An Honest Man?

Shakespeare plays with language, often giving words or statements double meanings. He is a master when it comes to choice of words never revealing exactly what he is intending. Throughout Othello, Shakespeare frequently repeats words and phrases, thus giving these words significant meaning to the text. Each time, he is creating emphasis to force his audience to really focus on what is happening. One thing that really stuck out to me is the repetitive use of the characteristic “honest” of Iago in Act 5. In just a few pages, Othello proclaims his trust in Iago by calling him honest and describing him as the complete opposite of who he really is. Othello states:

“O brave Iago, honest and just…” (5.1.32)

“Honest Iago hath ta’en order for’t” (5.2.79)

“Ay, ‘twas he that told me on her first.

An honest man he is, and hate the slime

That sticks on filthy deeds.” (5.2.154-56)

These quotes all explain exactly how Othello feels about Iago. The use of “honest” shows how easily Othello is tricked in this play by Iago. Shakespeare uses this word over and over again to show emphasis on Othello’s trust and loyalty with Iago. This is the final act in which Othello learns of Iago’s true identity and intent. These quotes are full of irony because as the audience we know that Iago is not who he seems to Othello. He is in fact the rat and the villain of the play; planning to destroy Othello by attacking his marriage. It is very ironic how Othello places all of his trust in a man who is out to destroy him. By repeating these words, the audience begins to have a sense of pity and sorrow for Othello because we know things that he does not.

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2 thoughts on “An Honest Man?

  1. tarabutler93

    I, too, find the repetition of the word ‘honest’ in these lines an example of irony and certainly wordplay on Shakespeare’s part. I wonder if Othello’s repetition in this scene is meant to convey Othello’s need to convince himself that what Iago has said is true? Othello, an outsider in this society, already has some feelings of insecurity and is inclined to believe Iago. Perhaps he has already had doubts with regards to Desdemona’s loyalty to him? He seems to want to believe Iago and so he must consistently remind himself of Iago’s reputation as an honest man.

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  2. Samantha Meyer

    It is very interesting that you brought this up. I think that it is also important to note that Othello’s repetition of the word “honest” not only shows how much he trusts Iago, but also the power that words and cryptic speech can have over people. After all, Iago uses cryptic words that contain double meanings (such as “lie”) when speaking to Othello. The way that Othello is captivated and metamorphoses through the deception of Iago’s words highlights the fact that while Othello may be of higher rank than Iago, Iago has all of the power in this situation. By repeating the word “honest” to describe Othello, it is a marker of how powerful the word trap that Iago has laid for Othello truly is.

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