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Josh Martin

on 15 October 2014

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How honesty is used ironically
General Information
Poet William Empson estimates that the words "honest" and "honesty" are used 52 times throughout the play Othello.

The meanings behind these uses vary between irony, personal honesty and the fidelity of women (Source 1).
How honesty is used literally
General Textual Examples
"Why then I think Cassio's an honest man..." (Act III, scene iii, page 45)
Examples Cont.
Quote 1
: This is from after Cassio had a brawl with Montano. Iago is trying to make Cassio seem more suspicious to Othello by agreeing that Cassio is honest, but dropping subtle hints that he "may not be as he seems."

How does this contribute to the use of "honest" literally?
1. This is a great example of honesty used literally because Othello is simply saying that he truly believes that Desdemona is trustworthy girl who wouldn't do anything to hurt him.

2. This is also an example of "honest" being used as another word for faithful.


Shmoop Editorial Team. "Honesty in Othello Page 1." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://www.shmoop.com/othello/honesty-symbol.html>.

"Othello Navigator: Iago's "Honesty"" Othello Navigator: Iago's "Honesty" N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/othello/Iagohon.html>.

"Quotes and Examples - Honesty in Othello." Quotes and Examples - Honesty in Othello. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <https://sites.google.com/site/honestyinothello3/quotes-and-examples>.

4. SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/othello/>.
Iago's use of irony
Use of literal honesty with respect to fidelity
Throughout the play, Iago twists
the meaning of honesty through his use of
"personal dishonesty." He acts as though
he is telling the truth when he is in reality
just spitting out lies. Everyone considers
him to be "honest Iago," because he seems
to always be truthful, yet his "truths" are simply
lies and conceit in disguise (Source 1).
"Dost thou hear, my honest friend?"
(Act II, scene i, page 39)

"O wretched fool.
That livest to make thine honesty a vice!
O monstrous world! Take note, take note, O world,To be direct and honest is not safe.
I thank you for this profit; and from hence
I'll love no friend, sith love breeds such offence."
"Nay, stay: thou shouldst be honest."
"I should be wise, for honesty's a fool
And loses that it works for."
"By the world,
I think my wife be honest and think she is not..." (Act III scene iii, pages 51-52)

(Source 3)

Textual Example:
"As I am an honest man I thought you had received some bodily wound..." (Act II, scene iii, page 36)
The literal use of honesty can be
interpreted as any character's use
of the word "honest" or "honesty" for a direct meaning of being truthful.
The main usage of "honesty" throughout
the play is through the use of irony. One
way that the word honesty is used ironically,
is when describing Iago's character.
He is portrayed as an honest man, yet it is obvious to the audience that he is not a very
honest person through his actions and
Textual Example
Textual Example Explained
In this example Iago has just told Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Othello becomes enraged and says if Iago's suspicions against Desdemona cannot be proven that he will kill Iago. At this, Iago pretends to be upset by this and threatens to quit his position because his "honesty" with Othello is being disregarded. Iago confesses that his "honesty" has done nothing other than bring trouble upon his relationships with his friends which is what causes Othello to break down and believe the lies he is hearing (Source 3).

This is an example of irony because Iago is considered to be an "honest" and trustworthy person, which is the exact opposite of who he truly is.
Textual Example:
Othello: "
Honest Iago, that look'st dead with grieving, Speak, who began this? on thy love, I charge thee."
Iago: "
I do not know...In opposition bloody. I cannot speak..."
(Act II scene iii, page 35)
Textual Example Explained
In this example Othello has just broken up the brawl between Montano and Cassio. He wants to know what has happened so he turns to Iago because he believes Iago will give him the truthful account of what has occurred (Source 2).

This example is ironic because Iago is the person who is least likely to give a truthful account, yet because of the way he acts as if it is painful to tell the truth, Othello finds him most suitable to both tell him what happened, and then to replace Cassio.
The multiple meanings of the word "honest" contribute to the complexity and plot of the play because the usage reveals Iago's true characteristics of being untrustworthy and manipulative, and it shows how fully Othello believes in Desdemona's purity. The word "honesty" also serves as a general symbol of loyalty and trust among the characters.
There are many examples of literal honesty in the play. Othello often refers to Desdemona as an "honest" wife. He is implying that she is faithful in their marriage. He believes in her "honesty" for a long time before finally succumbing to Iago's lies. Othello even threatens Iago because he is so certain that Desdemona is faithful (Source 1).
Quote 2:
This quote is from when Cassio tried to send musicians to Othello in order to get back into his good graces. Othello then sent the clown to get rid of the musicians. In this quote, "honest" is used much more literally. Cassio is simply asking the clown if he hears, but the clown jokingly says he only hears Cassio speaking.
- Othello: "I do not think but Desdemona’s honest." (Act III, scene iii, page 47)

(Source 4)

Context: Iago has just told Othello that Desdemona may be cheating on him, but Othello isn't so sure. Iago then says he can believe whatever he wants to, which only causes Othello to doubt himself even more.
Quote 3:
Cassio has just lost his position as Lieutenant, and Iago is trying to console him, even though it was Iago that set him up to lose is position in the first place. This is a more ironic usage of the word "honest", because Iago is saying that he is honest, when in reality, he set Cassio up for this fall.
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