion that we lose all sense of logic and become violent as a physical reaction to our inner conflict. The emotions invoked by the struggle within us have no where else to go, so they explode out of us, damaging those closest to us. Jealousy is the most destructive of these emotions and it prompts us to seek retribution and revenge. ‘Jealousy is the dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive’.
In conclusion, the inner conflict within Othello is at the centre of Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’. This inner conflict is characterised by the destructive emotion of jealousy and it divides Othello against himself. Doubt seeps it’s way into Othello’s mind, convincing him that he is flawed and not worthy of love. All of Othello’s conflicting emotions are bottled up until they explode and become so violent and unpredictable that they drive him to murder his own wife. Even though inner conflict is a fight between man and self, it ends up becoming so consuming that others feel the affect. As seen through Othello, we hurt not only ourselves, but those we love when we choose to let out struggle triumph over reasoning and logic. It is a component of our human condition that we can blow things out of proportion when drive by strong emotions, such as jealousy. ‘Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others - it only changes yours’.