What exactly is Othello saying to Iago in act 3, scene 3 ("Why, why is this? Think'st thou I'd make a life of jealousy") and why is it important?

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In this speech, Othello is speaking to Iago. He is refuting the idea that he is jealous of his wife, Desdemona, who seems to have attracted Cassio's attention. Othello at first flat-out rejects the idea of being jealous, as he knows it would wreak havoc with his life. He does...

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In this speech, Othello is speaking to Iago. He is refuting the idea that he is jealous of his wife, Desdemona, who seems to have attracted Cassio's attention. Othello at first flat-out rejects the idea of being jealous, as he knows it would wreak havoc with his life. He does not want “a life of jealousy,” in which every day or night could raise “fresh suspicions.”

Othello goes on to say that he knows full well that Desdemona is very beautiful, tasteful, gracious, talented, and so forth. That cannot make him jealous, as he already knows she has more virtues than other women. The main reason he will not doubt her is that “she had eyes and chose me.”

This marks the turning point in the speech, and the statement that Iago will seize on to turn the events in the direction he wants them to go. Othello says, “No, Iago, / I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove.” There will be no intermediate step. He won’t wallow in suspicions. If proof is provided of her infidelity, he will believe it. Even then he won’t be jealous, he says, because he won’t love her anymore.

Mentioning the proof is the opening Iago needed. Othello is telling him exactly what to do in order to turn Othello against his wife. The embroidered handkerchief that Othello later drops becomes just the thing that will “prove” her infidelity, and Iago will plant it in Cassio’s room to advance his plot.

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In this speech, Othello is vowing not to be tormented by ongoing jealousy and insecurity.  He knows that suspicions are not enough to make Desdemona guilty; he needs some indication of her infidelity.  He is going to base his opinions on some kind of proof, and insists that it will not simply be his own weakness of character that will convince him that she has been unfaithful.  He's also promising not to be tormented by her if she is cheating on him.  As he points out near the end of the speech, she made the choice to be with him.  Once he knows if she is guilty, his love for her will end.

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