Marxist interpretation

Social struggle

Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Roderigo are seen as members of the upper, ruling class, while Iago is part of the lower, working class:
  • Traditionally, the educated class would understand struggle in terms of upholding right against wrong, or as a moral and spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil
  • However, the economically deprived are more likely to interpret struggle as the fight to survive and gain ‘a share of the pie’ i.e. in material terms. 

Iago’s class struggle

Thus Iago is bitter towards Othello because he has not been given the promotion he thinks he deserves, which would have enriched him and elevated him to the upper class. Instead, Othello promotes someone who already has money and education, which Iago lacks. Iago’s revenge is partly expressed in mercenary terms when in Act 1 Scene 3 he continually tells Roderigo, ‘Put money in thy purse.’ Iago’s envy is primarily about money and the status it confers, which is why he is happy to rob Roderigo of his wealth at the same time as he is betraying Othello.

Moral values

An attack on morality

Iago is a moral relativist, allowing him to use any means to change the social order because the ends justify the means. But Othello has adopted the Christian faith of his peers and therefore believes in God’s absolute moral standards, like goodness and truth. However, Iago’s cynical, amoral philosophy, which allows him to tell outrageous lies in the cause of personal advancement, destroys Othello’s certainties. Othello is convinced to ignore his conscience and generosity of spirit in favour of the self-aggrandisement that Iago suggests. 

Moral order restored

When Othello realises his jealousy was groundless he regains his faith in human nature and kills himself as an expression of morally deserved retribution. This allows the play to end in a reassertion of the moral world which is part of the raison d’etre of the ruling classes. 
If Iago had succeeded he would not only have become permanently better off, he would have also been promoted to lieutenant and thus elevated to the upper classes. The fact that he fails reinforces the importance of morality before materialism, on which basis the ruling class can survive, despite the tragic deaths of three of their number.
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