(Composed in the style of a speech) William Shakespeare’s Othello is a play about credibility. The function of track record is a major one as throughout the play we see the importance of how one is perceived. For some, to act in a certain way with self control eventually leads them to reinforce their character and image. But for others it can be lost in a single action. The characters within the play struggle to keep their track record for different factors such as retribution or to keep a reputation on their own. Reputation can impair judgement in both methods on the decisions the character makes and the thoughts made about them.
To the Elizabethans, reputation was everything to them; so much so that their credit was worth more than their life. To be remembered and honoured after their death was of leading priority. So in saying that, if you were to be publically disgraced it was much better to die than live in shame. In today’s modern-day context, a bad track record can be hard to restore because of the judgements everyone has of the individual or group prior to they have actually acted mistakenly. An example of this might be a big business who has already established a name for themselves; if a major defect was to emerge it might be economically disastrous for them.
The scene which I believe to underpin my interpretation of the play would be Act 4 Scene 1 where Othello strikes Desdemona in public. This scene would be the turning point in Othello’s character as we can see a when noble and reputable male change into a cruel savage. The value of honour is mentioned right at the start of the scene when Iago compares that to Desdemona’s handkerchief. He mentions that honour is an “essence that’s not seen, however for the scarf …” He wants Othello to believe that we can’t see the essence of Desdemona’s honour however the scarf is something we can see.
Basically he desires Othello to associate the scarf with Desdemona’s honour. Shakespeare uses dramatic paradox to build up the stress in the scene between Othello and Desdemona. She comes in with Lodovico who provides Othello a letter which tells him to leave Cyprus for Venice and Cassio to be appointed governor. Since of this she is over the moon for Cassio as formerly there had been no development on his situation. But on the other hand, Othello interprets her pleasure as a method of revealing her love for Cassio in public, right in front of him. Naturally the audience knows this isn’t real.
He then starts to madly mock her delight saying, “I’m pleased to see you mad”. However when she asks why he is acting like this, he slaps her. In striking Desdemona, it reveals just about how much Othello has actually altered. With the tiniest appreciation of Cassio from her can send him into a craze. Although, the important things that he is most afraid of is that Desdemona’s alleged affair could destroy his reputation. The ironic thing is, this is all his own doing, and he is polluting his own good name in striking her. We see Othello as a high ranked military officer, respected among the people.
Eventually he is ending up being the sort of person Brabantino implicated him of being, a savage. Even Lodovico is shocked at what he is seen. He asks “Is this the honorable Moor whom our complete senate/ call all in all enough? Is this the nature/ Whom passion could not shake?” What he has actually just witnessed, he feels, does not fit with Othello’s credibility. Right after, he is told by Lodovico to make it up to her because she is weeping but Othello has no pity. He says, “O devil, devil/ If that the earth could teem with female’s tears/ each drop she falls would prove a crocodile”.
The images of a crocodile or more particularly crocodile tears originates from an anecdote that crocodiles wept to entice in their victims or to weep for their victims while they’re being eaten. In a sense, it’s hypocritical. At the time, numerous purchased the concept of Spontaneous Generation and that it was thought crocodiles grew out of the mud of the Nile, spontaneously. So what Othello is attempting to state is that if the earth was filled with ladies’s tears, Desdemona’s tears would give birth to crocodiles. So one could say surrounding all this hypocrisy, she is the mother of it all. Naturally, this isn’t the only scene which portrays reputation.
Early on in Act 2, Cassio enters into a drunken quarrel with Roderigo and wounds Montano. He winds up losing his title and when he’s asked by Iago if he is injured, he responds that it is an injury that can’t be recovered: “I have lost my credibility! I have lost the never-ceasing part of myself, and what remains is bestial”. What he is describing is a Classical Christian and Western medieval idea called the Great Chain of Being. This idea was a ranking of all matter and life, beginning with the divine being, and progresses downwards to angels, people, animals, plants and minerals.
Within the human rank it was more divided into kings to slaves. It was said that if a human were to lose their humanity, they would become a beast. This discusses Cassio’s worry that his loss of track record puts him down to the bestial level. It likewise demonstrates how dear Elizabethans held their reputation. So in conclusion, the battle to preserve a great credibility is an essential style that originates from Othello, if it wasn’t for this, the result as we know it would’ve been completely different.