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In a vain attempt to placate Brabantio, the Duke assures him that ‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black’ (1.3.289–90).
Roderigo’s infatuation with Desdemona makes him intensely jealous of both Othello and Cassio.
The same emotion flares up in Bianca, when Cassio gives her Desdemona’s handkerchief: ‘You are jealous now’, says Cassio, ‘That this is from some mistress, some remembrance’ (3.4.185–6).
As a result, Othello and Desdemona find unleashed upon them, in the shape of Iago, the venomous rage of a society whose foundations are rocked by the mere fact of their marriage.
‘For if such actions may have passage free,’ Brabantio warns the Venetian Senate, ‘Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be’ (1.2.98-9).
As the handkerchief, the ‘ocular proof’ (3.3.360) of infidelity, passes from Othello to Desdemona to Emilia to Iago to Cassio to the courtesan Bianca, it links the three couples together to highlight what they have in common.
It draws an implicit parallel between the despised kept woman Bianca and the respectable wives Desdemona and Emilia, revealing the true nature of the married woman’s role by erasing the distinction between them.
As Iago sees it, a black African has had the gall to court and marry a white Venetian beauty as if he were the equal of a man of her class and colour.
And she has had the gall to prefer ‘a lascivious Moor’ (1.1.126) to her own kind and defiantly proclaim her love for this ‘erring barbarian’ (1.3.355-6) in public.
Shakespeare makes it plain from the start that it’s not just Iago the newly-weds are up against, but the status quo and a view of the world which Iago merely embodies in its most lethal form.
For it’s not just Iago whose speech is infected with contempt for ‘the Moor’ (as he repeatedly refers to Othello), though the intensity of his loathing is unrivalled.