Critics: William Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951)

52William Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘The fifty-two uses of honest and honesty in ‘Othello’ are a very queer business; there is no other play in which Shakespeare worries a word like that.’
obsessionWilliam Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘Everybody calls Iago honest once or twice, but with Othello it becomes an obsession.’
criticism of the wordWilliam Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘Most people would agree with what Bradly, for example, implied, that the way everybody calls Iago honest amounts to a criticism of the word itself;’
MachiavellianWilliam Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘The delight in juggling with the word here is close to the Machiavellian interest in plots for their own sake, which Iago could not resist and allowed to destroy him.’
motive-huntingWilliam Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘But a good deal of the ‘motive-hunting’ of the soliloquies must, I think, be seen as part of Iago’s ‘honesty’; he is quite open to his own motives or preferences and interested to find out what they are.’
vanity and love of plottingWilliam Empson, ‘Honest in Othello’ (1951) ‘Bradley’s answer is in brief that Iago is tempted by vanity and love of plotting. Iago says he likes ‘to plum up his will / In double knavery’, to heighten his sense of power by plots, and Bradley rightly points out that this reassurance to the sense of power is a common reason for apparently meaningless petty cruelties.’

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