Irony plays a great role in “The Tragedy of Othello”. The villain, Iago, plans from the very beginning of the play to ruin Othello’s life. All the major characters in the play believe that Iago is an honest and trustworthy person. The tragic irony is that Iago fools them all. Throughout the whole play Iago manipulates the people around him and lies to them. Iago is very distressed, because Michael Cassio was promoted to Othello’s lieutenant instead of himself. This is Iago’s main reason for revenge against Othello.
Iago’s plan is to manipulate Cassio and Desdemona, so that it would appear that they are having an affair; which would break Othello’s heart. Iago does succeed in his plan, because, ironically, everyone in the play believes all his actions and advisements are just, true, and from the heart. Irony, thus, plays a role in the deception of Othello by Iago and in the tragedy of Othello’s response. The irony of the play is demonstrated through situational, verbal, and dramatic irony. There are many cases of these three types of irony in the play.
When situational, verbal, and dramatic irony are used in conjunction; the effect is one of great tragedy and loss. Situational irony is when “the result of an action is the reverse of what the actor expected”(Literary Terms, e-text). There are several cases of situational irony in “The Tragedy of Othello. ” The first case is in Act I Scene III. Brabantio warns Othello of Desdemona’s deceptiveness. Othello says to this, “my life upon her faith”(1. 3. 293). This statement means that Othello believes in Desdemona’s honesty and loyalty so much that he would give up his life if she were untrue.
This is ironic, because later on in the play Othello does suspect Desdemona’s spuriousness and he dies in the end because of his suspicion. A second example of situational irony is in Act II Scene III. Montano tells Iago that Othello “prizes the virtue that appears in Cassio and looks not on his evils”(2. 3. 121-122). This means that Othello trusts Cassio and does not doubt him. This is ironic, because later on in the play Othello believes that Cassio is having and affair with Desdemona. Othello begins to doubt in Cassio’s loyalty to him. Another example of situational irony is in Act III Scene III.
In this scene Othello is telling Iago that he is not a jealous man: “Think’st thou I’ld make a life of jealousy? To follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions? ”(3. 3. 177-179). Othello also tells Iago that he trusts Desdemona: “Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt,…”(3. 3. 187-188). This is ironic, because later on in the play Othello does doubt Desdemona; Othello does become a jealous man, full of distrust and fear. Here is an example of Othello becoming suspicious of Desdemona; “This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart. Hot, hot, and moist.
This hand of your requires a sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer, much castigation, exercise devout; for here’s a young and sweating devil here that commonly rebels”(3. 4. 34-39). These are a few examples of situational irony in “The Tragedy of Othello”. Verbal irony is when there is a “contrast between the literal meaning of what is said and what is meant”(Literary Terms, e-text). There are various cases of verbal irony in “The Tragedy of Othello”. The most obvious example of verbal irony in the play is that several of the main characters refer to the villain Iago as “honest Iago”.
This is very ironic, because Iago is far from honest. Throughout the play Iago is lying, cheating, and manipulating the people around him for his evil purpose of destroying Othello’s life. An example of this is when Iago says to Othello, “My lord, you know I love you”(3. 3. 116). And to this Othello responds, “I think thou dost; and for I know thou’rt full of love and honesty,…(3. 3. 117-188). This dialogue is ironic because Iago really hates Othello and he is not honest with him.
Another example of verbal irony is when Iago says to Roderigo, “What say’st thou, noble heart? ”(1. 301). This is a form of verbal irony, because Iago does not really mean that Roderigo has a noble heart. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and she does not return that love. Roderigo is grief stricken and even talks about committing suicide (which is not what a person with a “noble heart” would do), “It is silliness to live when to live is torment; and then have we a prescription to die when death is our physician”(1. 3. 307-308). Another case of verbal irony is when Iago says to Roderigo, “I have professed me thy friend,…”(1. 3. 332). Iago is far from Roderigo’s friend.
Iago is using Roderigo for his wicked purpose as he reveals in this passage: “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; for I mine own gained knowledge should profane if I would time expend with such a snipe but for my sport and profit”(1. 3. 373-376). Another example of verbal irony is when Iago says to Cassio: “I protest, in the sincerity of love and honest kindness”(2. 3. 306). In this passage, Iago states that he acts out of love and kindness, which is far from the truth. Iago advised Cassio in a way that will facilitate his evil plan of ruining Othello’s life.
In Act III Scene III Iago says to Othello, “My friend is dead; ’tis done at your request”(3. 3. 474). It is ironic that Iago refers to Cassio as his friend since Iago hates and uses him. These are some examples of verbal irony in the play. Dramatic irony is when “the audience knows something that the characters in the drama do not”(Literary Terms, e-text). “The Tragedy of Othello” is packed with dramatic irony until the very end. From the very beginning of the play the audience knows of Iago’s hatred towards Othello and of his plan to ruin his life.
Throughout the play all the characters believe that Iago is honest and true in his actions and advice, when really he is manipulating them to bring about the ruin of Othello. This passage in Act I Scene III proves Iago’s hatred for Othello and his evil plan; “I hate the Moor;…After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear that [Cassio] is too familiar with [Othello’s] wife…. 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”(1. 3. 376, 385-386, 389-392).
Another example of dramatic irony is when Desdemona says to Emilia, “…but my noble Moor is true of mind, and made of no such baseness as jealous creatures are,…(3. 4. 22-24). This is ironic, because as Desdemona speaks; Othello is suspecting her of infidelity. Another case of dramatic irony is when in Act IV Scene I, Lodovico says, “God save you, worthy general”(4. 1. 207). At this point in the play Othello’s character has altered so much that he is not “worthy” and even God could not save him from the underhanded and distrustful person he has become. In Act V Scene II, there is yet another example of dramatic irony.
Othello states, “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. Put out the light, and then put out the light”(5. 2. 6-7). This is so ironic, because Othello believes he must kill Desdemona so that she will not deceive and “betray more men” with her appearance of innocence and honesty. Ironically, Desdemona is innocent and pure. These are a few cases of dramatic irony in the play. Irony plays a very important role in “The Tragedy of Othello”. The combination of situational, verbal, and dramatic irony is very useful in creating an overall feeling of loss and catastrophe in the play.
The role of irony in the play is to create the loss of a great potential in the play. The audience can see that because of Othello’s tragic trust in Iago, miscommunication occurs and disaster follows. The characters, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Emilia, and Roderigo are all intimately close to Iago, and are all manipulated by him. Because of Iago’s reputation of being trustworthy and honest, the characters believe in him without doubt, and that brings about the destruction of Othello and on a greater level; the disintegration of social order.