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Othello Warfare Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #1

Despise me
If I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capped to him: and, by the faith of man,
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuffed with epithets of war,
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators. For, 'Certes,' says he,
'I have already chose my officer.'
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damned in a fair wife,
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster—unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the togèd consuls can propose
As masterly as he. Mere prattle, without practice
Is all his soldiership. (1.1.9-28)

Iago claims that he hates Othello because Othello passed him over for a promotion and chose Michael Cassio as a lieutenant instead. Iago also says that Cassio doesn't know any more about warfare than a housewife or a spinster does – he's never been on the battlefield and his knowledge of war is more "bookish" than experiential. This passage speaks to the way warfare is considered a man's realm (women didn't participate in battle). It also raises the question of why Iago hates Othello so much – Othello's refusal to promote Iago is just one of several reasons Iago gives for setting out to destroy the general.

Quote #2

Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,
Yet, for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love—
Which is indeed but sign. (1.1.171-174)

After stirring up trouble for Othello with Brabantio, Iago says he needs to get lost because it wouldn't look right for him to be present when his general is confronted by Desdemona's father. For now, Iago says he needs to pretend he loves Othello. What's interesting to us about this passage is the way Iago uses the language of war to describe his relationship with Othello – he'll "show out a flag" as a sign of his loyalty (kind of like waving a peace sign when you have every intention of attacking your enemy). Although Iago is an ensign (the lowest rank of commissioned officers), he acts more like a brilliant general as he wages psychological warfare against Othello throughout the play.

Quote #3

The tyrant custom, most grave senators,
Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war
My thrice-driven bed of down. I do agnize
A natural and prompt alacrity
I find in hardness, and do undertake
These present wars against the Ottomites.
Most humbly therefore bending to your state,
I crave fit disposition for my wife.
Due reference of place and exhibition,
With such accommodation and besort
As levels with her breeding. (1.3.262-272)

Without hesitation, Othello puts aside his new bride to dash off to the war, which seems to suggest that he values his position in the military above his love. On the other hand, we could also point out how Othello goes out of his way to make sure his new wife will be taken care of while he's away.

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