What does the "green-eyed monster" line in Othello mean?

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In act 3, scene 3 of Othello, Iago warns the title character,

O beware my lord of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

This line means that Othello must be careful of feeling jealous; envy is a “monster” that can eat away at him and drive him helplessly into a crazed state. Since ancient Greek times, the color green has signified jealousy. Greeks described the complexion of sickly people as green, probably caused by the overproduction of bile. The seventh-century-BC poetess Sappho wrote about jealous lovers as appearing green.

A person can have a green skin tone due to illness, fear, and envy. The image of a “green-eyed monster” suggests that jealousy is a sickening force that will overpower and eat away at Othello.

This statement can be seen as dramatic irony: the audience knows that Othello has no reason to be jealous. Desdemona is faithful, yet Iago suggests to Othello that she may be unfaithful.

Iago’s statement can also be seen as verbal irony: the character knows that he is not telling Othello the truth, but planting the seed of suspicion as part of his evil plan. Iago, not actual infidelity, is mocking Othello. So instead of offering cautionary advice, Iago purposely and malevolently provokes feelings of suspicion, insecurity, and anger in Othello, emotions that will “feed” on the Moor until he goes mad.

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