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Commentary on Key Passage from Othello

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Othello Commentary Natasha Frost This passage is a crucial part of the play, not only because it helps the audience to understand Iago's relationship with Roderigo, but also because it provides a map for the rest of the play and offers some insight into Iago's character. Iago's brief soliloquy essentially exalts dishonesty and pretence, showing Iago's disregard for truth telling. This is particularly ironic when one bears in mind that Shakespeare often refers to the character as 'honest Iago', indicating his common preoccupation with appearance versus reality concept. In fact, in this passage, Iago is being truly honest with Roderigo, demonstrating his lack of respect for the character. It is almost as if, through telling him the truth, he is indicating his disdain for him and that he considers him to be below making up stories for. Iago also indicates his derision for the truth in his description of some servants: 'Whip me such honest knaves!' The passage begins with Iago's explanation of his relationship with Othello: he claims that his service to Othello is founded not in desire to fulfil his master's wishes but 'to serve [his] own turn upon [Iago].' ...read more.


Shakespeare reduces these servants almost to animals with the simile 'like his master's ass'. By making this allusion and saying that they work for 'naught but provender', these servants become a commodity like an ass that require only basic upkeep and feeding. This is successful in demonstrating Iago's disdain for a servant who is foolish enough to give loyal servitude. The phrase 'knee-crooking knaves' furthers these simpering impressions - it provides a powerful physical image of smarminess and the alliteration in knee and knave seem somehow to provide a label for this distasteful brand of servant. The phrase is neat and sophisticated and might be intended to make Iago appear witty and well-spoken, particularly to the slower Roderigo. The line '..doting on his own obsequious bondage' takes on greater resonance in the context of the play, particularly as Iago tells Othello 'I am bound to thee forever.' The second type of servant that Iago describes can hardly be said to be true servants at all - these men, wearing their 'visages of duty', go about their work and do what is expected of them, presenting an honourable front to the their masters. ...read more.


At any rate, Iago manages to convince the listener that he is both learned and reflective, possibly inciting those around him to trust 'honest Iago.' This is a powerful rhetorical tool and part of what makes him so skilled in the art of dishonesty. This particular speech is exemplary in describing Iago's cryptic choices of words. As is the norm with Shakespeare, the extract is written in iambic pentameter which, in contrast with some of Iago's blank prose later in the play, seems to indicate a greater amount of thought behind Iago's speech. The last line is an example of Iago's elliptical speech patterns: 'I am not what I am.' In many ways, this can be said to sum up the greater part of the text: Iago is dishonest, honest with Roderigo with his dishonesty and considers this limbo of not being to be the greatest form of self-preservation. However, in this last line, we see a glimpse of Iago's self-doubt, compounded by Cassio's promotion. This self-doubt combined with his jealousy and ambition helps indicate to the audience some of the internal motivation that leads to his sabotage of those around him later in the play. ...read more.

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