Iago tells Othello that "men should be what they seem." Explain the irony in this statement.

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This line is from Othello, Act III, Scene 3.

Iago is a liar and a master manipulator. If he is referring to himself, the statement is yet another lie. No man is less what he seems than Iago.

The rest of the line is "Or those that be not,...

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This line is from Othello, Act III, Scene 3.

Iago is a liar and a master manipulator. If he is referring to himself, the statement is yet another lie. No man is less what he seems than Iago.

The rest of the line is "Or those that be not, would they might seem none!"

Othello immediately echoes him, "men should be what they seem," but already suspects where the conversation is going. Iago then refers to Cassio as "an honest man," and Othello quickly replies, "Nay, yet there’s more in this," and asks him to elaborate, even with the "worst of thoughts... [and] words."

Iago starts waffling, going on and on about his supposed reluctance to pass on negative information. Does Othello really want to know, even if it's terrible news? What if his thoughts are "vile and false"? What if they are "foul things," "uncleanly apprehensions"?

This tactic, of course, only pushes Othello to ask more. Iago pretends to not want to implicate Cassio, and Othello says the best way to clear him is to be honest. In truth, Iago is excited because he knows he has trapped Othello, and that his plan to destroy them all is advancing exactly as he had hoped.

The irony in pretending to be honest is that Iago continually exposes himself as anything but.

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