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Dishonesty can be defined in many different ways. Some see dishonesty as any untruth while others believe deception or little-white-lies are okay; however, no matter what anyone’s personal definition of dishonesty is, Shakespeare’s play, Othello, does a great job of showing examples. Shakespeare uses many characters to show dishonesty throughout the play, but one character in particular comes to mind the most: Iago.
Not only is most of Iago’s actions dishonest but his deception contributes to the plays motif of deep rooted jealousies. From the beginning of the play, Iago’s dishonesty is showed to the readers through his interactions with the other characters and his soliloquies. Iago’s initial deception is a direct result from his jealousy of Othello. Roderigo asks Iago if he truly hates Othello and Iago responds by saying,” Despise me, if I do not”(Oth. 1. 1. 8). Iago responds this way after losing the lieutenant position to Michael Cassio. This shows the plays overall theme of jealousy that combines with Iago’s dishonesty to lead to Othello’s tragic downfall. Iago believes that he is much more qualified for the job and says Cassio is no soldier because he has never seen battle before. This is the start of Iago’s jealousy that makes him dishonest from the beginning of the play till the end.
How it works
Iago starts his first dishonest plot at the end of Act I in his soliloquy when he says,”The Moor is of a free and open nature,/ That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;/ And will tenderly be led by the nose/ As asses are”(Oth. 1. 3. 410-412). In Iago’s first soliloquy he shares with the audience that he hates Othello because he probably slept with his wife,which the readers find is false, so he will use Cassio and Roderigo to get back at Othello. Iago shows that he can see Othello’s tragic flaw of only seeing the good in people and will use this in his evil schemes throughout the play.
Iago continues with his evil plot into Act II and Act III. In Act II, Iago shares,”Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me,/ For making him egregiously an ass/ And practicing upon his peace and quiet/ Even to madness”(Oth. 2. 1. 316-319). Iago’s second soliloquy tells the readers that Iago secretly lusts for Desdemona for revenge but if he is unable to sleep with her, then Roderigo’s accusations of Cassio will make Othello suspect his lieutenant of sleeping with his wife and it will torture Othello into madness and get Iago his job he wants. Iago’s dishonesty here is meant to help him get the position he wants while destroying Michael Cassio and Othello to get it. Iago will manipulate Roderigo into helping with his malicious plot because Iago knows Roderigo wants Desdemona. Roderigo is so blinded by Iago’s lies that he plays Iago’s puppet through the whole play.
In Act III, Iago states,”Though I may fear,/ Her will, recoiling to her better judgement,/ May fall to match you with her country forms,/ And happily repent” (Oth. 3. 3. 264-267). Here Iago is insinuating an affair between Desdemona and Cassio to plant thoughts of cuckoldry, adultery, and hypocrisy into Othello’s mind. Iago tells Othello to look out for his wife. This sets up Iago’s ultimate sabotage against Othello that leads him to go crazy.
Act IV and Act V show Iago’s deceptive plans come to final action and finally catch up with him. Othello is fully convinced that Iago is honest and says,” I will chop her into messes. Cuckold me!” in which Iago later responds,” And for Cassio, let me be his undertaker. You shall/ hear more by midnight”( Oth. 4. 1. 210; 220-221). This conversation shows that Othello plans to kill Desdemona while Iago kills Cassio. Othello is at his height of anger here at Desdemona for her “unfaithfulness”. Shakespeare enters this dramatic irony to show how it is too late for Othello to know he has been manipulated by Iago to act this way.
In Act V, Iago experiences his downfall along with the others he dragged with him. Emilia exposes him when she hears the story from Othello. Emilia says,”O thou dull Moor! That handkerchief thou speak’st/ of/ I found by fortune and did give my husband”(Oth. 5. 2. 262-264). Although Emilia incriminates herself, she also exposes Iago which gets him imprisoned where he says he will never speak again. Some might also argue that Emilia is one of the most dishonest characters in Othello; however, that’s not true. Emilia only has untruthful act toward Desdemona and Othello and one can argue it was inspired by her husband Iago.
In Act III Emilia steals Desdemona’s handkerchief and comments,” I am glad I have found this napkin” (Oth. 3. 3. 223). The handkerchief from Desdemona and Othello’s standpoint represents their trust and love, but after Emilia steals it it symbolizes Othello’s distrust because he insinuates she is cheating. When Emilia gives it to Iago he says,” Be not acknown on’t, I have use for it”, showing that he will use it in his evil plan and he caused Emilia’s dishonesty and theft (Oth. 3. 3. 356). Overall Emilia’s one dishonest action is nullified when she tells the truth about her husband, Iago.
Shakespeare’s play, Othello, does a great job highlighting characters that intentionally deceive and manipulate others and what it can do to the bystanders like Desdemona. Othello is not jealous, but was simply manipulated by Iago and his devious actions and lies that made him go crazy. It is for this reason that Iago is the most deceptive character in Othello and arguably the most dishonest and unscrupulous in any novel or play written.
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