Othello Essay, Research Paper
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies and thus a pillar of what most critics take to be the apex of Shakespeare’s dramatic art. Indeed, a central thematic strand of the play is trust, honor, and reputation.
The theme of honor and reputation intertwines with those of perception and trust. In the play’s second act, Iago tells Othello that Brabantio “?prated,/And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms/ Against your honor.” (I, ii.ll.6-8). To this, the proven hero of Venice replies, “My parts, my title, and my perfect soul,/Shall manifest me rightly.” (I, ii., ll.31-32). The title character of Othello is supremely concerned with the reputation that he has earned as a man of military adventures and victories for the sake of his adopted homeland. Right before stabbing himself to death, Othello says to Lodovico, Gratiano and Cassio:
I have done the state some service, and they know’t—
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall speak of these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.
To the end, Othello is concerned with how he appears in the eyes of others, with his name, and with the reputation that it bears and the authority that it carries.
The theme surfaces in other contexts. In Act II, scene iii, Othello says to the drunk and disorderly Cassio, “What’s the matter/That you unlace your reputation thus/And spend your rich opinion for the name/Of a night- brawler?” (II, iii. ll.193-197). After his superior leaves and shorn of his guard command, Cassio laments to Iago, “O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (II, iii. ll.263-265). In this exchange, Iago avers: “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself a loser.” (II, iii.ll.268-271). But when it comes to the corruption of Othello, Iago has a much different opinion about the value of one’s good name.
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
The question of whether reputation or how others see us, is meaningless or supremely important need not be answered for us to understand what Shakespeare says conclusively about “honor,” “name,” or “renown”: that it can be used against us by a skillful practitioner of the practical black arts like Iago.
In seeking to rouse Brabantio against Othello, Iago alarms him by saying that, “even now, now, very now, an old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe” (I, i, ll.89-90). Modern Shakespeare critics have naturally focused on the racial implications of a black Othello coming into conjugal union with a white Desdemona. Leaving this dimension of their relationship aside, there is also a vast difference in age between Othello and Desdemona; indeed, the Moor is perhaps of the same age as his bride’s father, Brabantio. While their love is certainly passionate, Desdemona is above all a pure and chaste heroine; it is these qualities attract the Moor to her and they are, in fact, the same attributes that fathers tend to cherish and protect in their daughters. Here we also observe that it is the father of the city, the Duke of Venice, who ultimately decides the dispute between Othello and Brabantio. At first, the Duke sides with Desdemona’s biological father, but upon learning that Othello is the object of Brabantio’s complaint, he shifts his judicial viewpoint significantly calling the Moor “our own proper son.” In essence, the patriarchal figure of the Duke allows Othello to “adopt” Desdemona. Throughout the play, Othello consistently identifies himself with the state as the basis of his own personal authority, and, in this capacity, acts like a father. But as we discuss immediately below, Othello is not capable of paternal authority, for his insecurities as a racially-distinct outsider conspire with Iago’s plans to generate behavior that is both bestial and childish.
Moreover, in the end honor, trust and reputation soured the lives of everyone. Othello was unforgiving to himself because he had not trusted Desdemona and now she is gone. To the end he was concerned about his reputation. These themes were tightly woven in with the strong hold that Iago had on all happenings