April 16, 2012
The Power of Misrepresentation
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” (Einstein). Basing a judgment on appearance is rarely the correct assumption about the individual. Not everyone is what he or she appear, or even claim to be. Appearance versus reality is one of the major themes in Othello. Shakespeare uses many literary devices throughout his play to develop this theme. Iago is known for being honest and loyal towards Othello, and the remaining characters of the play. However, he is not what he portrays himself to be. During scenes, he reveals his schemes to the reader. Dramatic irony and asides are effectively used to develop the theme of appearance versus reality. Dramatic irony is used when Othello believes Iago is honest and also when Desdemona is accused of being unfaithful towards her husband, Othello. Dramatic irony is created by providing the reader with information that other characters may not encounter before it is too late. After Iago manipulates Othello to doubt Desdemona, Othello begins to believe that Iago truly does love him and is only trying to ‘protect’ him from jealousy and harm. Seeing Iago as an honest and loyal man, Othello cries, “This honest creature doubtless/ sees and knows more, much more than he unfolds” (Shakespeare, 3:3:42-43). This quote is an example of dramatic irony because Iago truly knows much more than he pretends to. For instance, Cassio and Desdemona’s affair is a fabrication, yet Othello believes that Iago knows more than he exposes. Iago knows that there is nothing going on between Cassio and Desdemona. The reader is fully aware of Iago’s scheme at this point. However, Othello has not yet figured it out. This quote relates to the theme because Iago is believed to be noble by Othello, when in reality he is trying to cause the downfall of others for his own benefit. Another way dramatic irony was used was Shakespeare’s strongest method, Desdemona’s innocence. The reader and Iago know better than anyone else that Desdemona has a clear conscience. On the other hand, Othello begins to believe ‘honest’ Iago and accuses his wife of infidelity. While confronting her, Othello strikes her. After her failed attempt to plead her innocence, he exclaims, “O devil, devil! /If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears, /Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile” (Shakespeare, 4:1:244-246). Crocodiles were said to shed false tears in order to attract their prey. Through this quote, Othello accuses Desdemona of shedding false tears to obtain his mercy and regain his trust. This implies that Othello is saying he would believe a crocodile that would have the intentions of killing him, rather than Desdemona. Her tears are not going to save her this time. By calling her the devil, he is saying that she has an evil spirit: lustrous, angry and indiscreet. This scenario also has an impact on the theme of appearance versus reality because Othello begins to think that Desdemona is not as compassionate as she seems. He is blinded by false images as a result of Iago’s lies, that he forgets Desdemona’s true nature. Iago’s soliloquies in Shakespeare’s Othello are a very significant element. They create an understanding between the author and the reader because the reader is aware of the author’s message and knows things that other characters do not know. In act one, scene one; Iago is clearly identified as the antagonist. In Iago’s first aside, he states his intentions and feelings towards the Moor. At the beginning of the play, Iago and Roderigo reveal Desdemona and Othello’s marriage to Brabantio, her father. After Brabantio is convinced of what he heard and Roderigo was gone, Iago is left alone and says, “Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains, /Yet for necessity of present life, /I must show a flag and sign of love, /Which is indeed but sign” (Shakespeare, 1:1:151-154). In this quote, Iago exposes his hatred towards Othello to the reader. He compares Othello to ‘hell-pains’, implying that Othello is the source of punishment and suffering in his life. Racism is also a part of the reason why Iago has so much hate towards Othello, because Othello is black and in Elizabethan times, black people never were promoted to such high positions. Iago is also angry because Othello promotes Cassio rather than him even though Iago has much more experience and is more suitable to become a lieutenant. However, Othello is after all Iago’s higher power, therefore Iago has to fool Othello into believing that he truly loves him and cares for him in order to get promoted. Behaving in a good manner towards Othello can also benefit him in other ways, such as giving him a good name. This emphasizes the theme of appearance versus reality because Iago tells the reader clearly that he plans to manipulate Othello to achieve his goals. Iago acts as a loyal companion to Othello, when he truly is trying to damage everything Othello cares for. Similarly, when a storm strikes Cyprus and Othello’s ship arrives later than the other two ships, Othello orders Iago and Roderigo to unload the ships while everyone else celebrates the drowning of the Turks. Iago then points out to Roderigo how Cassio held Desdemona’s hand but Roderigo insists it was only in a friendly manner. However, Iago exclaims that if Desdemona were to leave Othello, Cassio would be her next choice. Iago thinks by ruining the relationship between Cassio and Othello he would be Othello’s new trusted companion. In his soliloquy, Iago explains, “I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,
Abuse him to the Moor in the right garb
(For I fear Cassio with my nightcap too),
Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass
And practicing upon his peace and quiet,
Even to madness” (Shakespeare, 2:1:305-310).
In this quote, Iago once again, exposes his scheme and true intentions to the reader. He comes to the conclusion that he will use Cassio as his new ‘weapon’ to manipulate Othello to believing that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. In fact, Iago sees Cassio as a threat, therefore wants him gone so that Othello would love and reward Iago rather then Cassio. However, all Othello would be doing is rewarding Iago for manipulating him and lying to him therefore, making a fool out of himself. Iago is practically damaging anything he can lay hands on, especially the relationships Othello cherishes the most. The theme of appearance versus reality is clearly portrayed through dramatic irony and soliloquies where in both cases, the reader was aware of the truth. Dramatic irony definitely emphasizes this theme because Iago is seen as an honest and trustworthy man by all the other characters of the play when in fact; Iago understands human nature and the characters’ behavior well enough to manipulate them. Iago also uses their fears and infirmities to “make the net that shall mesh them all” (Shakespeare, 2:3:361-362). Also when Othello believes that Desdemona is unfaithful, he is too distracted by the appearance of the action and anger, that he forgets who she really is. Soliloquies also develop the theme of appearance versus reality effectively. In all of Iago’s asides, he reveals his evil schemes, intentions and motives to the reader. He claims why he is pretending to love Othello and states how he really feels. Above all, Iago hates Othello and pretends to be loyal towards him in his presence. Iago in many ways alludes to the two-faced god, Janus. Iago is very talented and can misrepresent himself easily. It is very difficult telling the truth apart from lies; especially when the person believed to be loyal and noble, unfolds to be the one causing all the damage.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello; the Moor of Venice. New York: New American Library, 1963. Print.
[ 1 ]. Albert Einstein quotation.