Othello

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Othello, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon

Throughout the play, various male figures seek to assert and protect their manhood and their honor. Based on the Duke's regard for him in 1.3, it is clear that Othello has attained political power through his military might. The subplot in which Iago gets Cassio drunk and causes him to humiliate himself, also indicates the importance of "reputation, reputation, reputation." In fact, Cassio asserts that reputation is all that makes you human ("I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial" [2.3.252-3]). Iago asserts—however genuinely or disingenuously—that reputation is more valuable than anything in the world: "good name in man and woman [...] is the immediate jewel of their souls" (3.3.156).

Though military exploits are one way for men to build their honor, when not in war the primary means by which men define their honor is their ability to command the faithfulness of their women. In 1.1, Iago and Roderigo call Brabantio's honor into question because he hasn't been able to control the romantic or sexual impulses of his daughter, Desdemona. Later, Iago drives Othello to question his own manhood—indeed, his very humanity—by making him doubt whether he has power over his wife. In despair over his suspicions about his wife's faithfulness, Othello laments of himself: "A horned man's a monster and a beast" (4.2.62). That is, in his view, to lose control of the woman in his life is to lose everything that makes him human. In other words, without his honor, he sees himself in the same terms that the prejudiced characters see him: as an animal.

Manhood and Honor ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Manhood and Honor appears in each scene of Othello. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Manhood and Honor Quotes in Othello

Below you will find the important quotes in Othello related to the theme of Manhood and Honor.
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"Rude am I in my speech,
And little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace:
For since these arms of mine had seven years' pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver
Of my whole course of love."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 1.3.96-107
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello and Brabantio have arrived at a meeting between the Duke of Venice and his men, and Brabantio has brought up the issue of Desdemona's marriage. Othello has promised that if they summon Desdemona, she will confirm that she married him willingly, and in the meantime the Duke allows Othello to explain how the marriage came about. In this passage, Othello confesses that he does not consider himself a refined speaker, but that he will nonetheless endeavor to describe how he and Desdemona fell in love.

There are multiple levels of irony to Othello's claim to be a bad speaker. In this speech and in others, he uses evocative, lyrical, and persuasive language in order to elicit sympathy from the other characters––the very definition of rhetorical skill. Furthermore, after this statement he goes on to describe the fact that Desdemona fell in love with him while listening to the stories he told while visiting Brabantio's house as a guest. Thus if there is any truth to Brabantio's accusation that Othello "enchanted" his daughter, this enchantment was achieved through the decidedly civil art of rhetoric as opposed to sinister magic. 

It is possible that Othello misrepresents his own rhetorical skill because he has internalized the racist idea that being a Moor makes him "rude in speech" in comparison to the supposedly more refined white Venetians. On the other hand, his humility is itself a useful rhetorical tactic, as it allows him to suggest that his true talents lie in the noble, masculine domain of battle.


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Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"If I were now to die,
Twere now to be most happy, for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.205-209
Explanation and Analysis:

While they wait for Othello to arrive, Cassio has a brief private conversation with Desdemona, inspiring Iago to trick Othello into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Othello arrives, and declares that he could not be any happier and thus wouldn't mind if he died then and there. Othello's innocent joy in this scene could be said to tempt fate. Indeed, without realizing it, in this speech Othello accurately foreshadows that he will never be this happy again--and that he will soon die as well. The added tragedy underlying this statement is that Othello's wish to die happy will go unfulfilled; both his marital bliss and good reputation will be ruined before he dies.

Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial."
Related Characters: Michael Cassio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.3.281-283
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello charged Cassio with keeping an eye on the victory celebration, instructing him to make sure the men on guard do not get too drunk; Iago, meanwhile, manipulated the situation so Cassio himself got drunk and ended up fighting and injuring Montano. Having discovered this, Othello demanded to know what happened, and Iago described the fight while making it seem like he was reluctant to implicate Cassio. A shocked Othello has said he will have to dismiss Cassio as an officer, and with Othello gone, Cassio mourns the loss of his position and reputation. In this passage, Cassio refers to his reputation as "the immortal part of myself," and says that without it he is no better than a beast.

Cassio's statement confirms the huge value placed on reputation at the time; the immediacy with which he is ruined despite his otherwise flawless record highlights the danger of mistaken appearances and foreshadows Othello's fall from grace later in the play. His comment that "what remains is bestial" emphasizes the importance of honor as the characteristic that distinguishes men from animals, again connecting Cassio's predicament to the racist distrust of Othello as animalistic. 

Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"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"
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.182-190
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has noticed Cassio avoiding him and is suspicious; nonetheless, he has promised Desdemona to reinstate Cassio, but first asks for some time alone. With the other characters gone, Iago asks seemingly innocent questions about Cassio, and gives Othello advice that likewise appears to be well-intentioned, yet is actually designed to increase Othello's suspicions. In this passage Iago emphasizes the importance of reputation, saying that for a person's money to be stolen is ultimately meaningless, yet if his "good name" is ruined that leaves him "poor indeed." This passage shows the power of Iago's cunning strategy of undermining Othello. On the surface, he appears to be helping Othello by providing rational and wise advice; in reality, he is laying the foundation for Othello's coming frenzied paranoia. 

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"A horned man's a monster and a beast."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.77
Explanation and Analysis:

Overcome with anguish about Desdemona, Othello has had an epileptic fit, during which time Cassio briefly enters and advises Iago on how to revive Othello. With Cassio offstage gain, Othello has regained consciousness and immediately accuses Iago of mocking him. Iago, bewildered, says that he hasn't, to which Othello responds "a horned man's a monster and a beast." At the time, folklore held that a cuckold––a man whose wife was unfaithful––would grow horns, making his humiliated status visible to the rest of society. Although irrational, this clearly represents a significant fear for Othello. Not only would Desdemona's infidelity ruin his reputation as a noble and manly husband, it would confirm the racist beliefs that, as a Moor, Othello is more like an animal or supernatural creature than a human. 

Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him—thus."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.401-417
Explanation and Analysis:

Thanks to Emilia, Othello has finally discovered Iago's scheme, and after Iago kills Emilia, Othello stabs Iago, wounding him but not killing him. Lodovico, meanwhile, has told Othello that he must accompany him back to Venice and give up his position of general. In response, Othello delivers a speech in which he asks the other characters to describe him in the future as he is and not to exaggerate either his good or bad qualities. He admits that, due to being "perplexed in the extreme," he threw away something more precious than anything else. At the end, he asks that they remember the time he killed a Turk with a sword, and parallels the act by stabbing himself. 

Othello's final speech is complex, and betrays Othello's ambiguous judgment of himself and the situation. His request that he neither be overly praised or condemned after death suggests that he is frustrated by a lifetime of being judged according to racist stereotypes, in addition to the pressure of maintaining an honorable reputation. His use of the word "base" in the reference to the Judean who threw the pearl away shows that he blames his own misjudgment for having killed Desdemona. At the same time, however, he notes that he is not "easily jealous" by nature and thus emphasizes Iago's role in misleading him.

Othello's final words about killing the Turk indicate that he wishes to be remembered as a loyal Venetian soldier; by comparing that act to stabbing himself, he implies that his suicide is almost a kind of service to the state of Venice. This aligns with the narrative arc of classical tragedy, which dictates that once the tragic hero has died, a proper, stable hierarchy of power can be restored.