Individuals tend to perceive the meanings of the words ‘dignity’ and ‘confidence’ differently, depending on their nature and nurture. For some people, honour, and certainty can be obtained and restored via power and money. Others believe praise and assurance come from hard work, honesty, and a pure soul. William Shakespeare also decided to raise the topics of dignity and confidence restoration in his tragedy in five acts, Othello: the Moor of Venice, through the main characters, Othello and Iago. Having two different personalities, both Iago and Othello try to regain their destroyed honour and certainty in the eyes of others using the same method, killing, instead of acting in conformity with their morality and ethics.
The tragedy tells the story of Othello, a Black general in Venice, who appointed Cassio as his chief lieutenant instead of Iago. Furious and envious, Iago decides to pay back both Othello and Cassio and creates an illusion that Othello’s wife, Desdemona, has love affairs with Cassio. Iago’s wife, Emilia, helps him in this matter. As a piece of evidence, they use Desdemona’s handkerchief, persuading Othello that Desdemona gave it as a love token to Cassio. Moreover, Othello witnesses Iago and Cassio’s conversation about Cassio’s mistress, Bianca, but mistakenly thinks they are talking about Desdemona. These cases force Othello to believe that his wife cheats on him, and eventually, he decides to kill her. Later, he discovered that Desdemona was blameless, but it was already too late. Therefore, Othello cannot overcome his loss and mistake, and kills himself under the influence of his emotions.
In the poem, Othello’s honour is dramatically ruined by the fact that Desdemona is disloyal to him, as he thinks. He wants to restore his dignity, punishing her for her action through murder. Being blind to his jealousy and pride, he is misled by fake evidence (Shakespeare, 2018). Moreover, from the poem it can be seen that Othello is not a confident man by nature; as a black older man, he easily believed that his young white Venetian wife could betray him. His disbelief in himself leads Othello to the dead he will regret doing later. Failing to restore his confidence and losing honour, Othello decides to commit a violent act and regain everything. He believed that his arrogance would bring him everything back, but he was mistaken. Othello says: “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous, but being wrought perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum. Set you down this; and say besides, that in Aleppo once, where a malignant and a turbaned Turk beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, and smote him, thus” (Shakespeare, 2018, p. 380). Eventually, failing into the trap of his arrogance, he feels guilty and ends up committing suicide.
Another character, Iago, is highly concerned with his dignity and certainty. After not being promoted to the position of chief lieutenant, he feels ashamed and deceived, and his honour is assaulted. Therefore, he plots his insidious plan to revenge on Othello and Cassio. Iago believes that by destroying their honour and confidence, he will be able to reclaim his. Moreover, in one of the scenes, he tries to prove to Roderigo that he hates Othello and says that people who serve can do themselves an honour by being dishonourable to their masters: “Others there are who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty, keep yet their hearts attending on themselves, and, throwing but shows of service on their lords, do well thrive by them and when they have lined their coats, do themselves homage” (Shakespeare, 2018, p. 98). And for the rest of the poem, he tries to prove his viewpoint by doing dishonourable acts. However, sooner or later, everything takes their places, and all his evil acts are revealed.
Just like Othello, Iago also becomes the victim of his emotions and murders his wife, Emilia. He kills her because she reveals his actions and wrongdoings to Cassio and Othello. By telling Othello and Cassio the truth about Desdemona and Iago’s plan, Emilia dishonoured and betrayed her husband. Iago believes that by killing this unjust woman, he can restore his honour. In reality, he decided to betray Othello and demonstrated dishonour towards his master. Paradoxically, being such different characters and having different ideas of what honour is, both Othello and Iago end up killing their wives, blindingly led by their emotions.
Othello, a charming, honest, brave soldier from a different race than most people around, was age to gain high esteem and position in society. Yet, he felt like an outsider because of his origin. Desdemona falls in love with Othello despite the social barriers, putting himself in the same position as others (Shakespeare, 2018). A White Venetian woman ready to marry him gives Othello more pride and self-esteem. Now, Othello was not a stranger in this society anymore. However, his dignity is destroyed when he finds out about Desdemona’s infidelity. He thinks that if she cheated on him, he would be ashamed and looks like a fool to everyone.
Iago was also perceived as an honest and virtuous man by everyone, and Othello, in particular. However, in reality, his nature was much different than he tried to show. By pretending to be loyal and caring for Othello, Iago got the position of an honourable soldier in the eyes of Othello, gaining Othello’s trust (Shakespeare, 2018). Unlike Othello, who earned his honour through good military service and personality traits, Iago tried to obtain his respect in society by manipulating and deceiving. And when all his lies were revealed to the public, he felt that he had lost his honour and wanted to restore it by killing Emilia.
In summary, Shakespeare shows through the examples of Othello and Iago that wrongdoings and malicious acts cannot restore honour and certainty in oneself. No one can obtain these virtuous traits by destroying other people’s lives. Only hard work, honesty, and purity of the soul can help to gain respect and dignity in society. Even if someone tries to look like an honourable and confident man, his true nature will ultimately be revealed.
Shakespeare, W. (2018). Othello: The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.