How does Shakespeare explore the theme of loyalty in Othello? Essay

During the play, Shakespeare explores many forms of loyalty: loyalty between friends, colleagues and lovers, loyalty to family and to the state. Set in Venice during the Jacobean Period, some people think that “Othello” was written for James I as a warning against dishonest and disloyal advisors. To be loyal, you must be at once trustworthy and trusting. Many characters in “Othello” are either trustworthy or trusting but few possess both of these desirable qualities.

Iago is the character who shows least signs of loyalty in the play.Shakespeare shows us that Iago is dishonest and disloyal in the most blatant of ways. One of the clearest signs is when Iago himself says “I am not what I am” Act 1 Scene 1, Line 66. This is a misquote from the bible and shows that Iago is proud of being duplicative and pays no heed to God. By the end of his second soliloquy, Iago has managed to convince himself that both Othello and Cassio have slept with his wife: “twixt my sheets, he’s done my office…

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“Iago of Othello, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 369-370, “for I fear Cassio with my night-cap too” Iago, Act 2 Scene 1, Line 288.Whether or not Iago has a capacity to be trusting is not clear in the play, however his untrustworthiness would counterbalance any signs of his ability to trust others. Although he believes Othello has abused his trust in not promoting him to be his lieutenant, you get the impression that he would use any event as an excuse to justify his villainy. Although Othello is absolutely trustworthy, his fault lies in his ability to trust others. The Senate and the people of Cyprus hold him in high regard.He shows his loyalty to Venice when he says “I..

. do undertake these present wars…

ost humbly, therefore, bending to your state” Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 230-2 agreeing to go to war on his wedding night. However, Othello is very nai??ve about love, relationships and fidelity. When Iago makes accusations against Desdemona, Othello automatically believes him and we get the impression that, had Desdemona or Cassio been as devious as Iago, Othello’s wrath could just have easily fallen upon his ancient. Cassio is both trusting and trustworthy. Unfortunately he trusts Iago too much and when he is desperate to get back into Othello’s good favour he subconsciously allows Iago to twist him into situation that is much worse.We can see that Cassio is in awe of Othello and would do anything to keep in his good graces and stop Othello from coming to any harm: “O, let the heavens give him defence against the elements, for I have lost him on a dangerous sea” Cassio of Othello, Act 2 Scene 1, Lines 44-6.

Emilia is loyal to her husband, Iago, throughout the play and does whatever her asks her to do. She trusts him completely and is full of disbelief when Othello tells her how Iago has accused Desdemona “My husband say that she was false? ” Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 151.She is shocked and heartbroken when she discovers how deceitful he has been. “Villainy, villainy, villainy! …

I’ll kill myself for grief. O villainy, villainy! ” Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 189-192 It is only after she discovers what her husband has done that she abandons her loyalty to him in favour of her loyalty to Desdemona, her mistress, and tells all she knows about what Iago has done. She is determined to make herself heard “All, all cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak” Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 220.

nd we see how close she was to her mistress when she begs to be laid next to Desdemona’s body as she dies “Ay, ay; O, lay me by my mistress’ side. “Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 235. In the Jacobean Period, when “Othello” was written, Venice was becoming increasingly known for immoral behaviour.

A common stereotype of the time was that of the ‘cuckold’. A cuckold was a married man whose wife had sex with other men. Depicted as having two horns on the front of his head, the belief was that everyone else knew that the man’s wife was unfaithful apart from the ‘cuckold’ himself.Loyalty and fidelity were very important in a woman as a man’s name, reputation and fortunes would go to any of his wife’s children unless they were proved to be another man’s offspring.

Courtesans, high class prostitutes, were very numerous, and fathers and husbands closeted away their wives and daughters in fear of cunning, untrustworthy men leading them astray. Much advice was given on a woman’s place in society. One example of this would be Robert Cleaver’s “A godly form of household government” written in 1603.The author (Cleaver) states that “no man would look for any other thing of a woman but her honesty” and that she should “shun and avoid all idle and wanton talk, nice looks, dalliance, and light countenance.

” It is striking that the most heroically and tirelessly loyal characters in the play, Emilia and Bianca, are women who do not conform to this code in its entirety. Bianca, a courtesan, is entirely loyal to Cassio, who treats her with contempt. Emilia, although she makes light of women’s duties towards their husbands, is still utterly loyal to Iago right up until the last scene in the play.As a wife, Desdemona follows the code of a gentlewoman to perfection. In Act 1 Scene 2, she also tries to be loyal to Brabantio, her father, after she has married Othello without his permission; “you are lord of my duty..

. But here’s my husband. ” Desdemona, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 182-3. Desdemona uses her parents’ marriage to remind her father of the “divided duty” Desdemona, Act 1 Scene 3, Line 179 that she, and her mother before her, had to endure. However, Brabantio is adamant that Desdemona has betrayed him by marrying Othello and warns: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:She has deceived her father and may thee. ” Brabantio, Act 1 Scene 3, Lines 288-9.

Iago is in the room at this point and we see, later in the play, that he plays on this point to increase Othello’s insecurities. “She did deceive her father marrying you… “Iago, Act 3 Scene 3, Line 208. Desdemona’s loyalty is a hugely important issue throughout the play.

At the beginning (in Act 1), her father is angry at her disloyalty towards him and later in the play, Iago manages to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful and has been sleeping with Cassio.The audience knows that this is not the case and feels “pity and fear” Aristotle as they wait in suspense for her fate. Desdemona is trusting right up until Othello starts to kill her. Even then, she believes he might spare her life. With her last words, she tries to free him from any guilt for killing her and says “commend me to my kind lord” Act 5 Scene 2, Line 126 as she dies one of a series of characters in the play who “loved not wisely, but too well.

” Othello, Act 5 Scene 2, Line 340.


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