Author's View of Human Behaivior


Iago uses the word “honest” in act three of Othello in three primary ways. The first way he uses it is to mean honourable, about Cassio. He uses this meaning of the word to force Othello to doubt Cassio’s honesty, and question his hounorablility. The second way is to mean faithful, both about Desdemona and Cassio. Iago uses it in the context that the two may be “truthful,” again to make Othello doubt. The third way is Iago’s most effective use, which is to use honest in the context to mean truthful, as in, he has told Othello the truth. However, Shakespeare has created tremendous dramatic irony, for we know that Iago is being anything except truthful. The three uses of the word honest are used largely in the subtext of the act, they are used by Iago to force Othello to question his wife’s integrity, and honesty. Shakespeare uses the word by Iago to plant tremendous doubt in Othello’s mind. The word is also used by Iago in the action line. His objective is constantly to make Othello think things without actually being told them, and Iago’s parroting of the word and constant useage do this quite nicely.

Iago initially uses the word honest to mean honourable, in reference to Cassio. Othello has asked him if “he [Cassio] is not honest?” To which Iago parrots back “Honest my lord?” This usage is constant with what Othello means, whether Cassio is honourable or not. However, Iago uses the word to cast doubt on Othello. By parroting it back, he is making it seem to Othello that he does not want to answer the question, that he doesn’t want to tell Othello something. This is seen in the subtext that Iago wishes to create. This use of it also contributes to Iago’s objective, to make Othello think the opposite, that Cassio is dishonourable, even though this contradicts what Iago later says. Shakespeare has built up tremendous subtext for Iago and Othello around this simple word in this case. Iago manages to, without saying really anything, force Othello to believing that Cassio should in fact be doubted, for his honesty. The second usage of this meaning also carries significant dramatic irony with it. Iago uses it to refence to his own honour, telling Othello that although he does not like the job Othello has given him, to find out if Desdemona is cheating, he has been “Pricke’d to’t by foolish honesty, and love.” Iago means that he will continue to tell Othello the “truth.” However, Shakespeare has created intense dramatic irony, for we see that Iago has been anything but telling Othello the complete truth, rather he is telling him only half.

The second use of the word is directed towards both Cassio and Desdemona, in separate instances.

The first time is directed to Cassio. Othello continues to question Iago about Cassio’s honesty, to which Iago replies “I dare be sworn I think that he is honest.” Iago knows that Cassio is honest, at least in the terms that Othello would care about. However, the specific wording that Shakespeare has chosen seems allows Othello to read into Iago’s speech, that while Iago has no evidence to prove otherwise, he doubts Cassio’s honesty. Iago has also changed the meaning of the word slightly, to mean that Cassio is faithful, that he is not sleeping with Desdemona. It is as if Iago is having a fun time, pretending that he is not sure if Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. However, Iago himself remains truthful to Othello, in the sense that he is not lying to him. However, his word usage suggests otherwise. He does this later on as well, when Othello asks Iago if he believes that Cassio is as he appears to be, i.e. not having an affair. Iago again says that he “think[s] Cassio’s an honest man.” Iago knows Cassio is honest in this sense of the word, in the sense that he is not cheating on Othello. However, the subtext around these two lines is again used to make Othello believe that Iago doubts his own words, that while he does not have proof otherwise, he is doubting himself. This accomplishes what Iago wishes to achieve,