What is one example of verbal irony in Act 2 of Othello?

Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Scene 3, Michael Cassio and Roderigo get into a fight and enter the scene where Montano intervenes and tries to stop the two. Michael, who is inebriated, then turns on Montano and starts a fight with him, injuring the governor. Roderigo has in the meantime run away and raised the alarm. Othello arrives at the scene and stops the altercation. He then asks Iago to explain the reason for the brawl. Iago recounts the following:

I do not know: friends all but now, even now,
In quarter, and in terms like bride and groom
Devesting them for bed; and then, but now--
As if some planet had unwitted men--
Swords out, and tilting one at other's breast,
In opposition bloody. I cannot speak
Any beginning to this peevish odds;
And would in action glorious I had lost
Those legs that brought me to a part of it!

Iago assumes a position of innocence and declares that the two men had just recently been on very friendly terms, getting ready for bed as a bride and a groom would do, peacefully. He furthermore states that their moods had undergone a very sudden change as if they had been affected by some planet that had made them act like idiots. They had drawn their swords and were involved in a bloody duel. Iago states that he does not know what could have possibly started the quarrel but that he wished that he had lost the legs that brought him to the scene for there would have been greater honour in not witnessing such a distasteful display.

This extract is thick in verbal irony, for it is Iago who had, with Roderigo, planned the brawl. He had previously told Roderigo that Desdemona was in love with Cassio and would therefore be an obstacle in Roderogo's plans to win her hand. Cassio had to be gotten rid of. He then told Roderigo to offend Cassio in some way and start a quarrel with him. He, Iago, would take care of the rest.

The scheming Iago then coerced Cassio into drinking some wine, even though Cassio had told him that he gets drunk much too easily and had already imbibed. Cassio is then in a drunken state and when he leaves for bed, Roderigo upsets him and they appear at the scene, fighting. The irony lies in the fact that Iago knew exactly why the brawl happened for the reasons mentioned above.

It also ironic that Othello repeatedly refers to Iago's honesty when he is anything but honest and is hell-bent on destroying both Cassio, Othello and Roderigo through his plotting, scheming and manipulation.