Reputation is a part of life. 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 a sickness that they can not cure. In William Shakespeare?s Othello, the characters Othello and Desdemona, Iago, and Cassio show just how important one?s reputation can be. Reputation impedes good judgment – both in the decisions the characters make, and in the decisions made about them.
Iago is the ?two-faced? character in the story. His reputation is the exact opposite of his true nature. This becomes evident with his relationship with his commander, Othello. Othello describes Iago as ?Honest Iago,? and says to others ?Iago is most honest,? (II, iii, 7). Othello is under the impression that Iago is an honest man, because of Iago?s reputation. Othello allows himself to be influenced because he believes Iago is trustworthy. When Iago introduces the thought that Desdemona is being unfaithful, Othello says ?No, not much moved. / I do not think but Desdemona?s honest,? (III, iii, 224-225). Othello has been influenced by Iago?s cynical implications. Any other man would have been killed by Othello for suggesting such blasphemy. However, Iago is seen as ?Most honest? (II, iii, 7), therefore Othello begins doubting Desdemona?s faithfulness. Cassio allows himself to be taken advantage of by Iago in the same way.
Iago – O, they are our friends. But on cup! I?ll drink / for you.
Cassio – I have drunk but one cup tonight … I?ll do?t but it dislikes me (II, iii, 35-45)
Cassio succumbs to Iago by saying that he will ?do?t? (II, iii, 45). Cassio knows that he already has drunk enough, but, because Iago wants to drink to Othello and Desdemona, he agrees. Cassio believes that Iago is simply making an honourable gesture here because he believes Iago is loyal to his commander. The reputation that Iago is honest and honourable clouds Cassio?s reasoning in this situation.
Iago?s actions in the story reinforce his desired reputation. Iago said ?Yet do I hold it very stuff o?th? conscience / To do no contrived murder,? (I, ii, 2-3). This allowed Iago to implant the seed of his goodness in the minds of others. Iago uses this tactic in his relationships with others.
Iago – I humbly beseech you of your pardon / For loving too much you.
Othello – I am bound to thee forever.
(III, iii, 212-214)
Othello declares his loyalty and friendship to Iago in this passage. Othello feels loyal to Iago because of all the good deeds he thinks Iago has accomplished. Iago?s relationship with Cassio is another good example of Iago giving the impression that he is ?good?. Iago says things such as ?I do love Cassio well and would do much / To cure him of this evil,? (II, iii, 140-141). What Iago says is quite ironic because he is the one that needs to be cured from evil. However, Iago uses this tactic to better serve his reputation and harm Cassio?s at the same time. Iago will do this throughout the play.
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. Iago begins his defamation of Cassio?s character by giving Othello the impression that Cassio may not be what he seems. ?I dare be sworn, I think that [Cassio] is honest… / Men should be what they seem,? (III, iii, 125, 126),
Othello – Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?
Iago – Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it /
That he would steal away so guilty-like, /
Seeing your coming. (III, iii, 37-39)
Iago does not go out and accuse Cassio of stealing Desdemona?s love. Iago rather lets Othello go over the idea in his mind, and obsess over the possibility. This strategy is effective because Othello sees Iago as honest and has lost some trust in Cassio, ever since the incident with Montano. ?Cassio, I love thee; / But never more be an officer of mine,? (II, iii, 247-248). Othello loses much respect for Cassio because of the skirmish Iago set into motion by getting Cassio drunk. Cassio?s reputation takes a turn for the worse. Cassio himself understands the importance of one?s reputation. ?Reputation … I have lost my reputation! I have / Lost the immortal part of / Myself, and what remains is bestial,? (II, iii, 261-263).
Cassio is aware of the powers of one?s reputation, and the effects it can have on others. He does not know, however, of the work Iago is doing to tear his reputation completely to shambles.
Othello and Desdemona are complete opposites, therefore respectively, their reputations are quite different. Desdemona is seen as ?Sweet Desdemon? (III, iii, 55), while Othello is seen as ?an old black ram,? (I, i, 85). These reputations remain constant until Iago begins with his deception. Iago puts ideas in Othello?s head that Desdemona may be deceiving him. ?She did deceive her father, marrying you; / And when she seemed to shake and fear your looks, / She loved them most,? (III, iii, 206-208). Othello begins to doubt Desdemona?s love towards him. Thoughts that she only married him to rebel against her father begin to surface. He takes his frustrations out on Desdemona. ?I am commanded home. – Get you away,? (IV, I, 258). ?Ah, Desdemon! Away! Away! Away!,? (IV, ii, 40). Desdemona does not understand why she is being treated this way. ?I know not how I lost him … Unkindness may do much, / And his unkindness may defeat my life, / But never taint my love,? (IV, ii, 150, 158-160) . ?I nev?r saw this before,? (III, iv, 100). Desdemona and Othello?s communication lines immediately degrade from this friction between them. Desdemona is afraid to explain things to him because of Othello?s reputation of being a barbarian. She fears he may kill her (which he inevitably does). Desdemona?s innocent and pure reputation is distorted just enough by Iago to have Othello begin doubting his wife. Combine Othello?s uncertainty with his wife and his impression of Cassio in ruins, and you have a convincing scenario … in Othello?s mind.
Iago himself says it, ?Reputation is an idle and / most false imposition, oft got without merit and / lost without deserving,? (II, iii, 267-269). This is true to the fullest extent. This is why reputations impede good judgment – both in the decisions they make, and in the decisions made about them. Often, reputations and a person?s true character differ. When people make judgments based on these impressions, problems most certainly arise. In our society, reputations tend to be a large force in our lives. This is unfortunate. Unfair judgments are made on the basis of past experiences or knowledge to often. The relationship of the characters in Shakespeare?s Othello are a microcosm of what goes on in society. The sooner we can change this, the better society will be.
Some of the papers I read here are BRUTAL… here’s one worth reading.