Reputation can make or break an individual. It determines how people view one another and it also decides how people treat and react to each other. In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the monster, Victor Frankenstein and Elizabeth Lavenza face struggles with their reputation and how it defines them. Also, in Othello by William Shakespeare, Iago, Othello and Desdemona are presented with similar struggles to the ones the characters in Frankenstein face.
The presentation of reputation in both works allows the readers to understand how the characters interpret each other, how reputation can cause an inner struggle within a character and how reputation can cause a characters ultimate downfall. Reputation plays a large role in how the characters interpret each other. In these particular works, reputation gives a false understanding of two specific characters. In Frankenstein, the monster is completely misunderstood by the people around him. His grotesque appearance gives him a violent reputation, which even the monster himself recognizes.
The monster says, “I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man” (Shelley, 119). Although the monster does display acts of violence during the duration of the novel, killing William Frankenstein for example, it is because he was thrown into a world with no one similar to him. He doesn’t understand how to act, and also he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of right and wrong. The monster just hopes for understanding, love and attention from anyone, but especially from his creator.
When the monster says, “Cursed, cursed creator? Why did I live? Why in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of life which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not” (Shelley, 137), it becomes visible to the audience that the monster is aware the he is unnatural and it displays his confusion towards his own creation. A being with a truly evil nature would and could not wonder why they were created. Additionally, if he was indeed evil, he would not be pitying himself or feelings remorse about anything. Another character that is misunderstood because of his reputation is Iago.
In this case, Iagos false reputation is what causes him to be so successful in his mission to take down Othello. Othello repeatedly refers to Iago as, “most honest” (2. 3. 6), which the audience knows to be incorrect. Othellos belief in Iagos so called honest nature and their friendship is what leads Othello to be blinded by the tricks Iago is playing. Iagos true nature is pure evil. He is constantly referred to as Devil Incarnate because he is conniving, vindictive, and he is able to commit terrible acts without feeling remorse. Iagos deception ignited Othellos doubts in Cassio and Desdemona.
In addition, he has directly caused Roderigos death and he is indirectly the cause of Desdemonas death. At the start of the play, Iago says, “Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty / But seeming so for peculiar end” (1. 1. 60-61). He’s saying that he does everything for himself, not for Othello and that his actions are not to be mistaken for love and respect of duty. Othello is supposedly his best friend, yet Iago goes against him anyways. Emilia, Iagos wife, is stabbed by her own husband because she knows the truth about his tricks and he cannot risk the truth getting out.
When it comes to power, Iago will stop at nothing to attain it. Along with interpretation, reputation can also have an enormous contrast with a characters personality. Through the use of his reputation, the readers see Victor Frankenstein change immensely. Victor holds a reputation of being a kind man with an overwhelming intelligence. He says, “curiosity, earnest research to learn rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember” (Shelley, 25). He’s always had a passion to learn and this is where the theme of danger of knowledge can come into play.
Victor begins to struggle with his behaviour in comparison to his reputation. He tries to play God by putting together body parts from different users and it fails miserably for him. When Victor sees the monster he has created, he says, “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley, 49). Only when he sees the monster does Victor realize the error of his ways. He believes that by pretending that the monster was never created, that he will essentially go away, but that is not the case.
The monster begins to wreak havoc in an attempt to get the attention he craves from his creator. The creation and the acts of rebellion from the monster cause Victor to become ill and that’s how Robert Walton finds him in The Arctic, which the readers learn in the letters Walton sends to his sister, Margaret. Victor faces an internal battle between his actions, his conscience, and his reputation, which causes his illness and his death at the end of the book. Othello also faces the struggle with his reputation.
Othello is introduced as a confident, well spoken, and well respected character. Every other character in the play, even Iago can agree that Othello is, “of a free and open nature” (1. 3. 390). Iago is commenting on Othellos personality and he’s basically saying that Othello is very straightforward. Othello is appointed Governor of Cyprus and is responsible for keeping up with the expectation everyone has of him. The first signs of his inner struggle are seen when he begins to believe what Iago is telling him. Othello orders Iago to gather more information about Cassio and Desdemona.
Othello begins changing the moment Iago mentions a possible relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. Othello is skeptical at first, but becomes convinced when Iago tells him that Cassio has Desdemonas handkerchief, which was Othellos first gift to her. He then begins to become more observant of what Desdemona does, and eventually, he starts to plan Cassio and Desdemonas demise. Othello ends up killing Desdemona and that’s when Lodivico and Gratiano compare him to his reputation. Lodivico says, “O, thou Othello, that wert once so good” (5. 2. 288).
This testimonial from Lodivico shows the readers that Othello has completely changed and lost against his struggle. His reputation and his personality are now polar opposites. Othello has lost the respect of his peers and his position as Governor of Cyprus. Lastly, in both works, reputation is responsible for causing two characters downfalls. Elizabeth Lavenza is the type of stereotypical woman that is kind and would do anything for her husband. Elizabeth has always been considered to be beautiful and her beauty can be seen as an advantage and a disadvantage for her.
The Frankenstein family picked Elizabeth out of many children at the adoption agency because of her image and her image has also gotten her into a relationship, and soon to be marriage with Victor. Even though her beauty has helped her, Elizabeth has been nothing more than just, “a pretty present for Victor” (Shelley, 24). Elizabeth is the type of wife that supports everything her husband does and she would never go against him. Towards the ending of the book, the monster kills Elizabeth on the night of her marriage to Victor.
The monster does this as a form of punishment for Victor, since he destroyed the female monster. The monsters gives Victor a warning by saying, “I shall be with you on your wedding night” (Shelley, 173), and Victor misunderstands the warning. He believes that the monster is coming after him and because of that, he leaves Elizabeth unattended and vulnerable to the monster. Elizabeth and Victor knew each other since childhood, and not once did Elizabeth over step the boundary of getting into Victors personal business. Elizabeth died because of the man she would do anything for.
She died because she fits the reputation of a blinded woman in a relationship. Desdemona is also a woman who is seen as a personal possession. At first she belonged to her father, Brabantio, and the readers see an example of this when Iago and Roderigo tell Brabantio that he’s been robbed of something, which is his daughter. After Othello marries Desdemona, she is considered his. Although Othello treats Desdemona with love and respect, her reputation is still a wife that is considered an object, and a wife that would never go against her husband.
Desdemona obeys every command she is given. An example of this is Othello telling Desdemona to go to her bed chamber and send away Emilia, and after Desdemona does what he says, she tells Emilia that, “It was his bidding; therefore good Emilia/ Give me my nightly wearing and adieu/ We must not displease him” (4. 3. 15-17). This specific example is about something as minor as sleep, but Othello also commands her about more serious things. Although Desdemona is the same as her reputation for majority of the play, there is one time where she isn’t.
She asks Othello to give Cassio another chance even when Othello tells her that he doesn’t wish to speak with Cassio. This one difference from her reputation is the start of her downfall. Othello becomes sure of the love affair between Desdemona and Cassio and he begins to plot her death and then eventually murder her by suffocation. Even in death Desdemona stays true to her reputation. When Emilia asks Desdemona who is responsible for her murder, she says, “nobody; I myself” (5. 2. 125). Othello just committed the ultimate betrayal by causing her passing and she still defends him.
Desdemona attempts to protect Othellos reputation by clinging to her own. In both works studied, reputation can be used to a characters advantage or disadvantage. Iago benefits from his reputation, while the monster gets pushed into isolation and more violence. The contrast between Othello at the end of the play and his original reputation cause his struggle, while Victor’s actions cause his illness. Additionally, both Elizabeth and Desdemona die because of the reputation that is put onto them. Although sometimes reputations can be viewed as a good thing, more often than not, they bring more trouble than good.
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