Honesty to Speak: Speech and Silence in "Othello"

Speech in Shakespeare's "Othello" possesses a power beyond that of deeds'. It is Othello's fantastical storytelling that won him Desdemona at the start, Iago's poisonous suggestion that leads the general to murder his own wife, Emilia's testimony that traps the villain in the end. Not all of this speech is true, and we will never know for sure whether Othello's handkerchief is magic or why Iago created his plot; but words, regardless of their truth, convince the characters even more than physical evidence does. When characters control their speech, either by remaining silent or by bursting out, they exert the strongest power they can have over the play's world.

Iago, a skilled manipulator, is in complete control of his voice. He finagles Roderigo's purse by persuading the young man that he will send the money to Desdemona, and then works on harder prey. Upon seeing Cassio finish talking to Desdemona, Iago mutters, "I like not that" a comment he pretends to be private but wants Othello to hear. Othello asks Iago what he said, and Iago replies, "Nothing, my lord; or if--I know not what." After insinuating Cassio's guilt, Iago gets Othello to mention that Cassio...

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