Michael Cassio, the lieutenant who supposedly stole away Iago’s coveted promotion in Shakespeare’s Othello, is a strange sort of character. He shows great appreciation of other people; he is radiant with truth and honor; and yet he patronizes a prostitute, Bianca. This essay will delve into the character of Cassio.
Blanche Coles in Shakespeare’s Four Giants comments on the character of Cassio:
In a casual reading of Othello, it may seem that the character of Cassio is not sufficiently well drawn, because, for reasons connected with his portrayal of Iago, Shakespeare delays the full characterization of Cassio until almost the end of the play. However, we have a number of brief revelations of his personality that mark him distinctly – in his genuine anxiety for Othello’s safety, in his abstaining from taking part in the bold and suggestive comments of Iago to the two women as they wait for Othello’s ship and, a little later, in his sincere regret about the loss of his reputation after he has partaken of the wine which Iago has forced upon him. (85-86)
Cassio makes his first appearance in the play in Act 1 Scene 2, when he is conducting the official business of the duke of Venice, namely the request of the “haste-post-haste appearance / Even on the instant” of the general because of the Ottoman threat on Cyprus. Brabantio’s mob briefly delays matters, and then Cassio disappears from the stage until Act 2. He disembarks in Cyprus and graciously announces: “Thanks, you the valiant of this warlike isle, / That so approve the Moor!” After chatting with Montano and other gentlemen of the isle, he welcomes Desdemona, “our great captain’s captain,” ashore: “The ric…
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…s corpse produces a letter which “imports the death of Cassio to be undertook / By Roderigo” – another emotional revelation for Michael Cassio. Finally, the ultimate emotional blow to the ex-officer comes when Othello stabs himself and dies: “This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart.”
As “lord governor” of the island of Cyprus now, Michael Cassio has charge of the “censure of this hellish villain, / The time, the place, the torture.” Lodovico appeals to Cassio to let his justice, not his mercy prevail: “O, enforce it!”
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare’s Four Giants. Rindge, New Hampshire: Richard Smith Publisher, 1957.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, there is present through most of the play such an overwhelming amount of evil that the audience can scarcely remain undisturbed.
Alvin Kernan’s “Othello: an Introduction” explains the diabolism existing under the name of “honest Iago”:
“Honest Iago” conceals beneath the exterior of the plain soldier and blunt, practical man of the world a diabolism so intense as to defy rational explanation – it must be taken like lust or pride as simply a given part of human nature, an anti-life spirit which seeks the destruction of everything outside the self. (75)
Even the imagery in the drama has its evil aspect. Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the instances of diabolic imagery in the play as they relate to the infecting of the Moor by the ancient:
The same transference from Iago to Othello may be observed in what S. L. Bethell called diabolic imagery. He estimated that of the 64 images relating to hell and damnation – many of them are allusions rather than strict images – Iago has 18 and Othello 26. But 14 of Iago’s are used in the first two Acts, and 25 of Othello’s in the last three. The theme of hell originates with Iago and is transferred to Othello only when Iago has succeeded in infecting the Moor with his jealousy. (22)
In his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, A. C. Bradley gives an in-depth analysis of the brand of evil which the ancient personifies:
Iago stands supreme among Shakespeare’s evil characters because the greatest intensity and subtlety of imagination have gone to his making, and because he illustrates in the most perfect combination th…
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… 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Wayne, Valerie. “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello.” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed Valerie Wayne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.
— — –. Introduction. The Folger Library General Reader’s Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. New York: Washington Square Press, 1957.