The Role of Reputation in Othello
In Shakespeare’s Othello, the antagonist, Iago, presents two polar opposite views of reputation. From a simple reading of the play it is obvious that Iago is a master manipulator, so it is important to the reader’s understanding of the play to sort through and wrestle with Iago’s conflicting statements about the value of reputation. Iago’s first revelation regarding on the value of reputation comes in act two, as Iago speaks with the distraught Cassio, who has just lost his lieutenancy. Iago tells Michael Cassio “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 such a loser” (II.3.257-260). However only one act later, Iago delivers his second revelation about reputation when he tells the enraged Othello that a “Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed” (III.3.155-161). From the play, it is clear that reputation is a central tenant to Iago’s modus operando, and Iago relies heavily on his “good name” as a means of credibility (Omer, Verona 105). But as much as Iago relies on his own reputation to mask his deceptions, so must others’ reputations be damaged from his lies. The rest of the play reveals how easily the other players’ reputations are tarnished, often without reason. The difficulty in deciphering Iago’s statements is that he often founds his manipulations in a shred of truth. So if one’s reputation can be so easily ruined without proof and despite a history of honorable actions, is reputation worth defending? If so, is reputation useful if it is powerless to give the benefit of the doubt and not to reaffirm the character of those under attack? These are the questions that must be answered about the nature of reputation in order to separate the truth...
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