Iago differs from his fellow Venetians only in the ferocity with which he espouses their values and the deadly extremes to which he resorts to vindicate them.
His devious stratagem works so well because it works by reflecting his victims’ own beliefs, by confirming their suspicions and fulfilling their expectations.
But Othello’s vulnerability as a black outsider, who unconsciously shares the white perception of his blackness, is inseparable from his thraldom to a patriarchal concept of masculinity and a misogynistic concept of marriage that are just as endemic as racism in Venetian culture, and that play an equally crucial role in sealing both Desdemona’s fate and his own.
Thus sexual jealousy is shown to be the rule in Venice rather than an exceptional emotional disorder to which Othello is especially prone to succumb.
‘Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe’ (1.1.88–9), he cries to Brabantio in the opening scene.
Roderigo derides Othello too as ‘the thick-lips’ (1.1.66), while Brabantio, in his public confrontation with Othello, finds it inconceivable that his daughter should desire to ‘Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom / Of such a thing as thou’ (1.2.70–1) without being drugged or bewitched.
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 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.