Without struggle there can be no progress. Conflict often acts as a catalyst to spark political or social change. However this catalyst is not always a positive force. People with bad intentions often create conflicts in order to take revenge on others. These people will stop at nothing to take down their enemy, and no one is safe. This type of conflict is overly present in William Shakespeares tragedy Othello. In Othello, the antagonist Iago has a strong hatred for Othello. Iago plots to take down Othello, thereby creating the central conflict within the storyline. The conflict between Iago and Othello acts as a catalyst for destruction and only exists because Iago has been scorned when he is passed over for a position in the military and Iago is a racist.
As a general in the Venetian military, Othello has proven his worth as a successful leader both on and off the battle field. As a general, Othello has the ability to name his own commanding officers. His first choice for promotion is his good friend Michael Cassio. Othello promotes Cassio to the rank of lieutenant over Iago. This decision infuriates Iago and gets him thinking about revenge. Iago challenges Cassios ability by pointing out that he has never set a squadron in the field, or the division of battle knows more than a spinster; unless the bookish theorist, wherein the togged consuls can purpose as masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice is all his soldiership. (29). Iago feels that while Cassio may be very educated in military affairs he is not the best person for the job because he lacks experience. Despite Iagos previous experience and skill, he has been passed over for the position of lieutenant in Othellos army. This low rank in the military is a major insult to Iago, and is also a large factor in his desire to exact revenge.
As presented by William Shakespeare, Iago is an extremely racist individual. As the play opens Iago is talking with Roderigo about Othello and his new wife, Desdemona. In this opening dialogue, Iago shows his racist sentiments towards Othello. Iago uses many racial slurs when describing his commanding officer such as: the Moor (30), and an old black ram (31). Iagos racism shows that he already sees himself as better than Othello, adding to Othellos earlier insult of choosing Cassio for lieutenant. When Iago describes Othello as a Moor he is referring to his African and possibly his Islamic descent. During the time in which this play is set, Europe is invaded by conflict between Christian and Islamic forces. By referring to Othello as a Muslim, Iago is calling him a heathen. Iagos comment about Othello being an old black horse refers to his skin color and compares Othello to a common beast of burden. Iago soon goes to Desdemonas father, Barbantio, and tells him youll have your nephews neigh to you. (32). By saying this Iago hopes to get Barbantio to challenge Othellos marriage. Because Iago has such a racist view and Othello is a different nationality, Iago feels Othello deserves his anger and revenge.
Iagos low rank in the military, as a result of Othellos decision, and Iagos racism are the leading factors for the conflict in the story. The conflict in Othello serves as a reminder for the dangers of revenge. While conflict is a necessary step for change, it can be dangerous when used without good reason. When conflict is used for personal gain, without control innocent people can get caught in the crossfire.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2000.