The Quest for Truth in Oedipus the King

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I am not what I am: Perceived Reality in Othello The character Iago ominously mutters the words, "I am not what I am," at the beginning of William Shakespeare's Othello the Moor of Venice (I.i.65). What Iago means by these words so early in the play is a bit ambiguous, but as one reads on, many interpretations ensue. That very phrase becomes a subtle but powerful theme all throughout the tragic story that unfolds, and not only in regards to Iago, but also to Cassio, Desdemona, and especially Othello himself. Throughout the play, Iago systematically obliterates the realities each character has struggled so hard to construct. Desdemona has, in an emotive fit of passion and love for good story-telling, betrayed her father to elope with a Moorish general, seemingly smitten with the whimsy of adventure. Cassio has structured his priorities strictly around perception--his reputation. Finally, above all, while Othello has become very proud of his accomplishments in battle, this justified confidence is overridden by his deep insecurities of alienation. Beginning in Act II and on through Act V, the fragile realities they have all created slowly chip away by the workings of Iago. In this essence, it is foolish to see Iago as "evil" or a "devil," but more reasonable to see him as the personification of Chaos. He does little other than suggest, and he demonstrates by doing so the frailty of these social facades--the perceived versus actual reality. Desdemona enters the play in Act II Scene III as a commanding presence, speaking before the Duke in defense of her new husband, Othello. Though she seems level-headed and confident, Desdemona surrounds herself in a blinding cloud of whimsical desire for adventure and ideologic... ... middle of paper ... ...estions of mere possibility. Iago's creation became Othello's reality. While Iago may have directly contributed to the downfalls of each character, he could not have done so without the illusions they had created already for themselves. With no apparent logical motives, it seems Iago set the tone of the story with his simple statement, "I am not what I am" (I.i.65). Whether it's a lie to oneself, a lie to others, or a need for acceptance, the perceptions of characters in Othello create an undeniable theme of the boundaries between perception and reality. These characters are not who they claim to be--they are but vague likenesses of the insecure people each hides. Where does perception end and reality begin? This of course doesn't warrant an answer, and to even attempt such a feat would be an insult to the social complexity of Othello the Moor of Venice.
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