Comparing and Contrasting Envy and Deception in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Othello The course of events in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Othello are shaped by the deceit and envy of individuals whose desires is arguably to achieve a higher status in society, as well as to avenge the cause of their own dissatisfaction. Don John and Iago manipulate the minds of the people in Much Ado About Nothing and Othello respectively by using these characters’ insecurities as tools in a quest to ruin their lives.
Both plays also involve some self-deception on the part of the characters though, being a comedy, Much Ado About Nothing sees the reconciliation of Claudio and Hero along with Benedick’s and Beatrice’s proclamation of love. This is in contrast to the bleak ending of the tragedy that is Othello, in which we witness the demise of Desdemona and Othello.
This is perhaps why these to plays share some differences as well as similarities – whilst the motives of Iago and Don John are similar, a lot of the deception that occurs in Much Ado About Nothing is not for malicious purposes and thus this is where Othello and Much Ado About Nothing differs. Furthermore whilst Don John is clearly envious of his half-brother’s social authority, the extent to which Iago is envious of Othello and his relationship with Desdemona is ambiguous.
Given the fact that Don John is often referred to as “the Bastard”, it is clear that his relationship with his half-brother Don Pedro is one that is marked by an underlying resentment. Indeed Don John’s illegitimacy may well have led to his dark and sullen character for he is lower than his half-brother in the social hierarchy seen in Much Ado About Nothing. This has therefore created an envy of his half-brother that for reasons unknown manifests into a desire to destroy Hero’s and Claudio’s relationship.
The enviousness of Don John can possibly be seen with Iago in Othello for he has a hatred of Othello that remains unexplained till the very end of the play. One argument that supports the theory that Iago is jealous of Othello is perhaps the fact that the “valiant” Othello has garnered such unearned respect. If we look at Act Two Scene One when Othello has been sent to Cyprus to battle the Turks, we learn from Cassio that the Turks have possibly drowned in a storm thus meaning that they were not defeated at the hands of the Venetians.
This being the case, Othello is left with nothing to do but to ask “This fortification, gentlemen, shall we see’t? ” in Act Three Scene Two. Therefore, Othello can no longer bring new tales of “the battles, sieges, fortunes/That I have passed” which he used to woo Desdemona as stated in Act One Scene Three and so he seems unable to justify the view of Othello as valiant and courageous. Indeed Iago plays on this when Othello has a fit in Act Four Scene One where he refers to his fit as “A passion most unsuiting such a man”.
This seems to be Iago subtly mocking Othello status as a soldier and pointing out how unlike a soldier he really is. One could argue that Iago sees it this way because he is envious of Othello’s seemingly unearned position of power as he is already resentful of the fact that Cassio was promoted ahead of him as explained in Act One Scene One when he says, “Despise me if I do not: three great ones of the city/In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,/Off-capped to him; and by the faith of man/I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
” Whilst it is clear that he resents being overlooked, it is possible that Iago’s envy is as a result of the fact that he should be held in higher esteem than Othello, let alone Cassio. It is therefore only fitting that he conspires with Roderigo, someone who is himself jealous of Othello as he is married to Desdemona who is the object of Roderigo’s affection. In order to appease himself, Iago instigates Cassio’s aggression in Act Two Scene Three by sending Roderigo to attack Cassio. This leads to Cassio striking him and thus he is removed from his position as Othello’s lieutenant.
Iago replaces him and so he has achieved what was arguably his aim. Indeed this desire for status is similar to that of Don John who as well as wishing to ruin Claudio’s relationship with Hero, wishes to unseat him as Don Pedro’s favourite so that he would be able to avenge Don Pedro’s crushing of his rebellion. Both Iago and Don John aim to gain favour from the same person who they wish to destroy. What makes Don John particularly malevolent is the fact that his jealousy is mainly derived from his dissatisfaction with his own life.
He wishes to destroy the happiness of his perceived enemies and this could possibly be held akin to Iago’s wish to destroy Othello for reasons which remain somewhat ambiguous. It seems that Iago’s own malevolence is perhaps due to the fact that he is just inherently evil. However it could be due to the fact that he wishes to be in many ways Othello’s favourite and not only did Othello favour Cassio, he also loved Desdemona. It could be that he wishes to replace Desdemona as an object of love, not in a homosexual sense, but in a way that would help maintain a military camaraderie that would have been present when they fought side by side.
That being said, he does seem to hold a belief that Othello is having an affair with his wife Emilia for he says towards the end of Act One Scene Three, “It is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets / He has done my office. ” However one must acknowledge the fact that he does hold a rather misogynistic view of women, in the way that he maltreats Emilia, and in Act Two Scene One, in the presence of both Emilia and Desdemona, he makes slanderous claims such as, “You rise to play and go to bed to work. ”
Don John and Iago are both incredibly able when it comes to manipulating people by exploiting their insecurities. If we look at Don John’s deception of Claudio, he not only turns him against Hero but he also attempts to make him distrust Don Pedro. In Act Two Scene One Don John tells Claudio that, “Signor, you are very near my brother in his love, he is enamoured on Hero, I pray you dissuade him from her,” Don John blatantly lies to Claudio, telling him that Don Pedro swore he would marry her, thus poisoning Claudio’s mind.
However, when one reads the play it becomes somewhat unclear what Don Pedro’s motives truly are. Indeed one begins to suspect that perhaps he is similar to his brother in the sense that, whilst being no where near as blatant, there may be an ulterior motive in his actions. For example, when Claudio professes his love for Hero, Don Pedro takes it upon himself to tell woo Hero for him. Whilst this seems to be merely in good nature, Claudio seemed to allow him to do so because of Don Pedro’s authority over him.
Given the hierarchy that is evident in the play, it is possible that Don Pedro’s reason for taking this task upon himself is simply because he feels it is his duty to put his weight behind Claudio’s task. However, at the end of the play when Claudio and Hero are reconciled, Don Pedro does seem to be somewhat melancholy which is clear when Benedick points out “Prince, thou art sad, get thee a wife, get thee a wife, there is no staff more reverend than one tipped with horn.
” He is instructing Don Pedro to find a wife so that he can be complete but it is possible that Don Pedro is sad because the woman he wants belongs to Claudio. So it seems that he shares the same envious trait that his half-brother, Don John has. Looking back at the banquet scene in Act Two Scene One, one can’t help but feel that the reason why Don Pedro is being so eloquent is not just because of his high social status but also because he is in effect trying to subtly woo Hero.
Therefore when Don John lies to Claudio that Don Pedro has declared his love for Hero , not only has Claudio’s mind been poisoned, there is a chance that an underlying suspicion has been reaffirmed. Don John has spotted a weakness in the fact that Claudio answers to Don Pedro and so can not muster the courage to question Don Pedro’s motive. Don John’s deception seems to be succeeding as not only is Claudio suspicious of Don Pedro, he is also doubting the merit of a relationship with Hero.