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Shakespeare’s Othello VS Nelson’s O: Mixing Alienation with Tyranny

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Tim Blake Nelson’s modern film, O, and William Shakespeare’s classic play, Othello, both involve Othello (Odin) handing the lieutenant position to Michael Cassio instead of Iago (Hugo). The main difference comes between the two settings, Othello representing an army and O representing a basketball team. Iago knows he deserves the promotion because he had some experience in the war, unlike Cassio. Hugo persuades Roger (Roderigo) to call Desi’s (Desdemona’s) father and explain to him that Desi is seeing Odin. The conflict among the characters rises to a sky-high level because they do not necessarily feel comfortable in their own skin. The characters have self-doubt about their actions, yet they go through with them anyway. Both the film and the play have intertwining similarities that have aligning impacts on the characters’ rises and falls. On the other hand, they differentiate between the characters’ motivations and the strong feelings they have for each other, both positive and negative.

The smallest drop of jealousy can implant toxic thoughts that can manipulate someone’s mental state and cause them severe distress. It can greatly harm and influence an individual’s decision-making and also affects the environment that surrounds them. Jealousy is displayed in Othello and O, where characters betray each other and perform unethical tasks under the strong influence of jealousy. The unavoidable thought of jealousy can be used to drive a person’s motive, develop the flow of a plot, or alter the way a person is depicted. If a person has something that another feels they deserve, there is some heavy bitterness that does not usually end up in a positive situation. Jealousy stops the brain from thinking clearly, and in the case of Iago and Hugo, their minds are wrapped up in misleading their counterparts. Iago and Hugo do not focus on having a close relationship with everyone around them as much as using others to increase their chance of success.

Othello’s Iago and O’s Hugo are almost identical and are driven purely by jealousy to create the downfall of Othello/Odin. The outcome of the decisions that Iago and Hugo make heavily change the flow of the plot and are responsible for the events that occur within the play and film. Iago’s first decision was the beginning of his plan to overthrow Cassio in lieutenancy and was evident when he said, “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, (A fellow almost damned in a fair wife) That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows More than a spinster” (1.1.1157). Iago questions Othello’s decision to appoint Cassio and he feels that his experience on the battlefield must not have been part of the decision, even though it is imperative to be prepared for the lieutenant position.

The death of Othello, Emilia, Roderigo, and Desdemona are all caused by Iago’s actions and his plan to reach his ultimate goal. O’s version of Iago, Hugo, followed the same characterization of Iago and had the same intentions but instead, he feels robbed when Odin shares his MVP award with Micheal instead of him. This quote explains the jealousy Hugo has towards Odin and how he is the “hawk” that grabs all the attention around him. Hugo desires that same attention, but he achieves it by making unethical decisions. In the same manner, as Iago’s plan, Hugo tries to use deception against Othello and change his perspective on Micheal. The decisions done by Hugo and Iago had the same repercussions and caused the death of Othello, Emily, Rodger, and Desi. All in all, the decisions Iago and Hugo make under the influence of jealousy helps create an advancing plot and, as a result, they are responsible for most of the events that occur within the film and play. Iago/Hugo, specifically, act on what they feel at the moment rather than what the repercussions would be down the road. Split-second decisions do not seem to bode well for any of the characters, but Iago’s/Hugo’s motivations are justifiable to them, no matter how they affect the people around them.

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The worlds for Othello/Odin are changed completely when jealousy starts to feed onto their mental state. The personalities of both characters differ from when they were introduced as the plot advanced. The protagonist, Othello, and Odin were both deceived by Iago/Hugo, who plan out certain events to convince their partners of having an affair behind their backs. The protagonists both come to a hasty conclusion and end up executing both of their lovers. After learning the truth, both characters mentally break down and clear up the situation surrounding them. This was evident when Odin stated, “I loved that girl, I did, he twisted my head up, it was that white, prep school boy standing right there” (Nelson, O, Hugo). This quote happened after the death of Desi and showed that Odin fell into Hugo’s hole of lies and was influenced into making a life-changing decision. If Odin had really loved Desi, he would have sought out for more proof and put more faith into her rather than Hugo. His gullibility led to the death of several friends.

Odin’s mistakes were transferred over to Othello and could have prevented a tragic ending for him and his friends. In Othello, Iago pointed out when he detected jealousy within Othello when he stated, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on” (3.3.1196). In this quote, Iago pretended to warn the damage jealousy could do to a man’s heart but could have ironically stopped the destruction he had caused if Othello took his advice more seriously and taken things into his own matter. Instead, Othello fed into Iago’s words and made inalterable decisions. The ending of both Othello and O were both appalling due to the heavy presence of jealousy which caused both characters to quickly jump to conclusions and make irrational decisions that were life-changing. The characters did not care to ponder the pros and cons of making their decisions, even if they cost someone’s life. This shows the disinterest and the carelessness that the characters feel for one another. Emotions rise to an extreme level, jealousy is ever-present, and self-inflicted actions are made by the characters and prove their respective roles in both plays.

In addition to how jealousy was developed and used within the play and film through the plot, jealousy was what motivated and pressured Roderigo and Roger into achieving his desired goal of dating Desi/Desdemona. In the opening act of Othello, Roderigo seemed hopeless and was on the edge of throwing his life away when she had her heart stolen and eloped with Othello. Roderigo is expressing his jealousy and suffering when Desdemona is in love with another man and would like to end it by taking his own life. Jealousy is also what keeps him alive as he is desperate to find enteral love and to take the place of Othello. The plot surrounding Roderigo emphasizes his jealousy, and as the plot advances, it starts to take over his mental state and decision making. At first, Roderigo does understand Iago’s exploits, which try to trick Roderigo and make him look like a fool. Roderigo eventually notices Iago’s intentions but is too caught up in his emotions to take action. He is in disbelief about Iago’s malicious nature and realizes that he will never get what he wants as long as Othello and Iago are around.

Like Roderigo, Roger undergoes through the same situations where he has a crush on Desi, but she is already dating Odin. Roger is not as dramatic compared to Roderigo but is proved to be jealous when Iago asked, “Do you want Desi or not?” (Nelson, O, Hugo) and Roger responded with “Yes!”(Nelson, O, Roger). Roger is then pressured by Hugo to perform multiple tasks under the influence of jealousy which secretly helped Hugo. Like Iago, Hugo used the plot to influence Roger into achieving his goal of gaining all the attention as he knew Roger would help him no matter what when he felt jealous. Iago and Hugo use the plot to highlight jealousy within Roger and Roderigo for their own personal use to achieve their goal and to leave both (Roger/Roderigo) in the dust. Roger and Roderigo are being exploited by their counterparts to gain an advantage and to be held in higher standing. Iago and Hugo care deeply about how they are seen as opposed to how they feel about themselves. They are insecure and prideful, and as a result, they feel they can do no wrong. Iago and Hugo do not let anyone challenge them because they feel superior and deserving of everything. Roger and Roderigo are unaware of Iago/Hugo’s intentions because they are clever and misleading.

There is extreme envy that is constant throughout the film and serves a distinct purpose despite the differences they both have. They both provided the same conflict and plot, which are strictly influenced by resentment. The jealous, driven decisions Hugo and Iago make get many characters killed and pressure Roger/Roderigo to perform amoral tasks, only done when jealous. It was also able to mimic the mental state of Othello/Odin, causing him to make decisions that are out of his character. Many of these characters are controlled by jealousy, which pushes an individual’s thought process, builds up the conflict within the plot, and alerts the manner in which an individual is portrayed.

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Shakespeare’s Othello VS Nelson’s O: Mixing Alienation with Tyranny. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
“Shakespeare’s Othello VS Nelson’s O: Mixing Alienation with Tyranny.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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