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The men in extend and darken the anxieties of the comedy heroes. They are, in Emilia's words, "murderous coxcombs" (5.2.234). Three out of the five attempt murder; five out of the five are foolish and vain. Roderigo, most obviously a coxcomb, shows in exaggerated fashion the dangerous combination of romanticism and misogyny and the dissociation of love and sex that all the men share. He is a parody of the conventional Petrarchan lover: love is a "torment," death a "physician" (1.3.308-9), Desdemona "full of most blest condition" (2.1.247), and consummation of their relationship securely impossible. Yet he easily accepts Desdemona's supposed adultery and the necessity of Cassio's murder; his casual cynicism comes to outdo Iago's: '"Tis but a man gone" (5.1.10). The other men have similarly divided and possessive views of women. Brabantio shifts abruptly from protective affection for the chaste Desdemona--"of spirit / So still and quiet, that her motion / Blush'd at her self" (1.3.94-96)--to physical revulsion from the assertive sexuality revealed by her elopement--"I had rather to adopt a child than get it" (1.3.191). Cassio's divided view is more conventionally accommodated. He idealizes the "divine Desdemona," flirting courteously and cautiously with her and rejecting Iago's insinuations about her sexuality; this side of women is left to Bianca, who is a "monkey" and a "fitchew" and is used and degraded for it. Othello's conflict regarding women is more profound, and the other men's solutions are not open to him. Because of his marriage and his integrity, he cannot, like Roderigo, assert Desdemona's chastity and corruptibility simultaneously; like Cassio, direct his divided emotions toward different objects; or, like Brabantio, disown the problem.

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Since the reputation and manliness which the men covet is achieved in competition with others, all the men are "jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel." Iago's success derives largely from his ability to manipulate male rivalries, verifying his friendship with each man by shared contempt toward another. In this way, he feeds the men's need for self-esteem, insures their bond with him, and exacerbates their potential rivalries with each other. He enrages Brabantio by claiming that his friend has "robbed" his daughter. He gulls Roderigo by demeaning Othello and urging that they have common cause against him: "my cause is hearted, thine has no less reason, let us be communicative in our revenge against him: if thou canst cuckold him, thou doest thyself a pleasure, and me a sport" (1.3.366-69). He almost offhandedly belittles Othello to Cassio, Cassio to Montano, Othello to Lodovico. His entrapment of Othello begins by insinuating not Desdemona's unfaithfulness but Othello's cuckoldry, his loss of "good name." This cuckoldry triply threatens Othello: with the loss of Desdemona's love; with the supremacy of Cassio, his lieutenant, over him; and with the loss of his reputation and the scorn of other men.


Browse By Author: B - Project Gutenberg

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It is important to recognize too that this practice in South African criticism of the play offers, inevitably, a narrow and attenuated version of certain European and American perspectives. Moreover, in these approaches as well dangerous ambiguities may be detected which perhaps ought not to be fleetingly noted in passing (with superior amusement) but more directly addressed.32 Such approaches tend to ignore the play's concern with the tragic problems attendant upon human judgment and perception. They choose instead to focus, often obsessively, upon Othello himself. Whilst Bradleyan notions encourage this tendency, it is difficult in most cases to avoid the conclusion that, finally, the attribution to Othello of certain characteristics on the basis of his color provides the springboard for the ensuing interpretations. And such criticism often includes not only a series of personal attacks upon Othello's nature, it also infers or implies reservations about his adequacy.


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Male friendship, like male courage, is in this play sadly deteriorated from the Renaissance ideal. In romance and comedy, the world of male friendship in which the work opens (see, for example, the ) is disrupted and transcended by romantic love. In the problem comedies, male friendship is already corrupted as friends exploit and betray each other. As begins, romantic love already dominates, but friendship is reasserted in perverted form. Iago's hypocritical friendship for all of the men, which aims to gratify his own will and gain power over them, is the model for male friendship in the play. Brabantio's "love" for Othello evaporates when his friend marries his daughter. Roderigo intends to use Iago though he is worse used by him. Othello has no hesitation in cashiering Cassio and ordering his death. The men's vanity and rivalry, their preoccupation with rank and reputation, and their cowardice render them as incapable of friendship as they are of love.