Reputation in Shakespeare’s Othello
Reputation is what people think of you and it is a part of human nature. Nobody can dispute this fact whether they like it or not. To some, their reputation is a blessing because of positive attitudes towards them. To others, it can be an illness that they cannot cure. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the characters of Iago, the two-faced character, Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant at the start, and Othello, the “Black Moor” and the protagonist of the play, show just how important one’s reputation can be.
Iago’s reputation is an honest man and he used this to destroy others’ reputation. Othello has a changing reputation throughout the play. Cassio also has dramatically changing reputation. “I am not what I am” is a popular quote that Iago honestly says. In this play, Iago is a two-faced character. Iago’s persuasion is strong towards Othello and Cassio. He uses his good reputation as a weapon to destroy everyone’s reputation even though his reputation is the exact opposite of his true nature.
This becomes evident when Othello describes Iago as “Honest Iago” and says “this fellow’s exceeding honesty”. Othello is under the impression that Iago is an honest man so he allows himself to be influenced by him and believes that he is trustworthy. Othello then believes him when he suggests that Desdemona is unfaithful to him regarding the fact that he does not know much about relationships and women. Iago also worked hard to destroy Cassio’s reputation by making him drink and making Othello believe that he is in love with Desdemona.
Iago also tells us that he cares for his reputation by saying “Good name in man and woman… But he that filches from me my good name robs me off that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed” but then he tells Cassio and Othello that reputation is not important. “…there is more sense that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition…” and “Men should be what they seem”. Without Iago’s honest reputation, he would not cause the death of Desdemona and ultimately Othello. Roderigo, a suitor of Desdemona, is the only character who knows the real Iago yet Iago kills him. O damned Iago. You inhuman dog! ” is what Roderigo says before he dies.
This is one of the lines that show his real nature. This shows us that our reputation does not have to be true to make it or plausible among others. Acting is a good way of manipulating others about our reputation. We can use it either for good or evil. In this case, Iago uses his reputation for his own advantage and for his evil plans. Cassio is an honest and loyal man. Unfortunately his reputation is thoroughly tarnished by Iago. Iago works very hard to damage Cassio’s reputation and Othello’s impression of him.
He easily loses his position as Othello’s lieutenant and his reputation when Iago plans what might happen if he drinks. “Come, lieutenant, I have a stoup of wine; and here without a brace of Cyprus gallants that would fain have a measure to the health of black Othello. ” Cassio is resisting but Iago is insisting. He still drinks because he believes that Iago is making an honourable gesture towards Othello and Desdemona. He also believes that Iago is loyal to his commander. Iago then tells Roderigo to attack Cassio by saying “How now, Roderigo! I pray you after the lieutenant go! ”.
Roderigo then follows Iago and then Cassio makes a brawl while Othello is having a good time. Othello then asks what happened then Iago informs him what happened. Othello then fires Cassio as his lieutenant. Cassio values his reputation. It is evident when he says that “Reputation, reputation, reputation… I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial…” Here we are shown that reputation is a human need. Good reputation prevents great public dismay. Also if you have a great reputation when you die, people will remember you meaning reputation lives longer that humans do.
Good reputation also is harder to maintain than to break. It is simply fragile. Othello has a changing reputation throughout the play. Firstly we are shown a confident yet respectful man then a gullible man then a violent one until he becomes a murderer of an innocent person. From the lines “Most potent, grave and reverend signiors…” comes a person with great respect over people with greater power over him. He shows humility and respect while he is speaking and this earns him a great reputation even though he is a black man in a white people community.
He also says “She loved me for the wars I fought…” around the last part of the speech meaning that the audience should see him as a hero. “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty” comes a person with a flaw, his gullibility. In here we see the irony and how he starts to trust Iago more than his beloved Desdemona. We also see that he lacks knowledge in marriage and women. He disregards himself as black and old which he thinks are the reasons why Desdemona is unfaithful to him. In the scene where Othello slaps Desdemona in front of everyone we are shown that Othello is a violent husband and not a gentleman.
From here on we see how the reputation of Othello changes dramatically. “Lie with her! Lie on her! … Pish! Noses, ears and lips. Is’t possible? / Confess? ” is a prose that shows a man at its lowest. This quote conveys agitation and his use of questions suggests insecurity. His fractured sense of self is conveyed through the syntax. Here we see that people with great reputation from the start can possibly experience a great breakdown in their reputation. We see how flaws beat good reputation. In the end, we learn that even heroes can just be naive and gullible who can have so many flaws.
The theme of reputation in Othello plays a very important role in the play. It is evident on how Iago uses his reputation to ruin others like Cassio and Othello. Reputation is what keeps people living through the ages. Having a good reputation gives us power to easily manipulate and persuade people but if we do that, karma may come to us like what happened to Iago, death. Applying the reputation in the play to the present, someone’s good reputation is hard to rebuild because it is hard to change people thoughts about you. Reputation is harder to maintain that to break.
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