What is honor and how is one supposed to restore it when it is jeopardized? Should one place one’s honor (or whatever he or she considers to be his honor – reputation, pride or suchlike) above all the other interests?
The will to restore one’s honor is a praiseworthy feature, but too often it becomes a weak spot for people who consider it to be the most important aspect of their lives. Very often we can see people, striving to keep or restore their reputation, or not willing to let anything that shows them in an unfavorable light, to become known to public, do things so stupid that they do not correspond to their actual social standing in any way. A very good example of such a situation may be seen in Othello, a tragedy by Shakespeare.
Othello, a clever statesman, an excellent general, a Moor that managed to reach a very high standing in Venetian society, being constantly handicapped by his ancestry, a successful man happily married to the woman he loves, easily falls prey to the treachery of a single villain who knows that his foible is his obsession with honor – his own and that of his wife. Othello is often described as a jealous person who brings death and destruction over his head only because of his passionate nature – nothing can be more wrong. He doesn’t want to kill Desdemona – he doesn’t kill her in a fit of rage, he does it understanding what he does, and his only wish is to keep his and his wife’s honor. He refers to himself as to “An honorable murderer, if you will; For nought I did in hate, but all in honor” (Shakespeare, 2004).
As we can see, this murder has nothing to do with passion or jealousy – it came as a result of Othello’s understanding of how a person is supposed to defend his good name. Of course, at the beginning, he does everything to disprove the suspicions planted inside his head by Iago, but the latter performs his plan way too smoothly for unsophisticated Othello to notice that everything he says is a lie. Only when Othello thinks that Desdemona’s unfaithfulness is proved, he resorts to the last method of restoring his reputation – killing the promiscuous wife.
Of course, the story described by Shakespeare may seem to be grotesquely over-emphasizing Othello’s naiveté and Iago’s treachery, making heroes to overreact and so on; but still, it shows us what happens when somebody lets his or her wish not to lose one’s honor (which can be very often boiled down to “not to look ridiculous”) to rule one’s actions in serious matters. There is hardly any other passion that is more powerful than the one that tells us to be afraid of other people’s laughter; there is nothing many people are afraid of more than not to be treated seriously. It is pride, not honor that we speak about. In everyday life the results of such behavior may not be so disastrous, but we should still remember that what is told in literature is often our reality reflected in a peculiar way.
Shakespeare, W. (2004) The Tragedy of Othello. New York: Washington Square Press.