Shakespeare’s Othello

Unpredictable Drama Amongst Assumed Friends

The thing that strikes me most about the tragedy Othello, as does nearly every other tragedy, is how the friendships turn to rotten relationships.  Perhaps this observation seems simple, but its idea (at least when taken to the exaggerated degree of murder over spousal unfaithfulness) seems so foreign to me because I have only heard stories about this, and not experienced it firsthand.  Iago puts on the act of being on Othello’s side, by assuring him, “…but he prated, / And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms / Against your honor,” and flatteringly continues, “That with the little godliness I have / I did full hard forbear him.” (I.ii, v. 7).

What kind of “friend,” or at least acquaintance, is Iago to Othello?  Clearly not the former, yet he engages in conversataions with Othello that are more friend-appropriate than acquaintance-appropriate, such as marriage (“…But I pray you sir, / Are you fast married?” and Othello responding, “…for know, Iago, / But that I love the gentle Desdemona” (I.ii, v. 24).  Although there can be a strong tendency to share personal information as such with those who one does not feel comfortable around (in this case, Othello confessing his love for Desdemona to the nosey-about-his-marriage Iago), the better path to be followed is that of reserving personal news for close friends, and maybe the occasional dumb animal–though just not a clever fox and, obviously, not a parrot.

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