Honesty, Dishonesty and Manipulation in Othello

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Belief in the words and, therefore, the honesty of others is often the cause of action undertaken by people. This is certainly true of characters in Shakespearian plays. Characters’ honesty, dishonesty and manipulation in William Shakespeare’s play Othello is central to the plot of the play as a whole; that is, characters’ manipulation is the start of causation in the play. Antagonist Iago is a confidant to the Moor general Othello. Iago is not given the promotion he desires and believes is justly his. Outraged, Iago sets a multifaceted web of deceit – lying, killing and stealing. This initiates the primary plot of the play which follows the development in Othello’s character, his growing rage and disbelief in his wife, fuelled by the ironic dishonesty, and hence manipulation of the repetitively titled “honest Iago”. Critic Norrie Eystein, author of The Friendly Shakespeare, notes that he is referred to as “honest Iago” “fifteen times, by every character including himself”. Iago’s dishonesty is contrasted in his soliloquies, where he approaches pure honesty, and when he is silent during the play’s end. It is this contrast which shapes the play itself.

Iago personifies this theme of honesty and manipulation that is expressed in Othello, The play follows Iago in his ambition to destroy Othello, by means of manipulation, and his success in doing so. Iago is consistently dishonest with Othello, lying both about Desdemona’s apparent adultery and his motivation for saying so. In contrast, Iago has moments of absolute honesty in his soliloquies. Yale critic Harold Bloom would suggest that he does not speak to complete truth as he contradicts himself and searches for justification – “And what’s he then that says I play the villain, / When this advice is free…and honest”. Nevertheless, through Iago’s soliloquies, the audience or reader gains considerable insight in to what is really happening in the play. Here, Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony perpetuates the...
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