Othello essay

Submitted By Jesse-Shewfelt
Words: 1274
Pages: 6

Jesse Shewfelt
ENGL 100
Nicole Pacas
January 31st, 2014

Shakespeare's Othello:
And the Power of Knowledge

In Shakespeare's Othello, the theme of knowledge and jealousy is prevalent in the text and the events which arise from it. The character of Iago has control over the events with his ability to manipulate peoples minds into believing things to be true, despite their entire lack of proof. However, Iago proves to have more than simple manipulation at his disposal. Through his soliloquies Iago reveals an otherworldly authority over knowledge in the play. He is able to create knowledge from nothingness, and his omnipotence requires little action on his part. It is this power to create knowledge, however, which causes him to lose control. In the beginning of the second act Iago has yet to reveal his plan, or even the conflict, to the audience. Iago reveals the source of the conflict when he says “it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets/He has done my office,” (1. 3, 395-396). However, he “know not if't be true,” (1. 3, 396). Iago talks of these thoughts as “mere suspicion” – meaning suspicion is a weak conviction – and so he must “do as if for surety,” (1.3, 397-298). Although he lacks objective proof to confirm his suspicion, he affirms it on his own authority. Iago draws the power and conviction in his actions from, what is now treated as, 'knowledge'. Iago demonstrates the ability to create knowledge, however this knowledge is directly related to him and he is now subject to its influence. Iago furthers the implication of his drawing power from knowledge when he conceives the plan to orchestrate Othello's downfall. He begins by posing the question, “How, how?” seeming to not know the answer yet; however, Iago's soliloquies are directed at an audience (2. 1, 402). Him posing this question – when interpreted as directed to an audience rather than introspection – can be seen as rhetoric for knowledge he already possesses. Iago has narrative authority over the plot, as he not only shows power over knowledge in the world of the characters, but also over the knowledge the audience has at its disposal. It is within Iago's abilities to give “monstrous birth” to the knowledge which then empowers him (2. 1, 412). It is in giving this knowledge that allows for dramatic irony in the transpiring of events; and it is only in Iago's power to provide this knowledge. The audience is subject to what Iago decides to reveal, and so his influence transcends the world of the play. His influence is so pervasive that his power to create knowledge alone will move the conflict in his favour. As he is describing how he will trick Othello, he provides a distinct focus on what he knows. He says Cassio “hath a person and a smooth dispose/to be suspected, framed to make women false,” while Othello “thinks men honest that but seem to be so,/And will... tenderly be led by th'nose,” (2. 1, 405-409). These characteristics are fact as described by Iago, and require no action to induce conflict. It is knowledge alone which drives Iago's plan. All that is required of him to do is “abuse Othello's ears/That [Cassio] is too familiar with his wife,” and the rest depends on what he knows. It is not even his responsibility to bring his plan to action. Iago talks of knowledge, or intellectual craft, as a physical thing which he shapes to his own benefit. Knowledge is described as an autonomous being that, once conceived, develops its own agency. Once Iago creates his plan and assembles his information accordingly, he says “I have't: it is engend'red,” (2. 1, 411). Knowledge is given a tangible quality; it is something that can be possessed by an individual, and it is Iago who has the power to shape it into his own “monstrous birth,” (2. 1, 412). In terms of setting his plan into action, however, it is “hell and night” that is responsible to bring his plan “to the world's light,” (2.1, 412). Iago's power over knowledge is pervasive to the degree that once