Reputation In Othello Essay Question

Reputations of the main characters and its role in Othello

In the play Othello written by William Shakespeare, the theme of reputation was a very important part of what made the play tragic. Reputation was so important in the play that it could have gave insight to characters or allowed characters to have manipulated others and it allowed for the tragedy of Othello to have been unfolded. Reputation of characters was an important factor for all the characters in Othello but reputation was most important for Iago, Othello and Cassio. When Shakespeare wrote Othello he intended for the reader to have scrutinized the theme of reputation so the reader could have understood where characters and the plot of the story had developed from.

Reputation played an important role in how the reader was meant to have perceived the characters of the play. Iago had a flawless reputation, he was considered so loyal and compassionate he was known throughout most of the novel as “honest”(II.iii.329) Iago. Iago is regarded as a close companion of Othello as well as Cassio, and Iago had a deep hate for both of these men and knew his reputation could help him get his revenge on them. Iago understood that reputation played such a big part in how people saw a person, that based on his reputation he could have became a two faced adversary without a problem. Iago proved the point of a reputation’s importance when wanted to leave Roderigo in act one, because if Iago stayed it would look this Iago was a traitor to Othello and this would flaw his reputation. Iago explained why he must leave by his statement, “Though I do hate him as I do hell pains, Yet for necessity of present life I must show out a flag and sign of love”(I. i.159-161). When Iago stated this he proved reputation was extremly important because it showed how his departure from the scene and keeping his reputation he could work the inside track for himself and Roderigo. Iago’s repuatation allowed him to be twofaced and this gave him certain advantages otherwise not available to him. If reputation was not so important Iago would not have been so highly revered by many people, and if Iago was not a revered person his motives may have been discovered earlier in the play. The reputation of the antagonist of the play was not the only reputation important to the play but the tragic hero’s and the catalyst’s reputation also played an important role to the play.

Othello the tragic hero of this play had a reputation that helped him raise himself up in society. Othello’s reputation served several purposes throughout the play, first it proved he was a good and noble person, secondly it won Desdemona over for him and lastly it helped him stay out of trouble because of his esteemed position in society. Othello’s reputation saves him from the confrontation with Barbantio as well as won him a wife. Othello proved this when he was confronted with stealing Desdemona away from Barbantio and the Duke and the senators listened to Othello when he stated, “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them. This only is the witchcraft I have used”(I.iii.166-169). Othello told the senators this to show Desdemona was won over based solely on Othello’s reputation and his history. The Duke and senators appear to judge Othello less harshly when they give their opinions on the situation because Othello’s reputation makes him out to be a hero and loyal solider that is well respected This example is clearly shown when Barbantio first said, “For nature so preposterously to err,”(I.iii.64) by this he means nature’s error in mixing light and dark skinned people. We can see how the senators and the Duke quickly changed their mind when they first stated, “And you of her, the bloody book of the law,”(I.iii.63) they the Duke said, “What, in your own part, can you say to this?”(I.iii.76). Othello gets the ability to have a say in front of the council because of his reputation if Othello was another dark skinned person who knows what would have happened to him. In Othello’s case his reputation works for him because he gets Desdemona due to his reputation and he escapes punishment from the Duke and council because of his reputation. Othello’s reputation works for him in a good way and for good purposes unlike Iago whose reputation allows him to achieve evil deeds. The last character Shakespeare wanted the reader to examine was Cassio the catalyst of the tragedy in this play.

Cassio the reason for all the superficial problems in the novel has his reputation originally helping him and then it damages him as well as several other characters in the end. Cassio had a good reputation at the beginning of the play and this is shown because he is given the job of lieutenant from Othello over Iago, this proves although Iago is honest and loyal Cassio is still more revered then he is. On the other hand, as the play preceded Cassio was viewed very differently by the populous due mostly to Iago. Iago did several things to damage Cassio reputation during the play this is shown when he stated, “ ‘Tis to his virtue a just equinox,”(II.iii.118) and we he said to Othello, “Or to be naked with her friend in bed”(IIII.i.6). Iago’s first goal is to destroy Cassio’s image among his men and he does so when he stated to Montano he felt Cassio had bad virtues and a drinking problem, and when he set Cassio up to get in a fight. Once Iago had successfully destroyed Cassio’s reputation among many of the men he next had to get his revenge by having Othello doubt Cassio and himself. Iago accomplishes his second act flawlessly by his ability to have Othello believe he was sleeping with Desdemona. Now Cassio’s once helpful reputation has destroyed him publicly and he made Cassio look like an adulterer in Othello’s eyes and that makes Othello perceive Cassio as a backstabbing friend. Cassio’s reputation was unlike either of the two main character’s reputations his reputation originally follows the path of Othello’s an honest one but is changed by rumor and therefore causes the end to Iago, Othello and Desdemona.

In Othello reputations are so important that whole lives can be based on them, in Othello’s case his whole life is based around his reputation as a noble person, Iago bases everything he does around the fact that he is seen one way but acts another and Cassio’s reputation allows him to move up in the world, and it also causes the death of several characters in the play. Since reputation had such an important role in the play Shakespeare made sure to put extra emphasis on it, this emphasis allowed for reader’s to better understand characters but it is also important because the character’s reputations effected hot the plot developed. In William Shakespeare’s Othello reputations developed characters and the plot and that is the reason for such emphasis on the reputation of characters in the play.

Word Count: 1198

Honour and reputation

Obedience before self-interest

Soldiers are taught to obey in all things and to uphold the reputation of their force: 

  • Although Iago resents Cassio’s promotion instead of him, ‘’Tis the curse of service’ that he must continue to obey both Cassio and Othello as his superior officers, only pursuing revenge against them by stealth 
  • Even though he has just married Desdemona, Othello is subject to the Duke’s command to sail for Cyprus and confront the Turks in sea battle 
  • On effectively his wedding night, Othello is still expected to undertake guard duties, until he deputes Cassio to stand in for him, upon which Iago comments unfavourably: ‘Our general cast us thus early for the love of his Desdemona’ (Act 2 Scene 3)
  • Othello is expected to liaise with Montano, the governor of Cyprus, and ensure his troops behave as good ambassadors of Venice. This means leaving his wedding bed to deal with a drunken brawl and punishing Cassio severely for injuring the governor.

These incidents within Othello demonstrates the honourable expectation that, at all times, soldiers will put the common good, or their immediate military objective, before personal considerations. Juxtaposed against this dutiful background, Iago stands out as someone who has decided that ‘I follow but myself’.


Army officers should always act with honour, which Othello has maintained during his rise through the Venetian armed forces. So when Lodovico arrives in Cyprus with orders for Othello to return to Venice, he is shocked and horrified to see Othello strike Desdemona, remonstrating:



Perhaps this rebuke has effect, given that Othello enters Desdemona’s bedroom with a greater degree of courtesy and ostensibly motivated by the code of honour which upholds his fellow soldiers (and all men) at the ‘sacrifice’ of his own desires: ‘she must die, else she’ll betray more men.’ He then pursues the violent smothering of his wife so as to be ‘merciful’: ‘I would not have thee linger in thy pain.’ Later he explains to Emilia that he would not have proceeded but for his certain evidence:


O! I were damn’d beneath all depth in hell
But that I did proceed upon just grounds
To this extremity.      


Othello clearly believes that he is only motivated by honour – but the audience has witnessed ugly passions, language and behaviour which belies the general’s self-belief. Emilia sums up Othello’s faults as being:

  • ‘rash’ (too hastily led by passion)
  • a ‘dolt’ (too gullible)
  • a ‘murderous coxcomb’ (too vain and aggressive)
  • ‘cruel’ (too viciously judgmental). 

These are not the attributes of an honourable soldier.


When he is exposed as Desdemona’s murderer, Othello’s moral descent is noted by Lodovico:



In response, Othello maintains his claim:


An honourable murderer, if you will;
For nought did I in hate, but all in honour     


He seeks to maintain the soldierly code of honour by committing suicide:


Be not afraid, though you do see me weapon’d;
Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt,     


and asks his colleagues to recall that he has ‘done the state some service’. Yet Othello’s tears speak of a deep shame and personal distress. Perhaps he realises that, ironically, he has actually brought dishonour upon himself and the whole state of Venice.


Honest reputations

Reputation in an ongoing issue through the play, not surprising given its macho setting and cast:

  • Othello is respected as ‘valiant’ and Montano, who has ‘serv’d him’ admires him as a man who, ‘commands / Like a full soldier’
  • Based on her ‘judgment in an honest face’, Desdemona sees Cassio for what he is:

..     one that truly loves [Othello],  

That errs in ignorance and not in cunning,     


Cassio is distraught when he realises that his drunken behaviour has let down his commanding officer as well as his own honour:


O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself,
and what remains is bestial     

  • It is important for the tragedy that Desdemona’s reputation is utterly unstained. In fact, according to Cassio, her personal qualities exceed what is said of her, as:  

..       a maid
That paragons description and wild fame;
One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens,
(Act 2 Scene 1)     


This praise might be anticipated from an extravagant courtier like Cassio, but even according to Emilia, who has observed her intimately, Desdemona is ‘heavenly true’, ‘the sweetest innocent’ and ‘chaste’, absolutely undeserving of her punishment.

These are reputations that are a true reflection of the character of their possessors. 

Wrongful reputations

However, there are also reputations unfairly gained:

  • Othello is unfairly defined in Brabantio’s eyes by the negative reputation of ‘Moors’ for lasciviousness and witchcraft (Act 1 Scenes 2 & 3)
  • Cassio’s one episode of drunkenness is manipulated by Iago to tar his whole conduct so that Montano believes it is ‘an ingraft infirmity’ (Act 2 Scene 3)
  • Iago is noted for his abhorrence of ‘filthy deeds’, his honesty and trustworthiness. That the complete reverse is true demonstrates how effectively he dissimulates throughout the drama. 


In Act 3 Scene 3, Iago makes a telling comment about the value of personal integrity:


Men should be what they seem,
Or those that be not, would they might seem none.     


He correctly identifies the need to be the same in character as in appearance, so that ‘what you see is what you get.’ In Act 2 Scene 3, he says to Cassio:


Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all unless you repute yourself such a loser.     


What he is arguing for here is that it doesn’t matter whether a person’s reputation is good but whether they themselves are intrinsically good or not. He clear-headedly sees through the mask of pretension that people create – because he’s a fake himself.


Yet Iago is jealous of his own good reputation, because he knows it enables him to continue being treacherous and faithless in all his relationships and still achieve his villainous ends. In Act 3 Scene 3 he defends the importance society places on a person’s ‘Good name’:



It is part of the tragedy of Othello that a character can have such clear moral vision – and choose to pervert it at every turn. The lesson is clear: reputation is not to be relied upon, honour can be lost.

My lord, this would not be believed in Venice,

Though I should swear I saw’t. ’Tis very much.

Make her amends, she weeps. ..

Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate

Call all-in-all sufficient? (Act 4 Scene 1)     
O thou, Othello, that was once so good,

Fall’n in the practice of a cursed slave,

What shall be said to thee? (Act 5 Scene 2)     
Good name in man or woman, dear my lord,

Is the immediate jewel of their souls.

Who steals my purse steals trash; …….

But he that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which not enriches him

And makes me poor indeed.    

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