Appearance versus Reality in Othello and Twelfth Night
Shakespeare cleverly uses the art of disguise, in both his tragedies and his comedies, in order to employ a literary device known as dramatic irony, where the audience members are aware of something (in this case the true identity of characters) that characters in the play are not. This, of course, creates tension in a play and excites the audience; actions take place on the stage, of which the audience knows the import, but characters on the stage do not. It also creates a setting for a great deal of irony where characters make comments that take on a double meaning.
Two examples of characters who utilize such disguise are Iago, from Othello, and Viola, from Twelfth Night. The purposes for which Iago chooses to disguise his motives are to gain an office which he feels he deserves and to get revenge on Othello for allegedly committing adultery with his wife.
Most of the irony in Othello stems not from what Iago says, but rather from what the other characters say about him, such as the references to him as "honest Iago," "the bold Iago," and "a very valiant fellow." Iago's disguise makes the audience fearful for the other characters, and causes them to pity those who suffer his wrath. He destroys Othello's friendship with Cassio, Othello's marriage to Desdemona, and influences him to kill Desdemona by convincing him that his wife had been unfaithful to him with Cassio. He himself, in attempts to protect his disguise, stabs Cassio, Roderigo, and his wife.
The reasons Viola chooses to disguise herself, however, are to protect herself from danger, and to win the love of the Duke. In a few days' time while masked in this disguise, through her wit, charm, loyalty and musical ability she wins the trust of the Duke, who employs her to woo Olivia. In her loyalty to the Duke, though she is deeply in love with him, she makes an honest attempt to win Olivia's love.
Viola's speech throughout the scenes where she attempts to woo Olivia for the Duke provide a great deal of irony such as when she tells Olivia, "I swear I am not that I play (I, v, 180)." The entire dialogue between Viola and the Duke about the love of a man versus that of a woman is also quite humorous, especially when she, through cryptic language, tells him she's in love with him,...