Explain with reference to context Iago's remark that "virtue is a fig" from Othello.

lit24 | Student

In Act I Sc.3 Brabantio, Desdemona's father very reluctantly hands over his daughter in marriage to Othello in the presence of the Duke, Iago and Roderigo. Soon Brabantio and the others leave with Brabantio remarking ironically,

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:

She has deceived her father, and may thee.

After everyone has left except Iago and Roderigo, Roderigo opens his heart to Iago. He says that he loved Desdemona very intensely and continues to do so even though she is now the wife of Othello. He says he is not able to erase the memory of his love for Desdemona. Iago tries his best to talk him out of his persistent love for Desdemoa with plenty of cynical advice but to no avail. Roderigo tells him that it is his inherent nature -"virtue' - to continue loving Desedemona and that he can never forget her even though she is now Othello's wife. Roderigo insists that it is his innate nature to be constant to his lover Desdemona.

At once, Iago retorts very sarcastically,

Virtue! a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.

Iago says that there is nothing- "a fig,"- no human quality which is innate. Man is born without any inherent qualities and that Roderigo's so called "constancy" is not genetic and that it can be easily manipulated by his conscious will power and completely got rid of. The implication is that there is no such thing, meaning "a fig," as constancy in love and that if Roderigo determines and wills in his mind to forget Desdemona, he can easily do it because human will is the most powerful instrument which controls our bodies and our minds:

Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our
wills are gardeners: