Incompatibility of Military Heroism and Love in Othello

Incompatibility of the marriage between Othello and Desdemona and military heroism is an important dimension in Othello. Whatever his other qualities and strengths, Othello's weakness is that he is too much of a soldier to be a good lover, husband or a family man. His career as a soldier affects his married life.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Othello himself remarks that the "the tyrant custom has made the steel couch of war my bed of down," which metaphorically means that the merciless situation of the country has made the war his soft bed.

Just after marriage, Othello leaves his wife behind in Venice, thinking that the satisfaction of his "heat" (sexual desire) will "taint my business" (pollute his profession of being a soldier). He also adds that the passion of a young man has been 'defunct' in him, and therefore he will not rouse his passions and disturb his occupation. This is not true when we critically observe his personality: he is blindly passionate. It is rather his traditional and bad attitude that sex and sexual life disturb one's personal life which destroys Othello eventually.

Therefore, it is somewhat due to his profession and much more due to his attitude towards sex and married life that Othello fails to have a successful married life. First of all, it is due to his negative attitude towards sexual life that he is not mentally prepared to take his wife wherever he goes. But, his gentle wife Desdemona is so undisturbed by the events: she wakes up at night and goes to the Duke's court to reply to the charges against Othello and to justify her love, and she follows Othello to Cyprus even amidst the dangers of war. It is Othello's attitude and perceptions that invite every disaster: he leaves his wife, and he doubts her; he is unfit for her and he thinks so without any sane reason to do so. When the Turks are drowned (due to the natural calamity of a sea-storm rather than his military might) Othello has no 'brave' or 'glorious' military job to do. Then, no longer having a means of proving his manhood or honor in a public setting such as the court or the battlefield, Othello begins to feel uneasy with his new life in a private setting. It is in this condition that he begins to engage his devilish mind in sexual fantasy about his wife's so-called infidelity.

 Othello's love is passion, or blind emotion, as evil Iago would say, though Othello tells the senators that his youthful heat has cooled down. Othello rather seems to be an abnormal type of person to think that his wife would go and sleep with Cassio simply because Cassio is white. That is all due to the lack of knowledge about the real world, a soldierly narrow-mindedness, due to the lack of exposure to the world outside. In a way, Othello seems to regard Desdemona a prize too big to believe to be true; he is afraid to believe that she will forever be his! Even as he dies, he wants to justify that he killed Desdemona because he 'thought' she was immoral, as if it was his responsibility to wash and clean the immoral world; that is what he means when he says just before killing Desdemona: "otherwise, she will betray more men".

Perhaps, Shakespeare and his conservative 'worshippers' have never seen this side of terrible injustice to women, and the stupidity of Othello, which makes him a good soldier and a bad man. Only the fantastic tales of his soldiery, which are perhaps made-up, are good to hear; he is a hero so far as battles may be concerned, but he is a bad lover and a bad husband because to love blindly, possessively or murderously is not to 'love' at all. Othello entirely fails as a lover and husband: He is not a social man.