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  • Title: Additional Notes on Othello
  • Author: Jessica Slights
  • ISBN:

    Copyright Jessica Slights. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Additional Notes on Othello

    TLN 53: Whip me such honest knaves!

    With this abrupt exclamation, Iago contemptuously dismisses a traditional model of service which, to his mind, relies on the compliance of menials in their own exploitation. On his account, those foolish enough to bow and scrape in service deserve to be whipped, a punishment usually reserved for those convicted of dishonest behavior. This elision of obedient service with criminality is particularly significant since it is expressed in punning language that is closely associated throughout the play with Iago's own role as untrustworthy servant to Othello. The phrase honest knaves sounds complimentary at first since honest = of good moral character and knave = male servant; however, honest was often reserved in the period as a vague and patronizing term of praise for a social inferior, while knave could refer to "an unprincipled man, given to dishonourable and deceitful practices" (OED Honest adj.3a, 1c; Knave n.2a. 3a). Echoes of this scornful attack on conventional ideals of service echo throughout the play as Iago himself is designated repeatedly and ironically by the epithet honest. See TLN 647, 1296, 1458, 3329, and 3430.