Every year in the city where I live they have a Shakespeare Festival. The festival is free and offers the opportunity to watch one of Shakespeare’s plays on an outdoor stage in a beautiful local park. The evening was nice and balmy when we went to see Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. In this play Othello is Moor, a general in the service of Venice. He has recently secretly eloped with Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio who is a wealthy Venetian Senator. Barbantio is not happy about the marriage, but is unable to do anything about it because Venice is on the brink of war with Turkey. They both wish to control the island of Cyprus. Othello is sent off to Cyprus, but the war is diverted when the Turkish fleet is destroyed at sea. At this time Othello is appointed to be the Governor of Cyprus and to assume command there. Othello chooses a rich young officer to be his Lieutenant by the name of Michael Cassio. Iago, who is an ensign in Othello’s company, is outraged that he was not chosen for this position. He is so angry and envious, that he sets out to destroy Othello.
Iago works his plan in a variety of ways. First he enlists the help of a rich young Florentine by the name of Roderigo. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, and Iago promises that if he helps him, Iago will help Roderigo gain Desdemona’s love. Next he works to discredit Cassio. He urges Cassio to get drunk one evening and then incites him to fight Roderigo. Because of these actions, Cassio loses his post and Iago is now named Lieutenant.
Merely gaining the position however, is not enough revenge for Iago. Iago now moves to poison Othello’s opinion of his wife. He implies through innuendo that Desdemona has been unfaithful to Othello. Since Iago’s wife Emilia works as an assistant to Desdemona, Iago is able to obtain a special handkerchief which was given as a gift to Desdemona by Othello. He then plant this handkerchief among Cassio’s belongings. Cassio upon finding the beautiful handkerchief gives it as a gift to Bianca, a courtesan with whom he is having an affair. Othello sees the exchange and is thus convinced his wife has had an affair with Cassio. Othello then asks Iago to kill Cassio. Iago again appeals to Roderigo to help him kill Cassio. During the fight Cassio is wounded by Roderigo, and Roderigo is killed by Iago to silence him. Meanwhile Othello, enraged and unconsolable with the thought of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, kills his wife. Emilia upon discovering her murdered mistress, weeps as she tells Othello that is was she who gave the handkerchief to Iago. When Iago comes in to inform Othello of the battle, Emilia outs him as a liar. Iago promptly stabs her. She dies embracing her slain mistress. Othello realizing he has fallen for the machinations of a liar and has killed his love as well as lost his honor, then kills himself.
There are many moral lessons one could take away from this play. Yet the most powerful one of all for me, was the devastation that just one liar can do. When I asked my husband what he thought of the play, he said he felt that Shakespeare had made his characters too “dumb” meaning they so easily fell for everything Iago said. I disagreed. I have seen firsthand the machinations of a liar at work. People are SO easily manipulated. We automatically assume people are trustworthy if they have all the outer “credentials” of being so. We almost never assume someone is setting out to deceive us, and that by very defnition puts us behind the curve.
The woman I knew who was a pathological liar, made simple requests of people that on the surface did not seem malicious. They quite willingly did her bidding, unaware they were helping her with her schemes. She also used the technique of innuendo. She might not come out and directly slander someone, but she would play on people’s emotions to leave them with a false impression of people she hated. For example she would “look sad” when someone’s name was mentioned. This implied that the person was “hurting her.” The manipulated person would then feel sorry for her and jump to her defense. She should have received and Oscar. She was the best actress I have ever met. She convincing lied to almost everyone and pathetically duped even her own husband and family. It is true that some people do have the spiritual “gift of discernment.” There are some among us who discern the characters of others more easily than others. They feel a certain sense of pride in that “they would never be duped by anyone.” Yet I wish to say that there are some people who are so masterful at lying and deceit, that they can fool even the most discerning. In truth most of us are easily manipulated and deceived by cunning liars. The woman I referred to did not deceive everyone, but those she did not deceive, she silenced, just like Iago. She did not physically murder people, but she murdered them with her tongue by slander. By slandering their reputation, she ensured that people would not believe them even if they tried to tell the truth about her.
Most people do not think they have any enemies as vicious as Iago. Yet if they are worth their salt as a Christian they have a personal enemy even more malicious than Iago, the devil himself. A lot of people don’t believe in an entity called “Satan.” They do not think he is a real being. Yet scripture clearly declares that Satan was indeed a created being, the most beautiful in fact of all of God’s angels. Angels are God’s messengers. They also worship God around his throne. Satan’s beauty was his downfall, and he desired to be like God. So the Bible tells us he was cast out of heaven and took a certain number of angels with him, which we now refer to as demons. Iago represents the main characteristics of Satan: Iago was a liar, a murderer, and a thief. Satan stands as an enemy to every Christian and he wishes to destroy them, just as Iago hated and wished to destroy Othello. Satan is more vicious, more cruel, more cunning, more sadistic, more deceitful, more malicious, more hateful than Iago ever dreamed of being. He works a lot of his deceit just like Iago did, whispering innuendo’s into our ears. Some of his favorites are: “If God is good, would he really let this happen to you?” “Maybe God doesn’t really love you, maybe he has abandoned you.” “Are you really sure God is going to take care of and protect you?” He always places doubts in the Christian’s mind about God and about his word. He whispers in people’s ears about fellow Christians, getting them to doubt and hate each other, much as Iago got Othello to doubt his own wife. He knows he is a defeated enemy, but he wants to create as much damage as possible on his way down, and he does it quite effectively. The story of Othello is most of all a sobering reminder of a very real enemy and the destruction he wishes to do.