Study Guide


by William Shakespeare

Othello Quotes

Important Quotations

Iago is most honest (II.iii.7) Othello, unaware of Iago's evil plans, comments on his honesty. This is most ironic, of course, since Iago is the furthest thing from it. Shakespeare is able to increase the tension of the plot with short, simple statements like this one.

Who steals my purse steals trash (III.iii.157) Iago has gotten Cassio drunk, and Cassio has gotten himself fired as Othello's lieutenant. He mourns the loss of his reputation, which, if compared to the theft of a purse, is more valuable than gold.

green-eyed monster (III.iii.166) Iago gives Othello very true advice in a sarcastic vein. Jealousy is compared to a "green-eyed monster." In the modern sense, the phrase is "green with envy."

vale of years (III.iii.266) Some critics believe this to be a reference to the 23rd Psalm: "Yea though I walk through the of the shadow of death." In the modern sense, it has been corrupted to vale of tears," meaning a painful experience.

Men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they might seem none (III.iii.126-127) Probably the most bitingly ironic words in the play, Iago plants the idea in Othello's mind that Cassio might be cavorting with Desdemona, and is not "what he seems." Of course, it is plainly Iago who is not what he seems. Shakespeare adroitly uses this technique of having his villians describe what is in reality their own treachery, even when they are apparently referring to someone else. This only adds to the chilling, calculating nature of Iago.

foregone conclusion (III.iii.428) To Shakespeare, this phrase meant "a previous experiment." In the modern sense, it refers to something that has already been decided.

pomp and circumstance (III.iii.354) These are the celebrations that would be held in Cyprus for the victory over the Turks. In the modern sense, it is frequently used to describe a very formal event,...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Othello Essential Quotes

Essential Passage by Theme: Reputation

I do beseech you—
Though I perchance am vicious in my guess,
As, I confess, it is my nature's plague
To spy into abuses, and oft my jealousy
Shapes faults that are not—that your wisdom yet,
From one that so imperfectly conceits,
Would take no notice, nor build yourself a trouble
Out of his scattering and unsure observance.
It were not for your quiet nor your good,
Nor for my manhood, honesty, or wisdom,
To let you know my thoughts.

What dost thou mean?

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

Act 3, Scene 3, Lines 166-182

Iago’s plan to inspire jealousy in the heart of Othello is proceeding swiftly. As Cassio is pleading with Desdemona to speak to her husband on his behalf (on the suggestion of Iago), Othello enters. Cassio leaves quickly, and Iago makes the most of this, indirectly insinuating to Othello that such behavior is indeed suspicious. Despite Iago’s false insistence that Cassio is honest and trustworthy, Othello begins to suspect that Desdemona is unfaithful to him. Iago states, “Men should be what they seem,” a direct contrast to what he has previously confessed is his nature in Act 1. Othello presses him to speak his thoughts, but Iago demurs, saying his thoughts might not be the most fair to Cassio. But Othello insists, so Iago confesses a tendency to be suspicious and jealous. Remarking that Othello does not tend toward jealousy, Iago insists that he will not say what he thinks of Cassio, lest it inspire jealousy in Othello and injure Cassio’s good name. Iago then hypocritically speaks of the importance of having a good name. Reputation, he says, is more important than money. Riches can be taken away easily, yet their loss is recoverable. But if one’s reputation is taken away, one is the poorer, and the person who has taken one’s reputation is not enriched at all.

This passage targets the foundation at which Iago chips away—a person’s reputation. Iago does indeed believe that a reputation is a treasure to be guarded. However, he guards his own good name at the expense of those of others.

His reputation has been damaged by Othello in two separate instances. First, Othello...

(The entire section is 1146 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: Iago

I follow him to serve my turn upon him:
We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow'd. You shall mark
Many a duteous and kneecrooking knave,
That doting on his own obsequious bondage
Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,
For naught but provender; and, when he's old, cashier'd.
Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are,
Who, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,
And throwing but shows of service on their lords
Do well thrive by them; and when they have lined their
Do themselves homage. These fellows have some soul,
And such a one do I profess myself.
For, sir,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 43-68

As the play opens, Iago has been passed over for promotion by his commander, Othello, in favor of an untried Michael Cassio. Despite his military experience, Iago says, he has been deemed of lesser worth than a mere “arithmetician,” and Iago must take the lesser position of “ancient” (ensign). When Roderigo states that he would rather be Othello’s hangman than to be humiliated by being placed in a lower position, Iago says that it is the “curse of service.” It is in response to Roderigo’s view that it would be better not to serve Othello at all that Iago makes the above speech. He confesses he does not serve Othello out of duty to Othello but rather out of self-interest. Iago professes disdain for those who serve out of “duty,” such a course being obsequious and fawning. Iago holds the view that there is a better class of servants—those who give the mere appearance of self-denying service but are in fact in service to themselves above all. Iago professes himself to be of this class. Although he may seem to be serving out of devotion to Othello, Iago would consider himself reproachable for submitting to the whims of any other person, no matter how noble that person may be. He confesses freely, “I am not what I am.”

Iago is one of the most disingenuous characters in the works of Shakespeare. He never presents his true self to anyone, nor does he reveal the true motives for his actions. The one exception is in this section, in which he is transparent to Roderigo about...

(The entire section is 1201 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: Othello

Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees

(The entire section is 1194 words.)