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How does Shakespeare use dramatic irony in Othello?

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The use of dramatic irony in Othello revolves around “honest Iago.” His actions and misdeeds bring heroes to a tragic end. Roderigo, Cassio, Emilia, and Othello himself trust this man. However, he is just a skillful master of manipulation.

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The effect of dramatic irony plays the utmost importance for this tragedy. It is the leading literary element on which the entire plot is based. From the beginning, the audience can see the mismatch of Iago’s image and his actions. He even states:

Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment 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.
(Act 1, Scene 1).

His skillful deception adds to the irony of “honest Iago.”

This observation adds situational irony to Othello. The viewers expect the character to make the right decision, yet the deceit leads them astray. Othello himself bases his assumptions about others, relying on their reputation and actions. Ironically, he believes in Iago’s lie about Desdemona. So, Othello judges his wife according to what he was told, not what he sees. As a result, he is unable to know the truth.

It is evident to viewers that the words of Iago are filled with sarcasm. Thus, Shakespeare puts a significant value on verbal irony in the tragedy of Othello. Despite being responsible for the drama in Act III, Iago states:

I am your own for ever.
(Act 3, Scene 3)

The audience knows that the situation is the opposite. In fact, Othello fell for Iago’s lies and is now entirely under his control.

The pinnacle of dramatic irony in Othello is the final act of the play. The audience knows about Iago’s nature and his devious plan. However, Othello is unaware of Iago’s villainy. Act 5 reveals the full extent of the dramatic irony of the situation to the main character. Realizing that he is unable to live with what he has done, he kills himself.

Iago creates the tragedy out of his jealousy and hatred through the power of language. His intention to destroy everyone’s lives would not have been achievable without his eloquence. He influences all gullible people who are unable to reveal Iago’s villainy until the end. As soon as his plan becomes clear to others, Iago stops talking:

Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.
(Act 5, Scene 2)

The fact that he stays alive after being stabbed increases the effect of the cruel irony of this tragedy. However, more honorable characters die of the conflict that he sparked.

Shakespeare’s Othello is considered one of his greatest works. It impresses with the suspense it creates for the audience. The fascinating characters, misguided by their expectations and conclusions, play a crucial role. Iago serves as an antagonist with a unique power to sow hatred and mistrust with words alone. He is controlling and harmful to people around him, yet he perfectly plays his role. Othello sets an effective combination of masterfully executed settings and characters. These elements are essential for a masterpiece creation.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "How does Shakespeare use dramatic irony in Othello?" November 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/q/how-does-shakespeare-use-dramatic-irony-in-othello/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'How does Shakespeare use dramatic irony in Othello'. 19 November.

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