It is Not Words That Shake Me Thus

Othello is, among other things, a play about words. Each character's essence is expressed by a distinct idiom, and each character succeeds or fails, at least to an extent, because of language. A passage in the temptation scene, 3.3.191-222, demonstrates how Iago uses language to manipulate Othello, and how Othello's language in turn expresses his descent from reason into jealousy. This passage is a provocative example of how, in Othello, words not only express but actually create the characters' shifting realities.

One of the major ironies of Othello is that most of its characters are unable to acknowledge the hidden meanings of words; as a result, they remain ignorant of the language-generated scripts they are following. Iago is the only character fully capable of deconstructing language and using it for manipulative purposes (Hall 45). In his efforts to convince Othello of his wife's infidelity, Iago uses language to create an air of intimate confidence. His tone is falsely caring as he plants suspicions in Othello's heart: "now I shall have reason / To show the love and duty that I bear you / With franker spirit" (3.3.193-95).

Iago's self-serving repetition of "I hope you will consider...

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