The Passion in Compassion: The Human in Humanity

Can love be grown out of compassion?

The root of the word “passion” means “to suffer.” The root of “com” means “with or together.” Desdemona shows the reader an altruistic sense of compassion for Othello. She loves him because she empathizes with his life. She feels strongly for the ways in which he suffered. Whether or not this is a right or wrong reason for love, the words Desdemona and Othello speak to and about each other heat up the stage with passion. Othello owns his passion unapologetically; “I do confess the vices of my blood…How I did thrive in this fair lady’s love, and she in mine” (1.3. 123-125). He openly takes responsibility for making love to Desdemona and goes a step further to say how he “thrived” in her love and how she in his. Desdemona embraces her feelings for Othello by explaining; “My heart’s subdued even to the very quality of my lord” (1.3. 249-250). She understands what makes Othello who he is and loves him – as an entire, whole, and complete human.

Iago contrasts this compassion with his skewed sense of humanity.

Iago dehumanizes Othello with animalistic imagery and degrades his accomplishments by fueling Roderigo and Brabanzio against him. Iago’s humanity is lost in a sea of hatred. Othello’s humanity soars above Iago’s righteous, jealous, and malicious intent. What makes Iago evil is his righteousness to use sexual charged imagery to convict Othello for marrying Desdemona while speaking to Desdemona’s father. Iago’s speeches are sickening because he fully intends for his words to be taken the way they sound. He wants Brabanzio to feel outraged with lines such as “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (1.1. 88-89). Iago passionately believes in the effect his words will have and wants Brabanzio to hate Othello as much as he himself hates Othello.

Iago claims to Roderigo; “We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed” (1.1. 43-44). His lines interpreted show how if he cannot be a master himself than how can all of him truly follow a master, especially when that master is a Moor? There is no master to Iago because based on race alone, Othello is automatically lower than Iago. Othello’s speech to the Duke and the senators shares with the audience a piece of valuable information that every other character seemed to conveniently forget; “her [Desdemona’s] father loved me, oft invited me, still questioned me the story of my life…” (1.3. 127-128). Brabanzio had Othello over and constantly asked to hear his tales because Brabanzio was impressed by Othello’s life. This is further motivation for Iago to feel jealous of Othello.

Iago is a malicious character because he can so easily use and abuse another human. Take Roderigo’s opening line allegorically; “I take it much unkindly that thou, Iago, who hast had my purse as if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this” (1.1. 1-3). On one level Iago exploits Roderigo’s money. On a symbolic level, the image of Iago having mental control over Roderigo appears through the words “as if the strings were thine.” A purse or a wallet is something that can be opened and there is a creepy sense of Iago being able to control Roderigo and open him up at will. Iago controls the actions and words of Roderigo and sets him up to instill a panicked hate in Brabanzio. The hate travels with power of its own once Iago creates the initial spark. When Brabanzio is fueled with the hate for Othello, Iago’s job becomes easier as Brabanzio accuses Othello of using magic on his daughter. The urgency of Brabanzio’s hate transgresses to the Duke of Venice. Iago uses Roderigo to abuse Brabanzio and uses both of them to perpetrate Othello.

Does compassion create a sense of humanity?

Iago has no compassion. He uses Roderigo and Branazio to start his attack on Othello without the slightest sensation of remorse or guilt. Othello speaks with a calm wisdom and has a sense of compassion. He listens to Brabanzio’s accusation and complies with his words by saying “What if I do obey?” (1.2. 88). Othello is honest about Desdemona and dutiful to the Duke. Desdemona’s sense of humanity is passionate and flies free for the Duke, her father, and all those listening to hear. She is true to her past beliefs and true to her current beliefs. She owns how she has an allegiance to her father and balances that with complete loyalty to Othello; “But here’s my husband, And so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord” (1.3. 184-188). Desdemona loves beyond judgment because she recognizes the truth. She calls Othello “Moor” and acknowledges how her father feels. The characters in Othello who feel different ways of compassion create a true sense of humanity. As the play unfolds the reader will start to see if and how Desdemona and Othello feel compassion.


One thought on “The Passion in Compassion: The Human in Humanity

  1. Margaret Hack

    Yes, Iago is like a puppeteer pulling the strings. The most powerful part of his character though is how little he must prompt the others, especially Brabanzio. Take for instance, the imagery he provided Brabanzio of the sexual relationship taking place between Othello and Desdemona. Although he uses crude language, Brabanzio creates an entire speech as to how Othello has corrupted and wrongfully wooed his daughter. Brabanzio is the one who suggests, well accuses, Othello of witchcraft, of enchantment and so forth. Iago is merely the chemical catalyst who gets to sit back and relax.
    I don’t believe Othello to be so filled with compassion, though. He did listen to Brabanzio’s accusations, but he also knew that he had the upper hand due to his militaristic successes. He knew that he would win the argument and that the Duke would side with him. And for the time period, he might have shown a little more empathy towards the man who found out his daughter got married from Iago. It’s almost as if Othello is proud that he corrupted Desdemona into a quiet wedding. It was said that she (like Beatrice in Much Ado) was entirely against marriage, and all of a sudden decided to sneak off and get married. Perhaps there is more to Othello’s stories and wooing than what meets the eye.


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