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"I Am Not What I Am": Perceived Reality In "Othello."

1215 words - 5 pages

The character Iago ominously mutters the words, "I am not what I am," at the beginning of William Shakespeare's "Othello the Moor of Venice" (I.i.65). What Iago means by these words so early in the play is a bit ambiguous, but as one reads on, many interpretations ensue. That very phrase becomes a subtle but powerful theme all throughout the tragic story that unfolds, and not only in regards to Iago, but also to Cassio, Desdemona, and especially Othello himself. Throughout the play, Iago systematically obliterates the realities each character has struggled so hard to construct. Desdemona has, in an emotive fit of passion and love for good story-telling, betrayed her father to elope with a Moorish general, seemingly smitten with the whimsy of adventure. Cassio has structured his priorities strictly around perception--his reputation. Finally, above all, while Othello has become very proud of his accomplishments in battle, this justified confidence is overridden by his deep insecurities of alienation. Beginning in Act II and on through Act V, the fragile realities they have all created slowly chip away by the workings of Iago. In this essence, it is foolish to see Iago as "evil" or a "devil," but more reasonable to see him as the personification of Chaos. He does little other than suggest, and he demonstrates by doing so the frailty of these social facades--the perceived versus actual reality.Desdemona enters the play in Act II Scene III as a commanding presence, speaking before the Duke in defense of her new husband, Othello. Though she seems level-headed and confident, Desdemona surrounds herself in a blinding cloud of whimsical desire for adventure and ideological duty. Ideas, rather than actuality, guide her actions and her words. Othello explains to the Duke before Desdemona's entrance: "She wished she had not heard it...and bade me, if I had a friend that loved her, I should but teach him how to tell my story" (I.iii.162-165). Her love for Othello's tales suggests an innocent longing for such an adventure. She tells Othello that she wished, "that Heaven had made her such a man" (I.iii.163). This longing for participation is certainly one driving force of her attraction to Othello, as he makes quite clear before the Duke and Senate. Desdemona feels she has been sheltered from danger and exploit, which leaves a space to be filled only with insecurity. She knows only the wealthy Venetian life, though she wants to live a full and colorful life. Given that Desdemona passionately desires what she has not experienced, she initiates the theme Iago set forth in Act I Scene I: "I am not what I am," only in her case, she is not what she wants to be (I.i.65).Michael Cassio is portrayed in the play as being a young, good-looking lieutenant at Othello's side. Iago resents him because of his lofty position, especially because of Cassio's inexperience on the battlefield. What makes this important to Cassio is that he is fully aware of his lack of experience....

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