Cassio, in Shakespeare’s Othello, is discovered in a drunken brawl. He laments: ‘Reputation reputation, I ha’ lost my reputation!’ (2.3.254).1 Iago replies, ‘You have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser’ (2.3.261–3), but this assertion is absurd (though attractive), since reputation is by definition a social construct, concerned entirely with one’s standing in the eyes of others. In fact, language and reality are always interactive, dependent upon social recognition; reputation is only a specially explicit instance. Meaning, communication, language work only because they are shared. If you invent your own language, no one else will understand you; if you persist, you will be thought mad. Iago is telling Cassio to disregard the social basis of language, to make up his own meanings for words; it is the more perverse because Iago is the great manipulator of the prevailing stories of his society.
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