Iago uses the word "honest" in act three of Othello in three primary ways. The first way he uses it is to mean honourable, about Cassio. He uses this meaning of the word to force Othello to doubt Cassio's honesty, and question his hounorablility. The second way is to mean faithful, both about Desdemona and Cassio. Iago uses it in the context that the two may be "truthful," again to make Othello doubt. The third way is Iago's most effective use, which is to use honest in the context to mean truthful, as in, he has told Othello the truth. However, Shakespeare has created tremendous dramatic irony, for we know that Iago is being anything except truthful. The three uses of the word honest are used largely in the subtext of the act, they are used by Iago to force Othello to question his wife's integrity, and honesty. Shakespeare uses the word by Iago to plant tremendous doubt in Othello's mind. The word is also used by Iago in the action line. His objective is constantly to make Othello think things without actually being told them, and Iago's parroting of the word and constant useage do this quite nicely.
Iago initially uses the word honest to mean honourable, in reference to Cassio. Othello has asked him if "he [Cassio] is not honest?" To which Iago parrots back "Honest my lord?" This usage is constant with what Othello means, whether Cassio is honourable or not. However, Iago uses the word to cast doubt on Othello. By parroting it back, he is making it seem to Othello that he does not want to answer the question, that he doesn't want to tell Othello something. This is seen in the subtext that Iago wishes to create. This use of it also contributes to Iago's objective, to...
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...o uses the word almost laughingly behind Othello's back, telling him that he has been driven to honesty, when he know that Iago is only telling Othello half truths. Shakespeare uses the word effectively to create dramatic irony.
Barthelemy, Anthony G. "Introduction" Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Othello. Ed. Anthony G. Barthelemy Pub. Macmillan New York, NY 1994. (page 1-19)
Jones, Eldred. "Othello- An Interpretation" Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Othello. Ed. Anthony G. Barthelemy Pub. Macmillan New York, NY 1994.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Snyder, Susan. "Beyond the Comedy: Othello" Modern Critical Interpretations, Othello Ed. Harold Bloom, Pub. Chelsea House New Haven CT 1987.
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