by Andreea Calin
The English poet Thomas Gray once said, “Ignorance is bliss”, but a certain character in the Shakespearean tragedy Othello, Cassio–a Florentine amongst Venetians, would definitely disagree. In fact, ignorance almost got him killed. Throughout the play, we do not get a very personal look into Cassio’s world or the workings of his mind. He does not get any great monologues like Emelia or Othello, and he doesn’t have the many “asides” Iago does to inform us of what he wants or what he’s thinking. Given all these things, we can still make the conclusion that Cassio is one of the most shallow characters in the play, and therefore, other characters do not second guess the foul accusations made upon him.
When observing Cassio, we see that he doesn’t have many strong feelings for any of the other characters in the play. He generally makes quick assumptions about the women he meets, and places them into one of two groups: “whores” like his girlfriend Bianca, who “He, when he hears of her, cannot refrain /From the excess of laughter” (IV.i), or saintly, like Desdemona, who Cassio sees as an almost holy figure of innocence and beauty. He likes Othello for giving him his job and respects him because he is an authority figure and slightly older. He likes Iago, much like everyone else, and believes he is an honest man, even letting loose at the bacchanal when Iago tells him to. With all this information on how Cassio feels about others, we can conclude that he is quite impartial, and doesn’t care to analyze people deeper than at face-value; he is oblivious to the true characters of others because he chooses to be. Not only is he oblivious, but also shallow. These two traits of his are interrelated; he doesn’t see past face value, and therefore he only sees the face-value of people–he is shallow. He reveals this trait of his when he worries about his reputation, not the job, when he gets fired, and he’s quite mean and careless with Bianca, who very clearly has strong feelings for him. Cassio is a man who many are jealous of, and for good reason. Iago hates him because he has everything he wants; he says of Cassio, “a great arithmetician,/One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,/A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife”(I.i). Desdemona likes Cassio, probably because he worships her and is kind to her, and good looking, and she has her husband’s approval of him–Othello obviously thinks he’s at least an okay guy if he assigns him a high position. Iago fully convinces two characters, Othello and Roderigo, that Desdemona is cheating on Othello with Cassio. Though the two are jarred when Iago first tells them, they accept what he says as the truth. This is due to, in part, the fact that everyone trusts Iago, and thinks of him as the most honest man of all the characters. On the other hand though, if Cassio were less good-looking, less privileged, and didn’t have everything he wanted, maybe they wouldn’t have believed Iago, even with his honest reputation. They believe Iago because it’s not hard to conceive that Cassio could make the general’s young, beautiful wife fall for him hard enough to cheat on her new husband. In general, Cassio’s character arc isn’t much of an arc; his character doesn’t change throughout the play, and he remains 2D. He floats through the story, reveling in all he has and all of his privilege.
We never really get to understand the true nature of Cassio, or how much more there is to him than what we see. Personally, I would have liked to learn more about Cassio. His obliviousness gives him a naivety and childishness that is intriguing, and makes me feel a little bad for him that he got thrown under the bus by Iago and caught up in all this mess. Cassio’s privilege prevails though, because in the end, he is one of the few characters who remains alive, and even gets to keep his high status as the man in control of Cyprus. Guess he’s not so much of a cassastrophe, huh?