The Repentant Lieutenant in Othello
Othello, a William Shakespeare classic, sees the attempted ruination of the general’s right-hand man on more than one occasion by the insidious and jealous ancient. Let’s achieve a better understanding of the lieutenant’s case in this paper.
Cassio’s biggest fall is with the Iago-schemed incident of inebriation. In The Riverside Shakespeare Frank Kermode explains the total meaning of the loss which Cassio’s drunkenness cost him:
Cassio, cashiered, thinks he has lost what Othello is soon really to lose, his reputation: “I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial” (II.iii.263-64). (We must think of “reputation” as meaning not merely the good word of others, but that self-respect which is indispensable to social beings, and without which they cannot function well in private or public life. Without it, a man is no more than a beast.) (1200)
Cassio is a blend of good and bad elements, a potpourri of positive and negative features. 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...