Othello “I am not what I am.” An essay on Othello, question No 4. I will discuss this quote in relation to Lacan’s ideas about language as the symbolic order. My aim is to show how Othello finds his identity threatened by Desdemona’s reaction to his tales. In order to explain Lacan’s ideas very briefly I will quote from Pam Morris: Literature and Feminism, (Blackwell, 1993) where she discusses the resolution of the Oedipal crisis. For Freud the outcome of the child’s fear of castration is its submission to the reality principle and hence its entry into the social order.

For Lacan this must coincide with the child’s entry into the language system…Language is thus the Law of the father; a linguistic system within which our social and gender identity is always already structured. (p. 104) Othello’s identity in the Venetian society is his role as “the Moor”. Few people use his real name when talking about him. When speaking the given quote, Othello is telling the Venetians how he won Desdemona’s heart by telling her the story of his life, and he now retells it to the Venetians. This tale-telling is a way of employing the linguistic system to reshape for himself a new identity with more positive connotations than “the Moor” can offer.

“The Moor” is an expression the Venetians connect to other expressions in the linguistic system which all have a negative value. Examples are such expressions as “old black ram, a Barbary horse, lascivious, and a devil.” The negative overtone of these words will reflect back on Othello. He can’t change his origins but he can try to change the connotations of “the Moor”. He can fill the expression with a new content and thereby give himself an identity he can be more comfortable with. This is what Othello is doing when he is retelling his history. Othello is obviously a good narrator; Desdemona can’t get enough of his story.

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Expressions like “seriously incline”, “with haste” and “greedy ear” show Desdemona’s eagerness for his storytelling. “And ever…/She’ld come again” shows that this has been happening over a period of time without Desdemona growing tired of his tales. The given quote implies that Othello feels he has been too clever for his own benefit. Desdemona’s craving for his autobiography is felt as a threat; it may jeopardize his new identity. Othello says that she would: “Devour up my discourse”.

It is in this discourse that his identity exists. If she devours up his discourse, she devours up his identity and leaves him where he started; as “the Moor”. Desdemona may represent the all-engulfing mother of the pre-Oedipal stage. This is a stage without structure, language or identity, an opposite to the linguistic system, the Law of the father. It is with a “greedy ear” she “devours up my discourse”. An ear is sometimes used to symbolize female genitalia and will here emphasize the fact that Othello feels the threat to be feminine.

That he, through his discourse, is devoured shows that this feminine threat is all-engulfing. If Othello refuses to accept his old role as “the Moor” he will either be without an identity or be dragged by his self-fashioned identity back into the pre-Oedipal stage. These options are two sides of the same coin, he will lose himself either way. To give up one’s self is the same as suicide. Both death and the pre-Oedipal stage are spheres without language, structure, intention or identity.

To give way to the one or the other will have the same result for Othello; he will no longer be a conscious being. To save himself, Othello must get control over this “greedy ear”. Female sexuality was considered something scary which could best be controlled through marriage. A loose tongue was a sign of loose sexuality. Othello extends this notion to include Desdemona’s “greedy ear”. He marries Desdemona and all is well until Iago implies that Desdemona is unfaithful. Unfaithfulness in a woman will reflect back on her husband. A cuckold is a ridiculous figure in other people’s eyes.

He must be seriously lacking in person for his wife to run after other men. Othello sees himself in the same situation as before the marriage. Instead of using her ears she is now using her sexuality to destroy the identity he has built up for himself. I have already pointed out how ears and sexuality are connected in Othello’s mind. Either way the results are the same for Othello’s identity. He sees his positive image of himself slipping away: “Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars/ That makes ambition virtue!…Farewell: Othello’s occupation’s gone.” (III, iii, 352-353+360) The one way to control this threat is to passivize Desdemona completely by killing her.

He realizes too late the effect this action will have on his own situation. She was the only person who would accept the identity he had been fronting. He even had difficulties believing in it himself, which made him an easy victim for Iago. So when he killed Desdemona he killed the positive image of himself. The person he saw as a threat to his identity was the only person who actually sustained it.

Because he had such difficulties in believing in himself he found it impossible that anybody else should do so. This insecurity proves his undoing. His positive self-image gone, he is left a choice between “the Moor” or nothingness. The moment Emilia realizes Othello is the murderer she reverts to calling him expressions connected to the negative image of “the Moor”: “And you the blacker devil!..thou art a devil.” (V, ii, 129, 131) He can’t stand being this person, the only one society and the symbolic order can offer him. To construct his own identity has proven impossible. To be without an identity, a non-personn implies death. He chooses to free himself of this unwanted identity by stepping out of the social order and the language system by means of suicide.


2. Discuss the techniques Iago used to manipulate others
Through out the play of Othello Iago used many techniques to get what he wanted
and one way or another he some how all most always got what he wanted. His techniques
were that of an everyday sneaky, conniving bad guy, who always got people to trust him,
except the person that was closest to him. But the main overall techniques he used were;
1)He gained the trust of people. Which was the number one technique, and from gaining
their trust he could branch off form that and then he could manipulate the people he was
playing into thinking that he was on their side even when he might be on the opposite side.
Another thing that he could do to people was to, from gaining their trust and making then
think that he was on their side he could manipulate them and make them turn on each
other. The other technique that he used which didnt nearly play a role as large as the first
technique but was important was he was always very careful, in being discovered and by
covering his tracks. He knew how to take care of things in precarious situation. There was
in my own personal opinion one more technique, and that was that he knew how to use all
his options and could use his wits and cunningness.
Iagos number one technique was his ability to make people trust him. He had just
about everyone spun in Iagos web. Rodrigo, Othello, Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, and
etc. And he got every one of them to trust him, although he still hadnt got Emilia into his
web fully. She still had suspicions about him. He could gain the trust of people as if it was
nothing to him. He always when talking to that certain person said that he was on their
side, making a false trust that the person believed, and therefore trusted him. Now most of
the people he did this to it worked on. Such as Cassio calling him Honest Iago and when
Cassio got in that fight with Rodrigo, he believed that Iago was the only good, honest man
on his side, even though he was the one who set him up. By getting him drunk through his
other technique of being cunning. Ok so now that he gets the trust of people he can work
with that, he would make everyone he came in contact with feel as if he was on their side.

He could manipulate their minds, tell them false things. Such as whos the bad guy, whos
planing against them, and when he was talking to Othello who was cheating on who. Such
a lady named Desdemona, who was supposedly cheating on a guy whom he once fired. And
that was all accomplished through one guy named Iago. He got Cassio fired, got the
hanky that Othello gave to Des. in Cassios possession, and convinced Othello that Cassio
was cheating with his wife Desdemona. Now that he could do all that with out anyone but
his wife finding out, he must have had some good techniques. He had from the very
beginning known what he wanted. He wanted revenge from Othello for not getting the
job, and Cassio for getting the job. And for whoever gets caught in the middle of his web
oh well, too bad. In his work he got what he wanted, and all by using his techniques, so
they do work. He got everything accomplished but one thing didnt tun out as he wanted
and that was that he got caught.
Now for the other technique that he used that was that he knew how to cover his
tracks, and try to make sure that he wouldnt be caught. Even though he did it took them
a very long time. He did this by being very careful. He did things such as when Brabantio
was outside talking and hearing news about his daughter, he could see Rod. but there was
another voice, talking and telling him about Othello his daughter Des. and how Othello
got her through witchcraft. Now by not showing his face he could run over to Othello
pretend to tell him some false information and then have Bra. walking up the street and
not know that it was Iago telling him that information. Then later on when there was a
fight and Rod. was hurt he was about to spill all and tell about Iagos hidden agenda,
Iago killed him ending the threat that his wildcard Rod. might get him in trouble, and he
killed him when he was on the ground and no one was looking. So he therefore was
covering his back and making sure he wouldnt be caught.
The next technique that he used was that he knew how to use all his options
he could use all the tools in his grasp. Such as using the slow wit of Rod. and exploiting
that to get him to do things, like give him money. He had his wits, his cunningness, and
his use to exploit people.
Ok so those were the techniques that Iago used to manipulate others. Although we
only read about him gaining Cassio in his web Im sure he might have used other
techniques to get the trust of the others. So the techniques that he used were to gain their
trust, then branch off that. Another one was that he knew how to cover his tracks, and the
last one was that he knew how to use all his options. So Iago accomplished all his tasks
with those simple techniques.

Category: English

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