Who steals my purse steals trash
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.
At this point in Othello,
our hero has just begun his precipitous fall into Iago's intricate
trap. Iago hints that one of Othello's officers, Cassio, has been
making time with Othello's wife. On top of this innuendo he
plasters a seeming reluctance to reveal the fictitious affair,
because that would ruin Cassio's reputation—and to "filch" from
someone his good name is a much more serious crime than stealing
his purse. Honor is an essential possession, something that can
belong to you and to you only; your money, on the other hand,
remains what it is even if thousands of others have handled and
possessed it. Compared to honor, then, money is mere "trash."
Iago's speech is in ironic contrast to his exhortations of
Roderigo to "put money in thy purse [see PUT MONEY IN THY PURSE]. When it
suits his purposes better, Iago can exclaim that virtue's "a fig"
(Act 1, scene 3, 319), and that reputation is merely something one
cultivates in order to hide his true intentions. It rather suits
his purposes here, however, to cloak his evil intentions—his desire
to ruin Othello's marriage—in the pieties of friendship and sacred
respect for another man's honor.