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Reputation in Othello Video

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  • 0:04 Reputation in Shakespeare
  • 1:01 Cassio's Reputation in…
  • 2:43 Iago's Reputation Double-Talk
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Hembree

Adam has an MA in English. He has taught a range of literature and theatre subjects at the university level. He has also worked as a writing tutor and academic advisor.

This lesson will discuss the complex issue of reputation in Shakespeare's 'Othello'. We'll look at examples from the text to conclude how the play treats reputation and we'll explain the villain Iago's apparent contradictions on the subject.

Reputation in Shakespeare

Today we say things like ''She's really made a name for herself'' and ''He's a big name in the industry'' when we talk about reputation. In some way, reputation has always been about names. Famous actors or politicians have reputation; they have a high level of name recognition because their deeds are attached to names that we hear or read again and again. These names take on a character of their own that often becomes far bigger than the individual named.

William Shakespeare wrestles with the importance of reputation very frequently. His characters often resist the importance that we assign to names. Take Juliet's famous exclamation, for example, from Romeo and Juliet:

''What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.''

In Juliet's Verona, like many other Shakespeare settings, a name is attached to a family history of honor, prestige, and - in this case - a blood feud. Reputation takes on a critical role in Othello as well.

Cassio's Reputation in Othello

The play's most obvious engagement with reputation occurs in Act 2, Scene 3, when Iago gets Cassio so drunk that Roderigo easily provokes him into a disgraceful brawl. When the noise draws a furious Othello from his marriage bed, Cassio loses his job as Lieutenant and hits rock bottom:

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

Cassio's reputation is his lifeline. His career in the military and as an aspiring politician depends totally upon his good name. He relies on those in power perceiving him as capable, responsible, and just. We know this is the political environment in the play even earlier on, when Othello lectures Montano, who was fighting with Cassio:

''And your name is great
In mouths of wisest censure. What's the matter
That you unlace your reputation thus,
And spend your rich opinion for the name
Of a night-brawler?''

Notice how Othello uses words related to money when describing Montano's good name: he ''spends'' his ''rich opinion'' with his disgraceful actions. We still use this kind of image today when we say things like ''give him credit.'' Credit, in finance, is how much money you can trust a person to pay back on time. However, it comes from the same root word as ''creed'' and ''credence'', which simply means to believe or trust.

To lose this credit with his superior is, for Cassio, like losing himself. All that remains is low and animalistic. He is, in this respect, morally bankrupt, and he'll do anything to return to Othello's good graces.

Iago's Reputation Double-Talk

If Iago has a reputation for anything in this play, it is being honest. He is repeatedly called ''honest Iago'' by other characters, especially Othello. As we know in the audience, however, Iago is perfectly willing to mislead anyone to accomplish his goals. Reputation is one topic of many that Iago speaks doubly about. In the same scene as above, he consoles Cassio with the following lines:

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