Appearances can be false, misleading, and are never to be trusted. In Othello, the belief in appearances over reality is the source of the conflict and tragedies. It leads most of the characters to distorted conclusions that create opposing thoughts and emotions. Othello, the main character, is a Moor and famous general of Venice. His closest friend, Iago, effectively manipulates appearances, including his own, to control the way people are perceived. Iago’s persuasive speech and deceiving actions appear so minor and natural that Othello believes them to be nothing more than wise advice.
Iago makes situations and other characters appear worse than they truly are. As Cassio, Othello’s new lieutenant, leaves Othello’s wife, Desdemona, after their discussion about his career, Iago “accidentally” makes note of it aloud which attracts Othello’s attention. When Othello asks Iago if it was Cassio that just left his wife, Iago responds with a misleading description of the situation: Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guilty-like,
Seeing your coming (Shakespeare 3.3.38-40)
Iago made the moment seem like Cassio did something sinful by using his shrewd language. He uses the word “guilty” (3.3.39) to allude to the fact that something happened between Cassio and Desdemona behind Othello’s back. Iago also mentions the fact that Cassio left because he saw Othello. This suggests an event that Cassio does not want Othello to know about. Next, Iago emphasizes Desdemona’s faults. In the same conversation with Othello, Iago recalls,
She did deceive her father, marrying you,
And when she seemed to shake, and fear your looks,
She loved them most … .
She that, so young, could give out such a seeming (3.3.207-209, 211) Iago reminds Othello of Desdemona’s deception, and then stresses the possibility of her betraying their love. Through this, Iago brings out the worse in Desdemona’s appearance in order to increase the likeliness of...
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