Irony in Othello

Irony in Othello
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    Jun 30, 2019
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Shakespeare has used irony throughout the play at various levels to add meaning and color to the story of Othello’s rise to power and to his ignominious downfall. Iago’s double speaking helps to emphasize the bathos of Othello’s insane jealousy and importunate behavior. There are several instances where irony has been used to arouse the interest of the audience.

Shakespeare has made Othello choose words to speak that are entirely opposite to the words of Iago. In Act IV scene I, outside the Castle in Cyprus, Othello reposes complete trust in Iago and relies entirely on his wisdom. He says to Iago, “O, thou art wise!’Tis certain” (IV.I.87), believing every word that Iago very cleverly uses against Cassio and Desdemona. It is ironical that what Othello in his frenzy believes to be wisdom and loyalty in Iago is actually the one thing that will bring about irreparable damage to his relationship with his wife. Iago keeps playing the devil’s advocate and makes a show of using logic and reason with him in saying that if he had given his wife his handkerchief then it now belonged to her and she could do whatever she pleased with it. This seemingly liberal view had the opposite impact on Othello as Iago very knew it would. It incited Othello even more and helped make up his mind to punish Desdemona for her imaginary promiscuity. Othello refers ironically to Iago as “Honest Iago”. The audience can see that Iago is anything but honest, yet Othello believes every word he says against all the protestations of Desdemona.

In Act II Scene III he says, “I know, Iago, thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, making it light to Cassio.” The audience is privy to Iago’s thoughts and rationale for his villainy but the trusting and foolish hero misinterprets his hatred and lust for revenge as honesty and love. The audience is filled with apprehension, pity and contempt for Othello. The once imposing personality is shown to be stupid, petty and perverse. Othello’s transformation is complete and Lodovico observes that he doubts Othello’s sanity and wits.

I find that the television show The Simpsons uses lots irony in the plot and characterizations- irony and humor is used to not to lampoon but to comment on the realities of contemporary life. The Simpsons are a commentary on contemporary society portrayed through funny episodes that carry a message that is serious and full of learning. The animations are light and humorous so that it is easy for everyone to follow and enjoy at the same time.

Homer Simpson is jealous of his neighbor Ned Flanders, who is well liked and influential in the community. Homer loathes Ned in the same manner as Othello detests Cassio. Homer is also often suspicious of his wife Marge’s fidelity. In ‘Diatribe of a Mad Housewife’, Homer gets suspicious of Marge being secretly in love with Ned Flanders and plans revenge on him. Othello uses the handkerchief as circumstantial evidence to wreak his revenge just as Homer uses the Olsen Twins’ audiotape version of Marge’s book. At a minor level the similarity between Millhouse Houten, Bart Simpson’s best friend, and Cassio is quite striking. Millhouse is intelligent and smart but is easily led and is gullible. He allows himself to be used by Bart just as Cassio allows Iago to use him to his own end.

The story of Othello contains all the elements of a classical tragedy. It is the story of the rise and fall of a hero. The heroic figure is dominant and his fortunes rise and fall with the turn of events over which he has little or no control. The audience is in awe of this magnificent character but feel pity and disappointment at his inability to control the circumstances that bring about his downfall. The hero also has the typical hamartia and the pathos is heightened because the audience can foresee the end while he himself cannot. The irony of it all is so poignant that one is moved to tears. The tragedy of the innocent Desdemona arouses loathing for both Iago and Othello.

Iago’s character though portrayed as that of a typical villain would have been ineffective had Othello been more grounded and self-assured. His own inadequacies and lack of confidence in himself come to the surface and he plays into the hands of Iago. Chance also plays a vital role in the story. Had Desdemona not advocated Cassio’s cause and insisted on her innocence vehemently, would the denouement of the drama been different?

More open and direct communication between the main characters is also an important aspect that may have changed the course of the play. When Othello accused Desdemona of being licentious, she could have been more forthright and asked him for proof. She could also have talked about it openly and made Othello see that she was devoted to him and had never been unfaithful. That way Iago’s villainy would have been exposed much sooner in the play and the lives of Roderigo, Emilia and Desdemona herself would have been spared. The story ends with a certain amount of poetic justice and does have a cathartic effect but at the cost of the lives of the main characters in the play.

Works Cited
Diatribe of a mad housewife. (2012, August 29). Retrieved from
Shakespeare, W. (1622). Tragedy of othello, the moor of venice.