Envy in Othello

Description of Envy

Envy can be defined as a feeling of discontented or bitter longing provoked by someone’s possessions, position and qualities. It is a very strong emotion, which mainly occurs when someone lacks another one’s superior character, achievement and the person either wishes to have it or the owner lacks it. It is one of the greatest reasons for unhappiness. People with envy are most likely to inflict adversaries those they envy. Although envy is regarded as something negative, it is also believed that envy was the driving force behind the movement towards equality, hence, it must be experienced in order to achieve a more fair societal system (Bertrand, 2000).

Envy in Shakespeare’s Othello

The detrimental power of envy is perfectly shown in Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago had fought for many years under the command of Othello as he tried to make himself relevant before the leader, a factor that modulated his envy (Smith and Kim, 2007). However, he was in no way the right person for Othello to be given the opportunity as his personal lieutenant compared to Cassio. Iago has been aspiring for a very long time to be given the post though without the knowledge of Othello. So, Othello gives the work to Cassio. As soon as Iago realized that he was not getting the job, he became a disturbed man and became infuriated. Envy quickly took over him and he immediately embarked on a vengeance mission with an aim to destroy both Othello and Cassio.

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Envious Iago had many diverse reasons for the envy towards Othello. The theme of dishonesty is evident all through the whole play particularly through Iago’s interactions with those around him. The personality of Iago is characterized by the traits such as deception and his cunnings which lead him to deceive others mainly due to his jealousy and envy towards Othello.

Iago is also considered to be someone who cheats and influences others in order to achieve what he longs to get. He got influences by Bianca and then deviced schemes to destroy all his rivals. Iago was mainly driven by his unconscious hate for Othello, his occupational anxiety and the fact that he had a secret love he has for Desdemona, whom he has realized to be in love with Othello. It is the jealousy Iago had for Othello that made him act abnormally. He called him a black person to display his racial segregation against Othello. Iago was not only envious of Cassio taking up a job he desired but also suspected that he and Othello were sleeping with his wife Emilia. That could be shown in act 1, scene 3, line 12, where it is rumored that his wife is unfaithful.

Even though it was just a rumor, Iago decided to take it as truth so that he could satisfy his mission. The unfaithfulness between Iago and his wife could exist, because, the two do not have a common bond between them. This lack of common connection between them further complicated the matter by making Iago become more envying of everyone else in the play.He managed to manipulate his wife Emilia, Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting, into picking secretly from Desdemona, a paper handkerchief that Othello had given her under vow. He then informed Othello that he had seen the handkerchief in Cassio’s possession. That he did to instil jealousy and envy in Othello.With that, he managed to convince Othello through trickery that his loving wife was unfaithful. The angered Othello ordered him to kill Cassio and promised him to be rewarded by being given Cassio’s work for that exposure: the position he had desired for a long time. The schemes and evil intentions of Iago seemed to be successful when Othello finally killed his wife, Desdemona. On realizing that Desdemona was not guilty, he pitied himself for the misbehavior. His inability to rationalize things made him kill himself too since the reality was too heavy for him to bear.

It should be noted that not all envious circumstances end up with negative consequences. It can only depend on the intensity with which one allows it to take charge on him or her. Envy is protean emotion which usually arises due to unfavorable social comparisons (Ben Ze’ev, 2000). Envy is also a negative emotion as it can make a person more hostile towards another and severe conflicts that are undesirable (Zizzo, 2000). In this play, the tragedy of Othello, Shakespeare decided to portray the extreme and unwarranted side of envy. The playwright intended to prove that when much effort and energy are directed at what is envied, then it may end up with negativities. Indeed, Iago put more effort in envy for many years so that Othello could realize and improve his position. The more energy he invested in his envious emotion, the more significant it became and more intense. That energy easily amplified the emotions leading to poor reasoning (Wyre, 1994). At long last, he realized that his efforts were in no way going to bear any fruit. As a result, his envy was magnified immensely beyond his sensible capabilities thereby making him behave in an unorthodox way.

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Jealousy and envy are visibly expressed in the play, in many scenarios. Envy is one of the major motivating factor behind the central mechanisms of the play. It is depicted in varied forms from each personality. It is envy that contributed to the all of Othello. For example, in act 3, scene 3, Iago thought that he has experienced jealousy with his wife, Emilia. The behavior of Iago made Emilia believe that it was a character of all men. However, envy made Othello so seized by the idea that his loving wife could be infidel to him with his lieutenant Cassio. He acted in total disregard to any of his associates since he was utterly obsessed. He ended up killing his wife Desdemona. After the monstrous act, he came back to his senses and realized that his wife was innocent. He regretted and grieved over his acts. He became more rational and condemned the events. Since he could not bear the weight of his behavior, he ended up executing himself.


In conclusion, envy and jealousy influence the life negatively as has been shown in the play. It can also lead to psychological conflict that, in turn, brings about problems such as worry and anger. The anger in the end can be fatal. The destructive nature of envy has been clearly shown by the play. The play came to an end in a very dramatic manner. That was because Iago was expected to be the victor of it all, but ended up being a victim. Cassio, whom he expected to die, was wounded but in the end became the new governor of Cyprus. So moreover, after the exposure of the evils of Iago by his wife Emilia, he was sent to jail to serve his evil schemes.

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