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Othello: The Destruction of Honor
In The Tragedy of Othello, William Shakespeare tells the tale of the “noble Moor” whose honor and innocence bring about his downfall. Shakespeare writes of the power of jealousy, and the art of masterful deception and trickery. The story primarily takes place in Cyprus, during a war between the people of Venice and the invading Turks. In this play Shakespeare shows the feelings of Othello’s embittered right-hand man of, Iago, who feels he is passed over for a promotion and swears his revenge. He proceeds to manipulate his friends, enemies, and family into doing his bidding without any of them ever realizing his ultimate goal. He makes Othello believe that his new wife, the innocent Desdemona, is committing adultery with his newly promoted officer Michael Cassio. After this seed of jealousy has been planted, Othello’s mind takes its course in determining the true outcome, with a little more nudging from Iago. The course of action he proceeds to follow is one that not only ends his own life, but also the life of his wife and others. In Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Othello, Othello is a man who is still truly honorable, despite the course of action he takes to resolve his perceived problem.
Throughout the novel, up until his insanity, Othello is described as a temperate man whose honor does not allow him to believe assumptions unless he has been shown proof. Firstly, when the men of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, confront Othello’s men, Othello calmly says, “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.” (10). Othello is confronted on the matter of his elopement with Desdemona with force and with words. Not only is he very cool about his dealings with violence, but also when he is asked to tell the story of how he had Desdemona fall in love with him he states the truth, and he doesn’t leave out any details of how he accomplished it. He openly admits that had any other man told his story, that man also would have won her heart. Only a truly honorable man can admit that it was a story, and not his personality that truly won the woman’s heart. Othello’s honor is shown by his trust in the people he knows and loves. When Iago tells Othello that he believes Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair, Othello does not believe Iago initially.
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During Othello’s insanity, he still tries to justify his misdeeds honorably, seeing them as the only way to mend the situation. Iago’s artful manipulation of Othello’s mind is done in such a way that Othello no longer realizes what he is doing. Angered by the “proof” Iago gives him, Othello does what he believes was honorable in his situation. When he wishes to kill his wife, it is not because he wants it to end that way, but rather because he feels it is the only way to clear the sins the she has committed. Before he kills her Othello says, “Justice to break her sword! One more, one more!/ Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,/ And love thee after.” (114). Here he is saying that he kills her out of an act for justice, despite the fact that he still loves her, because it is the honorable thing to do. When Othello learns the truth behind Iago’s treachery, he is not able to kill him because already he has seen the consequences of killing a person he loves. Instead, he leaves Iago to the authorities. He then proceeds to right the wrongs he has committed in the most honorable manner he can think of, and he kills himself.
In The Tragedy of Othello, Shakespeare shows that it is not the action Othello takes that makes him honorable, but his inner nature that plays the most important role of his honor. Shakespeare proves honor is the basis of Othello’s character and it can be seen throughout the entire play. He is calm and trusting of his loved ones. He his respected by the people he knows, and never wavers when he feels a cause is just. The only reason Shakespeare begins to show otherwise is, because the audience knows the truth behind Iago’s manipulations. If the audience was never shown that Iago was the one who put forth the plan of Othello’s destruction, they never would have hesitated to say that Othello was an honorable man. From the scene in which Othello enters the play, to his final words, Othello only does what he believes is honorable in every situation.