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Defending A Man's Honor
Defending a Man’s Honor
The main male characters in Shakespeare’s play Othello kill their wives in order to defend their own honor. In the period setting of the play, to show honor, women are expected to be subservient to their husbands. The characters Iago and Othello reflect this attitude toward their respective wives, giving them reason to feel just in killing these women. Iago kills Emilia because she dishonors him by revealing his manipulation of Othello and Cassio. Othello strangles Desdemona because of imagined infidelity, which makes him look like a fool. Both men have different ideas of honor, perceive their own honorable status differently, have different relationships with their wives, and different feelings of remorse. Ultimately they both kill their wives to defend their own honor.
Proud, noble, and brave warrior Othello is well respected and his military skills and adventures are widely known. He is charismatic, charming, self-reliant and well traveled. These personality traits made Desdemona fall in love with him, and by these, he measures his honorability. His measures his self-worth by the way he is perceived by others. That is the main reason why he perceives Desdemona’s alleged infidelity as ruining his honor. It makes him look like a fool and he feels that he has been taken advantage of because he is unwise and unfamiliar with the devious sexual practices of Venice women.
Othello is also very trusting. Of course, the question is why he believes Iago and doubts his wife. He believes “honest Iago” without question because Iago had served in the army with him and is generally regarded by all to be an honest man. The feelings of being an outsider and insecure in his social status are Othello’s character flaws and Iago to takes advantage of these Achilles heals.
For Iago, deception, manipulating, and killing are second nature. It doesn’t occur to him that he will be caught and he doesn’t have any conscience about what he has done. These characteristics show that Iago is self-absorbed and out for himself. He is also greedy and jealous and plots to make everyone around him unhappy, while seeking position and honor. High position and honor starts his hatred of Othello. Iago sees Othello as being beneath him because of his race, but having all the glory and honor that he covets. The final straw, Cassio being made lieutenant over him, makes him take action and plot his revenge. This blow to his pride and honor is his motivation to engage Othello into a jealous and angry rage, and brings Othello down to his level.
Othello and Desdemona love each other, but for different reasons. In his insecurity about being an outsider, marrying Desdemona gives him a way to be included among the nobles of Venice. She gives him status and the honor he wants. Othello sees Desdemona giving up everything to be with him. Desdemona defends her marriage to her father and the other nobles by saying “I saw Othello’s visage in his mind / And to his honors and his valiant parts, / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.” His honorable and noble nature was one of the reasons she fell in love with him in the first place. Even on her deathbed, she covers for him when asked who did this to her saying, “Nobody—I myself. Farewell. / Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell!”
Not much is written about Iago and Emilia’s marriage other than she was very much bound by duty. When she steals the handkerchief for him she asks, “What will you do with’t, that you have been so earnest to have me filch it?” He replies “Why, what is that to you?” He doesn’t confide in her as Macbeth did Lady Macbeth. They did not work as a partnership, the focus was on Iago and his ambitions. She tries to stand up to him, “If it be not for some purpose of import, / Give me again.” And he just tells her to leave, dismissing her. He doesn’t show any love or appreciation for her throughout the play, but she remains constant in her wifely duty.
Othello ultimately kills Desdemona because he loses his control of his passions. He normally possesses much self-control.
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Othello, Iago, Emilia, Michael Cassio, Otello, Desdemona, Goodnight Desdemona
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