A Fig of Virtue! Iago's soliloquy is a well-known speech in which he discusses the essence of virtue. Although Iago's speech appears to have the correct meaning to the audience, his motivations were selfish. He obviously wishes Roderigo to keep trying to convince his lover Desdemona, who later married another man named Othello, to change her mind. Iago's views are received by Roderigo, the speech's listener and receptionist. He is obviously quick to listen to the justification Iago gives him because he is not thinking clearly and is overcome with his love for Desdemona. The subject of the soliloquy is human will, which is supposed to guide the humanity according to Iago's beliefs. Opposed to human will, there is human nature- a set of lustful desires capable of creating implications for people who are desperately trying to follow the right pattern in life.

In the first passage of the soliloquy, Iago famously compares virtue to a fig: "Virtue! a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus (Shakespeare 307)." In the 17th century when the play was written, a fig symbolized an inappropriate hand gesture used to describe a disapproval of something by holding a thumb between the index finger and the middle finger and pointing it at the person one disapproves of. By comparing virtue with a fig, Iago shows his disapproval of the virtue. Another meaning of the word fig commonly used at the time is nothing. Thus, by comparing virtue to a fig, Iago points that qualities of the man are not inherent. Any individual can be manipulated into letting go of one seemingly important values by a strong will of another person. Moreover, anyone can choose to let go of values with one's own will if the life forces them to do so. This thought is addressed towards Roderigo's love of Desdemona because Iago clearly does not believe in the constancy of love, Iago suggests that if Roderigo wishes to be with Desdemona, it is only the matter of his will to make it true. If the Freudian interpretation is applied to the metaphor of virtue and fig, a fig could be interpreted as the word that stands for female genitalia. The use of such metaphor shows that Iago is dismissive of women, which explains his treatment of Desdemona later in the play.

The second sentence of the soliloquy is "Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners (Shakespeare 308-309)." This is another way of saying that the human rips what he or she sows. The thought that every person is the gardener of one's own life is common to the Elizabethan era as it translates the ideas of humanism first expressed during Renneisance. The passage "So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs (Shakespeare 310-311)" recreates the humanistic idea that people are God-like creators of their own will. The analogy made by Iago between gardening and the exercise of the free will foreshadows the future plot of the play. The audience is reminded that Iago is a master gardener; hence, he is capable of manipulating Othello into doubt and jealousy in his marriage with Desdemona, or, so to say, plant the seeds of doubt into Othello's mind.

In the third stance, Iago says:" If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions (Shakespeare 314-316)." By making this statement, he reveals his understanding that nature inclines people to act in prosperous ways.

Yet, Iago believes that people have to find the power to balance their naturally inclinedirrational behavior with reason. Again, this statement is addressed to Roderigo's struggle to cope with his undying love to Desdemona. Iago believes that Roderigo has to find the reason to deal with his obsession and take his destiny into his own hands. Of course, the reason of why Iago persuades Roderigo to do so is mostly a desire to manipulate him, but the audience could not but agree with Iago's reasoning.

Iago's monologue studies the struggle between the reason and sensuality that is not particularly new if one considers the context of other Shakespearean plays. The topics the character the character discuss in the scene are not of the high morale, in fact, they can be considered low and basic. Because of this, Shakespeare does not use his common poetic form in the soliloquy and instead chooses to use prose. The prosaic form is chosen to emphasize the earthiness of the argument and to create a more trusting, intimate connection between the characters of Roderigo and Iago. The lack of balance between the reason and sensuality is the central theme in many of the Shakespearean plays and commonly used to indicate the reason of the tragedies to occur. One of the most famous depictions of the conflict between two virtues is in Romeo in Juliet. However, Othello is the play where the conflict is explored in the most vivid details. Othello is the character that later becomes the victim of the conflict between passion and reason. As he becomes in touch with his sensuality, he falls into the chaos of grief and loss. The fact that Shakespeare puts the words of humanism into the mouth of the play's most obvious villain represents an interesting case. Clearly, Shakespeare used this soliloquy to make a social commentary on the philosophy that grew in significance at the time of his life. Shakespeare reveals his remarkable poetic mastery because he forces the audience to agree with the voice of reason of a person who himself possesses no virtues. The content of Iago's ideas throughout the play are wrongful, yet, the audience finds themselves agreeing with Iago's ideas and intentions. The fact that Shakespeare uses Iago as a speaker on the humanistic conflict may also indicate that Shakespeare does not support the ideas of humanism himself. It seems that Shakespeare believes that the faith of the individual is pre-determined, which is made obvious by the plot of his plays, including Othello and Romeo and Juliet. To conclude, William Shakespeare condemned the emerging philosophy of humanism with Virtue! A Fig! soliloquy, and used the monolog as a warning of the consequences of uncontrollable passion. Iago, the man who believes in humanism, dies in the end of the play, and so does Othello, the man led by his passions. Hence, both sides of the argument are revealed to be incorrect, which can mean that deep down, Virtue! A Fig! And Othello in general is Shakespeare's satire on the philosophy of his generation.


Shakespeare, William. Othello. 1st ed., London, Arden Shakespeare, 2008.

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price