What is a significant quote in Act 2 of Othello and why is it important?

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"As I am an honest man" is a very ironic and telling quote from the play "Othello" by William Shakespeare. The quote is significant because we, the audience, are about to find out just how untrue this is. Although it is a throwaway comment (similar to a person saying "Oh, my goodness) it is still an example of Iago's duplicity. It is reminiscent of Iago's way of deliberately enjoying his hypocrisy by sharing it with the audience, almost waving the stupidity and innocence of the addressed character in his face. He is waiting for someone to finally notice his true character and motives, but he is such a good actor that no-one does. Shakespeare prepares us for the final denoument of dishonesty and revelation by foreshadowing the lack of honesty in this quote.

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When devils with the blackest sins put on

They do at first with heavenly shows,

as I do now.


In his soliloquy Iago explains why he is giving Cassio advice.  After getting him drunk, getting Roderigo to provoke him in a fight, and telling the story to Othello so that Othello has no other recourse but to fire Cassio, Iago tells Cassio to go to Desdemona and ask her to help him restore his position and good favor with Othello.  Of course, this is excellent advice on the surface.  If Cassio is too embarrassed to speak to Othello, Desdemona who is kind and compassionate would be an easier audience.  And, she is in a position to influence Othello's thinking.

Cassio recognizes the wisdom of this advice as well.  However, these "heavenly shows" are really the devil's workings, for Iago is going to to make it seem that Cassio's talking with Desdemona is not innocent, that the two are involved with each other.

This speech I think is the key to understanding Iago's method of acting.  He seems wise, loyal, and caring.  He puts on "heavenly shows," but in reality he is the "devil" with the "darkest sins."  The key problem in the play is the fact that the characters misjudge Iago, thinking him virtuous when he is actually quite demonic.

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Othello Act II is all about honor culture and male reputation.  Once on the wild island of Cyprus, then men lose all reason and resort to blatant sexism and morbid jealousy against women.  If Venice was racist, then Cyprus is certainly sexist.

Iago, who played the racism card in Venice in Act I and lost, now resorts to the reputation card in Act II to gain victory.  His first victim is Cassio; soon, it will be Othello.

He gets Cassio drunk and into a fight.  After Cassio is stripped of his rank as Lieutenant, he says:

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost
my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of
myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation,
Iago, my reputation!

Here, we see how men view themselves.  It's all about status.  Reputation is the immortal part.  It is their soul.  They think their name is the only thing that lives on.  They think their gender is a kind of god.  That which is left is only bestial.  Without gender, they are damned.  Without their male reputations, they might as well be women.

This scene foreshadows what will happen to Othello.  When he thinks Desdemona has lost his love (the handkerchief), he will lose his reputation.  She is a status symbol for him, a trophy wife.  After he loses her, he will turn bestial and reify her.  He will lose all reason and language.  And then he will murder her.

After reputation is gone, it's downfall at break-kneck speed.

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Desdemona and Iago exchange verbal barbs as Desdemona has just arrived at Cyprus and Iago is badmouthing women (as usual).  She suggests he take a turn at praising her, as his praises are generally only thiny veiled criticisms.
DESD: I am not merry, but I do beguile
The thing I am by seeming otherwise.
Come, how wouldst thou praise me?
IAGO: I am about it; but indeed my invention
Comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze;(140)
It plucks out brains and all. But my Muse labors,
And thus she is deliver'd.
If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit,
The one's for use, the other useth it.

Several interesting things come out of this exchange, one is the idea that Desdemona is only playing ignorant, that she is far more capable and intelligent than she appears to some.  This is somewhat in contrast to her seemed helplessness later in the play.

The second is another rather mysogynist statement of Iago's claiming that if a woman is beautiful she ought to use it, but if she is only wise, she will find a way to use beauty to still gain an advantage.  We can remember that Iago's attitude towards women is none too positive and he is only here mocking their willingness to use beauty to their advantage.

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