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Ethos, Logos, and Pathos in Othello. Humans like to believe they are always right and try to persuade others to do so too.
Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, wrote a book titled Rhetoric that is more applicable to everyday life than it seems. He writes that there are three modes of persuasion: “Pathos,” which involves appealing to the emotions; “Ethos,” which considers the authority and credibility of the speaker; and “Logos,” which is the use of knowledge, logic, and facts. One can clearly see how effective these modes are through the character Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, who can often change the attitudes and reality of the other characters by simply speaking to them. The techniques of manipulation used by Iago were effective because they enticed emotions, had credibility through his reputation, and used facts and logic, although manufactured, that were comprehensible and convincing.
How it works
Iago’s main purpose was to incite the emotions of hate and jealousy amongst the other characters, such that whoever submitted to those feelings would contribute to Othello’s downfall, including Othello. When one is engulfed by strong emotions, one is not able to think as clearly and is thus in a more vulnerable state. Iago takes advantage of this fact, knowing that he can persuade people more easily when they feel hatred and jealousy. A clear example of this is when Iago speaks to Brabantio, saying phrases such as “Your heart is burst” (1.1.96). Iago addresses Brabantio’s heart, a symbol of love and emotion. To say that it is burst speaks to Brabantio’s emotions, telling him that his beloved Desdemona has been stolen. The phrase not only confronts Brabantio’s love but also develops his hate for the Moor. When in this state, Brabantio can hate the Moor more easily and believe Iago’s insults more easily. Enticing human emotions is essential for effective persuasion.
While appealing to the emotions is important, Iago’s position and credibility as a friend is a necessity for his persuasiveness. Iago had a good reputation as someone who was trustworthy. This is easily seen when Roderigo says that Iago “hast had my purse/ As if the strings were thine” (1.1.3-4). Roderigo trusts Iago to the point where he is willing to let Iago control his finances. With this credibility, Roderigo does not hesitate to listen to Iago’s advice throughout the play except in the later acts. Why is it that these later doubts occur, though? This is because Roderigo noticed that his efforts were bearing no fruit and so Iago’s credibility diminished. This seemingly minor mistake caused Roderigo to act aggressively towards Iago and thus displays the importance of authority when it comes to manipulation. In the end, Iago’s initial credibility allowed him to escape the situation of danger. In addition, one can see Iago actively building upon his credibility when he goes to warn Othello of Brabantio. After all, one is more likely to believe someone who is trustworthy and willing to help others than someone who has a reputation for being a liar. Had it not been for Iago’s reputation, people would not have believed him as easily as they did, which ultimately displays the effectiveness of credibility alongside the other modes of persuasion.
Above all, Iago’s use of fact and knowledge, both real and produced, makes his reasoning persuasive to the other characters. The crux of Iago’s plan is his lies, so he needs to make these lies logical and believable. Iago has two approaches when using “Logos”: use clear facts but manipulate the conclusion, and fabricate facts that are difficult to disprove. An example of the former is when Iago shows Othello that Cassio has Desdemona’s handkerchief; the flow of logic would then be that Desdemona had given the handkerchief to Cassio. Othello does not consider other possibilities as Iago pulls him into a narrowed look on the situation. One cannot deny facts because they are absolute. To deny facts and logic would be denying the truth, which is why the manipulation of facts and logic is that much more effective. An example of the use of Iago’s latter tactic is when Iago tells Othello that he heard Cassio exclaim “Sweet Desdemona, / Let us be wary, let us hide our loves” (3.3.475-476) in his sleep. Not only is there no proof that Cassio said what Iago claims, but the seed of doubt that Iago planted using the other modes of persuasion makes his lie even more convincing. The extent of the knowledge of characters in Othello only goes as far as Iago allows, and the perceptions of truth of the characters are only as true as Iago wants them to be.
The modes of persuasion, pathos, ethos, and logos, are all contributing factors to the effectiveness of Iago’s manipulative strategies. Working together, these modes combine the emotions of the persuaded, the credibility of the persuader, and the truth of reality to form the combination of manipulation with which Iago uses to develop his plan. Although Iago effectively persuaded people in Othello, he did it with wicked goals and false truths that led him to his downfall. As non-fictional humans, the modes of persuasion can be used more effectively and successfully when the truth is as true as possible, and the logic is not fallacious. Once one masters the art of persuasion, not manipulation, one can use it in areas such as debating, marketing, or writing an essay.
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