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The Use of Irony in William Shakespeare’s “Othello”

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Introduction

The Use of Irony in William Shakespeare's "Othello" Examine the way in which irony is used throughout "Othello" to produce a dramatic effect. Iago is honest; Othello is the villain; Desdemona deserves her punishment. Most people would dismiss such statements as outrageous. And yet they are valid interpretations of a very multifaceted play. Whether these statements are Shakespeare's intentions or not, they arise out of that powerfully dramatic device: irony. Verbal, situational, and dramatic irony are present in "Othello" in abundance. This essay will focus on the latter two, as well as analyse some general ironies present in the play's background and setting. Irony is employed in the opening scene to attract the audience's attention. The first person to speak of Othello, supposedly the play's protagonist, is the "villain" Iago. It is not a flattering picture, as Iago mocks Othello's style: "But he (as loving his own pride, and purposes) / Evades them, with a bombast circumstance, / Horribly stuffed with epithets of war..." The audience, not yet able to evaluate Othello for itself, really has no choice but to accept this malicious remark at face value. The irony here is that the audience believes Iago, much as Othello believes him throughout the play. ...read more.

Middle

One victim is poor Roderigo, who misguidedly believes that his actions, prompted by Iago, will result in Desdemona's love. Cassio fits into Iago's plans perfectly when talking to Iago about Bianca, unaware that Othello is watching. Later, he even reflects on his insobriety and despises himself for it, oblivious that the cunning Iago encouraged him to drink. Emilia and Othello actually commit crimes because of Iago: the ever-trusting wife steals Desdemona's handkerchief (which, more ironically, was dropped by Othello); Othello commits the greatest crime of all: murder. This climax is entirely dramatic because of its painful irony. Even the terrible act's planning is ironic. Othello's order is to "Get me some poison, Iago, this very night", but Iago's idea is better: "Do it not with poison, strangle her in her bed, / Even the bed she hath contaminated." Othello is enthusiastic: "The justice of it pleases, good". First there is the obvious irony that Othello believes Iago is helping him and being loyal. Secondly, Othello genuinely believes in the justice of his actions. He kills her to prevent others from being hurt: "...she must die, else she'll betray more men". ...read more.

Conclusion

Opposites are often discussed in relation to "Othello". When analysing the play people talk of the ambiguity of language, such as the various double entendres; they talk about such opposites as good and evil, masculinity and femininity, black and white; and about the contrasts in setting. In my opinion it is the ironic nature of the play that allows all these discussions and the play's possible opposite interpretations. At the beginning of this essay I gave some interpretations of various characters. They are perfectly valid, as are their relative opposites, but only through the ironic situations and occurrences outlined above. For example, it is possible to see Othello as kind and honest, or as evil and villainous; it is possible to see Iago as misunderstood and lonely, or cold and calculating. Similarly, Desdemona may be commended for her loyalty to Othello; but perhaps her loyalty does not go very far, since she effectually betrayed her father and caused his death. Cassio may be a kind, respectable gentleman; but his rocky relationship with Bianca may contradict this view. It is these possibilities, brought about by irony, that not only make the play extremely intense and dramatic, but also provide the opportunity for a member of the audience to interpret it individually, and have an enriching and enjoyable experience while watching it. ...read more.

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