Monthly Archives: August 2006

Deceit and Deception

It’s getting pretty bad when the third word of the essay is misspelled. And it’s the name of the author, no less.

Deceit and Deception
Jason Carter
English 400-1

In William Shakespear’s Measure for Measure and Othello, one can see the effects of deceit and trickery on the characters and on their actions. In each play, people are tested by those who are not what they appear to be. If they can overcome these deceptions, their problems will be solved and there will be a happy ending. If not, then their problems will not be resolved and they will suffer a tragic ending.

In Othello, the reader can see examples of deceit and misconceptions that remain hidden until the very end. In this play, Iago plays with Othello’s emotions and convinces him that Desdemona is not being faithful to him. He tells Othello that Desdemona is secretly having an affair with Cassio and tries to make Othello believe that she is not a true wife. Iago is attempting to seek revenge against Othello because he was not chosen to be his lieutenant. Throughout the entire play, he hints to Othello that she might be seeing Cassio and that Cassio is not a loyal soldier. He tells Othello:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
III:3 191-193

Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio;
Wear your eye thus, not jealous nor secure.
III:3 224-225

Iago plans to further convince Othello of Desdemona’s disloyalty by planting the handkerchief among Cassio’s belongings:

I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin
and let him find it…
The moor already changes with my poison.
Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood
Burn like the mines of sulphur.
III:3 363, 367-371

Iago already sees his lies taking affect on Othello, but he plans to amplify Othello’s jealous feelings by stealing his handkerchief from Desdemona and giving it to Cassio. Othello is so blinded by Iago’s deception that he truly believes Desdemona is unfaithful, and he kills her in her sleep for her treachery. He is not able to see through Iago’s trickery, and, therefore, he really believes that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him. Only when Emilia reveals Iago’s lying and illusions does Othello understand his mistake. The conflict can be resolved only when the masks come off and the truth is finally revealed. If this revelation happens too late, the story will have a tragic ending.

The duke also deceives his people in Measure for Measure. In this play, the duke has gone to Poland and has left Angelo and Escalus in charge of the city. Actually, the duke disguises himself as a friar and walks among the streets listening to his people and their problems. He realizes that there are problems, but he doesn’t know how to solve them, and he is stepping back and trying to find a solution. Claudio has gotten Juliet pregnant and is going to marry her but is thrown in jail by Angelo. Isabella pleads for his release, which Angelo will grant if she will sleep with him. She refuses and goes to the duke in disguise and tells him her predicament.

The Duke doesn’t throw off his mask and pardon Claudio or punish Angelo. Instead, he forms a plan that will solve everyone’s problems and make most of the people happy. He tells Mariana to sleep with Angelo so that they will have to marry by the end of the play. Meanwhile, Lucio is insulting the duke in front of the “friar,” calling him “A very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow.” He believes that Angelo makes a much better duke, and he says this, unknowingly, to the duke in disguise. Lucio can’t recognize the duke beneath the friar’s costume, and he will pay for his words in the end.

By the end of the play, the duke returns, and Isabella begs for him to punish Angelo for his wickedness. Then the “friar” is asked to appear before the court to defend himself against Lucio’s claims that he had insulted the duke. At this point, Lucio removes the Duke’s disguise and realizes his mistake. The duke punishes Lucio to death for his words and pardons everyone else. He frees Claudio, makes Angelo and Mariana get married, and asks Isabella to be his wife. By putting on a disguise and separating himself, the duke solves everyone’s problems and gets rid of the bad in society.

This is how Shakespeare uses deception and disguises to develop a story. If the characters can’t see through the illusions to what is real, they will suffer. If the disguises are removed and the truth is exposed before it is too late, the problems will be solved and the characters will be happy.