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Frenemies In Othello By William Shakespeare

1926 words - 8 pages

“Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears.” This line is said by Mark Antony to garner the attention of his countrymen in arguably one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays, Julius Caesar. The iconic line is one of Shakespeare’s better known addresses. In his plays repetition functions as an indicator of something to which the audience should pay particular attention. Specifically, in the play Othello, the repetition of the word “friend” is relevant and draws the audience’s attention to relationships of a superficial or forced nature, as the relationship between Othello and Iago, Cassio and Bianca, and as a rhetorical device. Through close reading of the play, one sees that “friend” functions as ...view middle of the document...

” Therefore, Brabanzio, like Gaston, must align himself with others in a show of solidarity.
Desdemona uses “friend” as a push for her own agency. “Friend” is a means to indicate her interest in Othello. Given that women’s agency was limited at the time, she had to convey to Othello that she was interested in him without overpowering him; she had to hint. Othello recalls how this was done during his defense of their marriage: “[She] bade me, if I had a friend that loved her/ I should but teach him how to tell my story,/ And that would woo her” (Shakespeare 1.3.163-165). After she falls in love with his stories of war and spectacular images, Desdemona asks Othello if he has a friend just like himself that with whom she could be matched. In this way, Desdemona navigates the precarious waters of women’s agency. Her phrasing leaves her relatively blameless should Othello refuse her advances. He could ignore her hint and match her with a comarade of his, simply insist that he did not have such a friend, or even feign ignorance of her intentions. Desdemona’s use of “friend” lets her make an advance without the pressure of rejection or societal blame for stepping outside of her boundaries.
Like Desdemona, Cassio uses friend to advance his desires. Cassio uses “friend” to soften the favor of the clown so that the clown will run an errand for him, which is ineffective. Cassio addresses him, “Dost thou hear, my honest friend?” to which said clown replies, “No, I hear not your honest friend, I hear you” (Shakespeare 3.1.20-21). In this instance “friend” is used as a friendly address to an unfamiliar person yet of equal rank. The clown’s pun offers comic relief and mocks the convention of calling each other “friend” when really they have no relation to one another. The clown mocks the insincerity of Cassio, which is when Cassio then sees that he must pay to get the clown to do him a favor. At Cassio’s bidding, the clown leaves to summon Emilia yet it is actually Iago that fetches Emilia so that Cassio and Desdemona may speak. Since the clown does not do his job, trying to encourage familiarity by addressing him as “friend” is an inadequate rhetorical method.
Like Cassio, Emilia uses “friend” as a rhetorical device. After Othello tells Desdemona that she has been unfaithful, Desdemona is (understandably) moved and upset. Explaining the situation to Iago, Emilia defends Desdemona’s emotional reaction by saying, “Hath she forsook so many noble matches/ Her father and her country and her friends/ To be called a whore? Would it not make one weep?” (Shakespeare 4.2.129-131). Desdemona is bewildered and Emilia is being a true friend by defending her. Earlier mentioned in this paper, Brabanzio brings accompaniment to make his point about Othello enchanting Desdemona. Likewise, Emilia builds Desdemona’s case by bringing in the word “friends.”
There is textual evidence from Brabanzio that Desdemona turned down many Venetian suitors. Quite obviously, Brabanzio is...

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