William Shakespeare

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Appearance vs. Reality Theme Analysis

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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.
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon

The tragic plot of Othello hinges on the ability of the villain, Iago, to mislead other characters, particularly Roderigo and Othello, by encouraging them to misinterpret what they see. Othello is susceptible to Iago's ploys because he himself is so honest and straightforward. As Iago puts it: "the Moor is of a free and open nature/ That thinks men honest that but seem to be so; and will as tenderly be led by th' nose/ As asses are" (2.1.391-4)

In Othello, Shakespeare plays with the idea of unreliable reality in a number of ways. The language of the play, which time and again refers to dreams, trances, and vision, constantly highlights the way in which what seems to be real may actually be fake. In addition, Shakespeare extends the theme of appearance vs. reality to include the art of playwriting and acting. As he develops his plot against Othello, Iago creates scenes within scenes. He sets up encounters between two characters and putting a third in the position of a spectator. For instance, he has Othello watch Cassio and Desdemona speak, and he has Othello watch him speak with Cassio about Bianca. In each case, Iago manipulates Othello so that Othello sees the appearance that Iago wants him to see, rather than the reality of what is actually happening. In this way, Iago becomes a kind of "director"—he even directly addresses the audience through his many soliloquies—and Shakespeare draws attention to the way that a playwright and actors create an appearance onstage that tricks the audience into seeing something other than reality.

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Appearance vs. Reality ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Othello related to the theme of Appearance vs. Reality.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
"When my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.67-71
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t'incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight."
Related Characters: Brabantio (speaker), Othello, Desdemona
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.2.82-90
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"Oh heavy ignorance! Thou praisest the worst best."
Related Characters: Desdemona (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 2.1.158-159
Explanation and Analysis:
"If it 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:
"Her eye must be fed."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 2.1.246
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.100-102
Explanation and Analysis:
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.195-197
Explanation and Analysis:
"This honest creature doubtless
Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.283-284
Explanation and Analysis:
"This fellow's of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.299-301
Explanation and Analysis:
"Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years – yet that's not much –
She's gone."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 3.3.304-3.3.308
Explanation and Analysis:
"Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 3.3.412
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"Her honor is an essence that's not seen;
They have it very oft that have it not."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 4.1.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:
"A horned man's a monster and a beast."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.77
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"I told him what I thought, and told no more
Than what he found himself was apt and true."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 5.2.212-213
Explanation and Analysis: