Othello Analysis:Act II, Scene 3
Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!
As I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound. There is more sense in that than in reputation. 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. What, man, there are ways to recover the general again. You are but now cast in his mood, a punishment more in policy than in malice, even so as one would beat his offenseless dog to affright an imperious lion. Sue to him again and he’s yours.
I will rather sue to be despised than to deceive so
good a commander with so slight, so drunken, and so
indiscreet an officer. Drunk? and speak parrot?
and squabble? swagger? swear? and discourse
fustian with one's own shadow? O thou invisible
spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by,
let us call thee devil!
The play “Othello,” written by Shakespeare in the beginning of the 17th century is a marvelous example of a piece of literature that has survived the test of time because it discusses many things that are relevant in the modern world as well as in Victorian England, such as love and prejudice. This particular passage brings up one of the important themes in the play, namely that of reputation, and through it reveals much about the two characters and about aspects of their personalities. Cassio is shown as someone who cares a lot about the norms and opinions of the society and can be dubbed ordinary and normal; he is devoted to fulfilling his duty and does not seem to have any personal goals or real individuality. Iago, on the other hand, is shown to have a completely different way of thinking: he is more intelligent, more far-sighted and somehow distant from the expectations of the society and the way it is structured; he also has a better comprehension about human nature.
Shakespeare has created an ambiguous portrait of Michael Cassio, who, even though brave and honest (values that are celebrated and upheld), is also portrayed as somewhat dull and unintelligent, his morals overwhelming everything else. His position as lieutenant of Othello is the most important thing for him; he has no real personal goals or strivings besides to fulfill his duty and uphold his reputation. From a modern point of view, this way of life is limited and narrow. When he loses this reputation, he feels that he is no longer human, that his life is futile and pointless without his service of his master and the latter’s benevolence: “I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial” (Act II, Scene 3, 280-310). This exaggeration points out to the somewhat abnormal way society is structured, as the servitude to someone else appears to hold the highest value for this character, who is otherwise honest and brave. The way Cassio reprimands himself in the next lines shows his powerful sense of guilt, but there is an important nuance in it. He feels guilty not so much because he himself has done wrong, even though he suffers because of his lost reputation, but because his actions have brought shame on his master: “I will rather sue to be despised than to deceive so/good a commander with so slight, so drunken, and so/indiscreet an officer” (Act II, Scene 3, 280-310 ). The lieutenant even tortures himself by graphically describing his condition of inebriation with all its embarrassing aspects. Michael Cassio, a person who is exemplary in the Venetian society, has little regard for his own personality and his own self; he identifies himself with his duty and with his duty only.
Iago, on the other hand, is quite the opposite character. Doubtlessly he is a primarily negative character and the villain in “Othello;” nevertheless, in this passage the reader can see that he is the voice of sanity, a person who has a deeper understanding of the society and the flaws in its structure. He advises Cassio to be reasonable, to think clearly and to perceive the fact that reputation is changeable and, after all, not so important: “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” (Act II, Scene 3,280-310). Iago voices the idea that how one feels about himself is much more important than reputation and what the society thinks; not only this, but he makes a huge accusation on the very way society is structured: it is illogical, and many people can have merit even though they do not deserve it. In this way, he provides the reader with a completely different vantage point from which to view the Shakespearean world. It is ironic that the character who is infused with evil and who is supposed to be completely repulsive, his words only lies, speaks rationally and clearly. True, the purpose behind his words is to harm Cassio, but his actual speech is, in fact, true from a modern point of view. It is important to note the word “honest” as it is used by Iago: “As I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound” (Act II, 280-310). In this context, it seems the word “honest” is meant to mean straightforward, simple, and without and hidden thought because Iago allegedly thinks that only material wounds matter. In other words, Cassio’s real trouble - losing his reputation - would be of little concern to Iago, who cares only about reality, facts, and material things.
In conclusion it can be said that this passage reveals much about Cassio and Iago, especially their attitude towards society. Cassio, even though a positive and amiable character, is shown to be limited in his perspective and to care too much about society’s opinion, whereas Iago, who is a villain, is revealed to be intelligent and adept at understanding the makings of the world. In this way, Shakespeare once again manages to create complex situations which are everything but black and white.