I think many of Shakespeare’s characters would benefit from a workshop on ‘trust’ because they seem to have a great knack for trusting the wrong people. Othello begins with several characters trusting an individual who does not actually have their best interest at heart or, in some cases, is using them for his or her own personal gain.

First, we see an altercation between Roderigo and Iago. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him win Desdemona’s heart, but nothing has come of it and now Desdemona has married Othello. Roderigo, the first to speak in the play, says, “That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this” (I.i.2-3). He has trusted Iago with an important task because they are friends, but Iago has failed him. Roderigo is so in love with Desdemona that he had been clinging to any hope he could; love clouds his judgement and he trusts Iago blindly.

Next, we see Roderigo and Iago taunting Desdemona’s father, Brabantio. Iago and Roderigo shout up to the senator, claiming that his daughter has eloped with the “Moor”. At first. Brabantio does not believe the men, but not because he thinks so highly of his daughter that she would never disobey him. Brabantio says to Roderigo, “I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors. / In honest plainness thou hast heard me say / My daughter is not for thee” (I.i.99-101). Eventually, the men have convinced Brabantio with their crude descriptions of Othello and Desdemona having sex. Brabantio says, “This accident is not unlike my dream, / Belief of it oppresses me already” (I.i.140-141). Brabantio is very patriarchal in his views; he claims he is not surprised by this news and should have expected as much. He trusts two strangers over his own daughter and because he already had such low expectations of his daughter’s behavior, he allows that to influence his behavior. This scene with Brabantio reminded me of the scene from Much Ado About Nothing when Leonato believes a man over his own daughter on the subject of her maidenhood. I felt that these two scenes were a result of the intensely patriarchal society of the time which resulted in a general lack of trust towards women.

Lastly, I noted Othello’s willingness to believe Iago’s suggestion that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. Iago says to Othello, slyly, “Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lady, / Know of your love?” (III.iii.95-96). Iago acts strangely while they speak on Cassio, occasionally dropping very subtle hints because it would seem suspicious if he seemed eager to tell Othello about Cassio and Desdemona’s supposed affair. Finally, Othello gets fed up and exclaims, “Alas, thou echo’st me / As if there were some monster in thy thought / Too hideous to be shown. Thou dost mean something. / I heard thee say even now thou lik’st not that / When Cassio left my wife. What didst not like?” (III.iii.110-115). Othello’s worry becomes clear. Iago is very clever in his approach; he makes it seem as if he is reluctant to reveal his ‘suspicions’. Iago says, “Though I perchance am vicious in my guess, / As, I confess, it is my nature’s plague / To spy into abuses, and oft my jealousy / Shapes faults that are not” (III.iii.150-153). Iago points out Desdemona’s ability to skillfully lie to her own father in order to marry Othello; with each point Iago makes, Othello begins to draw his own conclusions. Othello is largely presented as an outsider in this play and as such, it is likely he already holds some insecurities. He is, therefore, inclined to believe the idea that Desdemona would leave him for someone else.

I thought it was interesting that trust and manipulation are so closely tied together in this and other Shakespearean plays. I found many of these examples to be instances of characters believing what they want to believe and allowing their insecurities or assumptions to cloud their better judgement. I think Shakespeare presents a unique take on how and why people make the decisions that they do and how easily a person can be influenced.


3 thoughts on “Trust

  1. elisebrucche

    You have an excellent point here: Why is it that so many Shakespearean characters place their trust in the wrong people? To some extent, trust, in reality as well as the stage, seems to be a matter of convenience. One chooses to trust the veracity of an individual and his/her information in lieu of more objective evidence. For instance, Beatrice and Benedick choose to believe what they’ve overheard rather than asking the other if the information is true. Similarly, as you note, Othello chooses to believe Iago’s story about Cassio and Desdemona. Why do they do this? Because these stories fit conveniently with their anxieties and desires. Yet, Shakespeare never lets the audience forget how incredibly dangerous this convenience of belief really is. We are forced to watch ostensibly sensible people make foolish decisions, often at the goading of some thoroughly despicable characters. In a way, Shakespeare seems to be goading us just a little, prompting us to rethink our own trust in people. After all, what if your best friend is an Iago behind the scenes? Similarly, Shakespeare seems to be reminding us that theater itself is a space that requires, but does not always support, the audience’s trust. In order to perform the play, the audience must choose to believe that the actors are their fictional characters and that the story unfolding has weight and importance. In return for this trust, the audience expects the play to entertain them. However, as we noted in class today, directors and actors often make choices that we do not like, perhaps making us momentarily resentful for trusting them. Your observation that Shakespeare is exploring how emotions play into human decision-making is on point. This is a theme reflected in all of the plots we have read so far and hints partially at what makes his plays so fascinating.

  2. Diana

    This is an interesting perspective. Thank you! Perhaps the tendency for Shakespeare’s character to place their trust in the “wrong” people is Shakespeare’s way of showing us that love can blind us. (Or, rather, how when people who believe they are in love start to do things they normally wouldn’t do, it usually shakes their foundation and they become “fools.”) I find it a little weird that Desdemona’s father fears whom his daughter marries to the point of having nightmares about it. Part of me wonders why he cares at all, but then I have to think of the “time period” and remember that women were basically ‘property’ and marriage was very connected to monetary gain.


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