Pretending by Queen Elizabeth and Othello’s Iago

Pretending by Queen Elizabeth and Othello’s Iago

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Pretending by Queen Elizabeth and Othello’s Iago

In today's society, nothing is really what it seems.  Those great "free-bees" you win are never really free and no deal is really as good as it sounds.  Even people don't seem to be stable anymore because they are always changing to fit the current trend or to blend in with the newest "crowd".  They live their lives covered with a mask and they forget or don't want to be what is most important, themselves, and this is what is called pretending.  The idea of "pretending" is when someone "seems" or acts to be something they are not.  Although we see this happening a lot today, the act of pretending goes back much further.  The act of "pretending" has been used in a lot of early British literature, and it is here that we can see that it can be used for both good and evil purposes.  A good example of each of these is found in Elizabeth's life and writings, and Shakespeare's play, Othello, in the character of Iago.     

            Although it is not that common, the act of pretending can be used in a good way.  This is seen in Queen Elizabeth.  Elizabeth Tudor came to the throne of England in 1558.  During this time, there was a great amount of religious upheaval because England was going through periods of Catholic and Protestant rule.  Elizabeth, being a woman on the throne, had to demonstrate to her people that she was fit to rule the country and would do everything for their best interest.  In order to do this, Elizabeth had to seem to be something she was not.  The Longman Anthology of British Literature states, "throughout her long reign she cultivated two personas . . . As a monarch, she could speak courageously...; as a woman, she could convey understanding..." (475).  In this respect, Elizabeth had to be strong and use her "pretending" for the good of the people, while not showing too much emotion.

            During her time as queen, Elizabeth addressed parliament both on the subjects of marriage and on her loyalty to her country.  Perhaps she did this because she was questioned about leaving an heir to the throne.  To answer this Elizabeth wrote,

And albeit it might please Almighty God to continue me still in this mind to live out of the state of marriage.

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.. whereby the realm shall not remain destitute of an heir that may be a fit governor..."   "And in the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin. (478)

Here Elizabeth is reassuring her people that there will be an heir to the throne and that they should not worry.  She has dedicated herself to the good of the people and she won't let any emotions (such as a man) stand in her way of that.  This is why she takes on the appearance or seems to be that of a virgin.  Elizabeth signifies that she is married to England and all of her loyalties lie there.

            Later in her Golden Speech, Elizabeth once again conveys the idea that her sole purpose is to serve and protect her people. 

For myself, I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a king or royal authority of a queen, as delighted that God hath made me His instrument to maintain His truth and glory, and to defend this kingdom (as said I) from peril, dishonor, tyranny and oppression. (485)

Elizabeth doesn't even recognize herself as a person who holds the title of King or Queen, but rather must "seem" to be something else.  She is instead God's instrument with which to work for the good of the people.  When Elizabeth took on the two personas, so was able to use "pretending" in a positive way.  And even though this may have been a hard thing to do, Elizabeth used it successfully and held a long and prosperous reign until her death in 1603.

Just as the act of pretending can be used in a good way, it can also be used in a bad way.  An example of this is the character of Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.  Othello was written in 1604, right after the death of Queen Elizabeth.  This was a time of civil unrest and war.  Here we see the rise of the Machiavellian characters, like Iago.  Machiavelli wrote the Prince, which told of manipulation and encouraged kings to rule their subjects with tyranny and terror.  The character of Iago seemed to be fashioned after this Machiavellian idea in the role he plays in Othello (557). 

From the very beginning, Iago wants to get revenge on his master Othello.  He is upset that being in the long service of Othello, his position or the position he was supposed to receive, is given away to Michael Cassio.  So the first plan of action Iago derives is to get rid of Cassio, or at least drop him from the favor of Othello.  This occurs when Cassio is persuaded to drink by Iago and ends up in a provoked drunken fight.  Othello hears the commotion and asks Iago what has happened.  Iago replies, "I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offense to Michael Cassio..." (act.scene.line).  Here Iago "happens" to give Cassio's name so that he is dismissed by Othello.  Even though this happens to Cassio, he still believes that Iago is his friend.  Later Cassio says, "I never knew A Florentine more kind and honest" (lines).  Cassio has fallen for Iago's trap and has no idea that Iago seems to be his friend even though he really wants to get rid of him.

The second plan of action by Iago is to hurt Othello by taking away his true love.  After much persuasion, Iago is able to convince Othello that Cassio and Desdemona (Othello's wife) are having an affair.   Othello trusts Iago completely since he had been loyal and in his service for so long.  "'Tis he. O brave Iago, honest and just, Thou has such noble sense of thy friend's wrong!" (  ).  Here Othello is referring to Iago's "supposed" knowledge of Desdemona's affair.  Iago is using Othello's trust in him so that he can seem like an honest source of information and damage Othello's perfect picture of the wife he loves.

  At the same time that he is doing this, however, Iago is also playing the side of Desdomona and comforting her.  She also puts her trust in Iago and asks him, "What shall I do to win my lord again? Good friend, go to him..." ( ).  Desdomona is depending on Iago to find out what is wrong and to make things right between her and Othello.  Iago now has both Othello and Desdomona in his trap and he knows it.  "Work on, My medicine, work! Thus credulous fools are caught and many worthy and chaste dames even thus, All guiltless, meet reproach" ( ).  Iago realizes his plan for revenge has almost succeeded.  He has seemed to be something he is not and has thus caught the guiltless Desdemona in his trap while also stirring Othello's jealousy. 

The last person that falls into Iago's trap of "pretending" is Roderigo.  From the beginning, Roderigo helps Iago in his plans to get rid of Cassio and hurt Othello.  He does all of this believing that Iago is going to help him win Desdemona, who he is madly in love with.  However, Roderigo does not realize that Iago is pretending to help him while all along he is just playing him as a pawn in his scheme.  Towards the end, Roderigo comes to Iago because he figures out that he really isn't helping him to win over Desdomona.  But since Iago has already convinced Roderigo thus far, he is able to do it again.  "Give me thy hand, Roderigo. Thou hast taken against me a most just exception; but yet I protest I have dealt most directly in thy affair" (  ).  Iago is reassuring Roderigo that his intentions to help him get Desdemona are still there.  Roderigo believes him, but this time it ends in his demise because the last favor Iago asks him to do ends up in his death.  

            Throughout this whole ordeal, it is amazing that no one realizes that Iago seems to be good and honest when really he is not.  In a conversation with Othello, Iago makes the comment,  "Men should be what they seem; Or those that be not, would they might seem none!" (   ).  Iago is saying that anyone who is not what they seem is not really an honest person.  It is interesting that he should make such a comment, all things considered.  In the end, both Othello and Desdemona die.  Desdemona dies by the jealous hands of Othello and Othello dies by his own.  Although, Iago gets what he wanted, he is discovered and is left to be dealt with by Cassio. In the end, Iago's pretending only causes pain and suffering to all those around him, and gains himself nothing.

            Just like Iago and Elizabeth used "pretending" in their lives to help them get control, so do lots of other people today, whether they realize it or not.  Society has put such a huge pressure on people to act or look like everyone else, that no one is free to be themselves.  Everyone feels that they must act or "seem" a certain way in order to fit in.  This can be seen a lot of times during the teenage years in young adults.  They encounter tons of peer pressure everyday to become a certain image.  This can have very negative effects and sometimes they can get caught up in manipulating people just like Iago did.  On the other hand, political figures in our country are faced with being a certain image for the people as well.  Some of them must adopt the "two personas" like Elizabeth did in order to run the country with order.  However, a lot of them choose to go the negative way and use the Machiavellian like character (Iago) instead to get them where they need to be. 

In all of my experiences, I have found "pretending" to be only a negative thing.  People like Iago, only use pretending to manipulate the people around them, and the people who try to use pretending to fit in or to gain friends, only find themselves being unhappy.  Elizabeth was very strong to be able to set aside her emotions and rule England the way she did, and I am sure that she was not at all very happy.  I know I wouldn't have been.  No matter how we wish it were not so, however, pretending is a less that perfect human quality, and it will be there no matter where we go. 
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