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The Admirable Lieutenant In Othello Essay

1368 words - 5 pages

Othello, William Shakespeare’s moving tragedy, gives the audience a number of victims, one of whom is Cassio. But this rugged guy keeps recovering and coming back to enter the fray. Let’s talk about him in detail.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the ins and outs of Cassio’s personality:

Cassio is defined partly by the exigencies of the plot, which require him to have a poor head for drinking and to have a mistress; but his chivalric worship of Desdemona, his affectionate admiration for Othello, which enable him even at the end to call him ‘Dear General” and to speak of his greatness in heart, and his professional reputation, which only Iago impugns, build up a complex portrait of an attractive, if flawed, character. In spite of his weaknesses, we can understand why Iago should be envious of the ‘daily beauty in his life’ and why Desdemona should speak so warmly for his reinstatement. (41)


The opening scene finds Iago explaining his hatred of the general to Roderigo. Part of his bad feeling concerns Cassio, who reportedly has no military battlefield experience. In his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, A. C. Bradley rejects the ancient’s accusation that Cassio is an inexperienced soldier:


That Cassio, again, was an interloper and a mere closet-student without experience of war is incredible, considering first that Othello chose him for lieutenant, and secondly that the Senate appointed him to succeed Othello in command at Cyprus; and we have direct evidence that part of Iago’s statement is a lie, for Desdemona happens to mention that Cassio was a man who ‘all his time’ had ‘founded his good fortunes’ on Othello’s love and had ‘shared dangers’ with him (III.iv.93). (199)


Cassio makes his first appearance in the play in Act 1 Scene 2, when he is conducting the official business of the duke of Venice, namely the request of the “haste-post-haste appearance / Even on the instant” of the general because of the Ottoman threat on Cyprus. Brabantio’s mob briefly delays matters, and then Cassio disappears from the stage until Act 2. He disembarks in Cyprus and graciously announces: “Thanks, you the valiant of this warlike isle, / That so approve the Moor!” After chatting with Montano and other gentlemen of the isle, he welcomes Desdemona, “our great captain’s captain,” ashore: “The riches of the ship is come on shore! / Ye men of Cyprus, let her have your knees!”


Observing how Iago, in his negative remarks about women, grates on Desdemona, Cassio gives her some sound advice for enduring the banter of the ancient: “He speaks home, madam. You may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar.” And when the lieutenant takes the lady by her hand, Iago’s warped mind sees in this Cassio’s downfall: “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.” Following Othello’s disembarkation, a herald proclaims the time of “feasting,”...

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