Roderigo versus Othello: Lust or Love?

When reading Act 1 of “Othello” by William Shakespeare, it became apparent to me that Iago may be onto something with his statement about the difference between love and lust. In Act 1, Scene 3, Roderigo tells Iago that he can’t live on earth while Desdemona is not going to be his, and that he will drown himself. Iago replies with “It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man. Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies. I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness” (1.3.329-332). Essentially, Iago is telling Roderigo that his love for Desdemona is nothing to kill himself over because it is really just lust in disguise. He evolves a plan with Roderigo that will get him Desdemona so he can have her and realize that it was truly lust all along.

The thing that I found entirely surprising was the difference in language between Othello and Roderigo in regards to Desdemona as well as the difference in language between that of Othello and other love-struck characters in Shakespearean plays. While Roderigo is ready to kill himself over the loss of Desdemona to another man, Othello is far more level-headed and is more concerned with getting himself out of trouble with Brabanzio and the Duke. Othello insists that if his wife were to come onto the ship with him as he went into battle, there would be no sexual distractions. He says that if love and sex did prove to get in his way, “Let housewives make a skillet of my helm, / and all indign and base adversities / Make head against my estimation” (1.3.271-273). After all of that promising that his love wouldn’t cause any problems and that he could love and fight at the same time if it meant having her near him, he chooses to leave her at home with his third-in-command. Any typical love-struck character of Shakespeare’s would have jumped at the chance to have his love near him at all times, and yet Othello declines. In contrast, I think that if Roderigo were put in the same position he would have gladly taken her on the ship with him.

As far as the difference between the language of Othello and the language of other Shakespearian characters goes, Othello only uses florid language to describe his relationship with Desdemona when his job is on the line in front of the Duke, and even then he claims that she couldn’t help but fall in love with him because of the stories that he told. In other Shakespeare plays such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the characters are practically falling over each other to get to the ones that they love and proclaim their love in front of everyone. In “Twelfth Night”, the characters who are in love with someone (whether that love is returned or not) almost seem consumed by love and the promises that it brings. Othello doesn’t seem to have this mentality. He seems very stoic and willing to say what he needs to say in the moment then run off and do something else.

Therefore, I think that Iago’s statement that Roderigo’s love for Desdemona is only lust is an unfair assumption, because he seems to show more loving feelings for her than Othello ever does in his attempt to save his butt. Roderigo acts more like what a typical love-struck Shakespearian character acts like, whereas Othello seems to be faking it more. I am interested in whether or not these thoughts on my part are correct, or whether I am reading Othello’s intentions wrong because of how much he was bad-talked throughout the entire first act of the play. It could be that I have a poor read on Othello because Iago, Roderigo, and Brabanzio spoke so poorly of him. Only time—and reading the rest of the play—will tell.

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