Cassio, the true friend

Othello’s opposite

Shakespeare presents Michael Cassio as a dramatic contrast to Othello. Though both are soldiers, Cassio is a learned and sophisticated man. Unlike his master, he has not seen violent action on the battlefield and comes across as a man who reflects rather than resorting to violence. Whilst Othello has come up through the ranks, Cassio comes from the same gentlemanly background as Desdemona and is socially confident. In Act 2 Scene 1 he demonstrates his urbane ability to charm and flatter the ladies in his company, a skill Othello disclaims for himself. 
Cassio’s social standing and reputation for honour is most important to him. He has discovered to his cost that he cannot indulge in too much alcohol so seeks to control the problem. Once he has failed in this respect he is inconsolable:
O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. (Act 2 Scene 3)     

A worthy appointment

Cassio might come across as rather effete except that his feelings of duty, honour, loyalty and friendship are strong. His warm heart becomes apparent as he waits on Sicily praying for his master’s safety, whilst his praise of Desdemona is equally generous, though entirely respectful. He has come to appreciate their merits, and they his, as, in friendship, he facilitated the course of their courtship. Now he wants only happiness for their marriage and peace and prosperity for Cyprus. He shows no signs of selfish ambition, seeking only to serve Othello well and faithfully. Shakespeare’s presentation of Cassio makes it clear that he is true and loyal and doesn’t deserve to be suspected of adultery. 

Cassio’s failings


Cassio is not presented as a saint. Having admitted his low tolerance of alcohol to Iago, he still joins the party that the soldiers are having. In falling into Iago’s trap and getting drunk, he becomes slightly ludicrous to the audience. When this descends into quarrelling and a fight with Roderigo, and then Montano, he is lost for words and overcome with shame. His desperate pleading to be re-instated in Othello’s favour, and the fact that he does this via a female mediator (Desdemona) can come across as slightly pathetic. 


Cassio also has a relationship with Bianca which does him little credit. This ‘good time girl’ has lost her heart to Cassio and hopes to marry him but he is clearly not enthusiastic and he shrugs her off in front of others. Clearly he has had a romance with her, but wouldn’t dream of marrying so far beneath his social background. This attitude would be seen as totally understandable in Shakespeare’s era – he is certainly more courteous to her than Iago and Emilia, who are openly abusive. 

Othello’s successor

Cassio emerges at the end of the play with his reputation intact. His honour and loyalty to Othello echoes that of Desdemona, but as is impossible for her, there is the chance for restitution and reconciliation:
CAS: Dear general, I never gave you cause.  
OTH: I do believe it, and I ask your pardon.      
With his innocence proven by Roderigo’s evidence, and in recognition of his faithful military service, he is promoted to the governorship of Cyprus – a situation which must have been bitter to Iago and demonstrates to the audience that moral uprightness is eventually recognised and rewarded.
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