IAGO Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp’d to him: and, by the faith of man, 10
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 stuff’d 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, 20
A fellow almost damn’d 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 toged consuls can propose
As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee’d and calm’d 30
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I–God bless the mark!–his Moorship’s ancient.
RODERIGO By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.
IAGO Why, there’s no remedy; ’tis the curse of service,
Preferment goes by letter and affection,
And not by old gradation, where each second
Stood heir to the first. Now, sir, be judge yourself,
Whether I in any just term am affined
To love the Moor.
I’m not the best at understanding Shakespeare ( I’ve definitely been one of those people that references No Fear Shakespeare) so please bear with me as I try to explain a short excerpt from Othello. First, here is a list of defined words from the original passage that are not typically used in modern-day English:
- Off-capp’d: “oft capped” meaning saluted (he removed his cap)
- bombast: high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people.
- Forsooth: indeed (often used ironically or to express surprise or indignation).
- toged: obsolete, rare
- hangman: an executioner who hangs condemned people.
- Preferment: promotion or appointment to a position or office.
Essentially in this excerpt, Iago rants to Roderigo about Othello and continues to gripe about how he feels wronged. First, Iago talks about how much he dislikes Othello despite everyone else’s opinion. The reason for Iago’s deep hatred is that Othello did not give him the position, lieutenant, that he knows he deserved, but rather gives the position to Michael Cassio who has no real experience in fighting– he can’t even control his wife. Cassio is more of a scholar-type that has studied theories about war, but never has actually implemented them. Iago blames his own loss in position on Cassio. Also, he is angry at Othello since he knows he should have been chosen when his great skills were showcased during the fights in Rhodes and Cyprus. However, Iago is now merely the flag bearer whilst Cassio bears the lieutenant position. Roderigo responds by sharing his sympathies as Iago continues to rant about being stuck with his awful current position.
When Iago describes how Othello refused him, he uses the phrase, “horribly stuff’d with epithets of war.” This is a figure of speech since obviously Othello isn’t literally stuffed with epithets of war, but rather Iago is referring to how Othello continuously talks about war as if he is completely filled up with war-talk. Later, Iago calls Cassio, “this counter-caster.” Counter-caster is like a bookkeeper. This is a figure of speech since Iago continuously calls out Cassio’s lack of experience in war throughout his tirade and especially emphasizes on how Cassio only knows what war is like on paper or through books; thus, calling him a bookkeeper or “counter-caster.” When Iago talks about how Cassio ended up with the liuetenant position, he insists that it is because “preferment goes by letter and affection.” This phrase can be taken literally, but really what it means is that Iago thinks Cassio’s position was given because Othello does what he wants through favoritism and politics.