Why would Cassio wear an armored coat at this point in the play? He is unaware of lago's hatred of him and plot upon his life. One could imagine that he wears a privy coat because he fears Montano, recovering from the wound drunken Cassio gave him, or one of Montano's Cypriote friends. But if this is the reason, it remains unarticulated in the play, and so improbable. Cassio's wearing a privy coat when he is simply returning home between midnight and one o'clock after having had supper with Bianca (4.2.232-37, 241-42; 5.1.116-18), not preparing himself for a duel or for battle (the usual occasions when privy coats were worn), remains a mystery. Shakespeare probably did not want to kill off Cassio at the beginning of act 5 of Othello, if for no other reason than that his death would shift focus from the tragic deaths of Desdemona and Othello in the next scene. Cassio's armored coat is not dramatically necessary to make the non-lethal wounding of Cassio plausible. The theater audience would have accepted Roderigo's wounding on a dark night a defenseless Cassio in the leg or arm, or lago's doing so, had Shakespeare chosen either possibility. Instead, the privy coat Cassio wears raises the question of why it appears in the play at all. One answer to that question may be theological.
Cassio's saving coat apparently illustrates his theological election. Concerning Othello's appointment of his new lieutenant, lago, who was passed over for promotion to this rank, bitterly tells Roderigo at the play's beginning that Cassio "had th'election" (1.1.26). By the word "election," jealous lago of course means that Othello chose Cassio instead of other candidates, even as Duke Vincentio at the beginning of Measure for Measure, a play written likely in the same year as Othello (1604), tells the old lord, Escalus, that he has "[e]lected [Angelo] our absence to supply" (1.1.19), i.e., chosen him as his deputy to rule in his absence in Vienna. In Cassio's case, the word "election" is especially apropos, for its usage prepares playgoers to associate Cassio with the theological election he later talks about in act 2. When lago, during the celebration of both the Turkish fleet's destruction and Othello's nuptial, has gotten Cassio to drink so much that he is drunk, Cassio exclaims, "Well, God's above all, and there be souls must be saved, and there be souls must not be saved" (2.3.94-96). "It's true, good lieutenant" (2.3.97), lago replies, reminding Cassio (and himself)of the rank that lago thinks he deserves. "For mine own part--no offence to the general, nor any man of quality--I hoped to be saved" (2.3.98-99), Cassio asserts. "And so do I too, lieutenant" (2.3.100), lago responds, ironically, malevolently, again naming the military rank that apparently amounts to a kind of salvation in his embittered mind different from the Christian salvation to which Cassio alludes. "Ay; but, by your leave, not before me," Cassio vainly, tactlessly, concludes: "the lieutenant is to be saved before the ensign" (2.3.101-2). Realizing through the mist of his drunkenness that he has perhaps insulted the ensign [sergeant] lago (as indeed he surely has), Cassio breaks off the conversation: "Let's have no more of this: let's to our affairs. God forgive us our sins!" (2.3.102-3).
Noteworthy in Cassio's claim that "God's above all, and there be souls must be saved, and there be souls must not be saved" is a sense of the arbitrariness, or inevitability, of certain souls' salvation: a sense that men and women cannot alter this inevitability. Informing Cassio's utterance is a Biblical text, Romans 9:15-18, wherein God tells Moses: "1 will have mercie on him, to whome I will shew mercie: and will have compassion on him, on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but in God that sheweth mercie. For the Scripture saith vnto Pharao, For this same purpose haue I stirred thee vp, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my Name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore he hath mercie on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth." (6) This Biblical passage provided a major foundation for the Reformation Protestant doctrine of divine predestination--of the Calvinist dogma that God had mysteriously before the beginning of time elected some souls for salvation and reprobated others to damnation, in heavenly decisions that could not be altered by either human will or deeds. "Predestination was a labyrinth into which one was well advised not to wander," Roland Mushat Frye concludes, "and only Cassio does wander into it, in his maudlin discussion with lago." (7)
One other character of Shakespeare's, Claudio in that other 1604 play Measure for Measure, nevertheless wanders into the predestinarian crux of Romans when he rationalizes his imprisonment for fornication by paraphrasing the Biblical text:
Thus can the demigod Authority Make us pay down for our offense, by weight, The words of heaven. On whom it will, it will; On whom it will not, so; yet still 'tis just. (1.2.120-23)
Since Claudio believes that his secret betrothal handfast with Juliet makes him innocent of the Viennese capital crime of fornication, he utters the word "just" sarcastically, or facetiously, in his utterance "yet still 'tis just," with the result that the theological doctrine of predestination rationalizing the dictatorial law of Vienna is undercut. (8) At least it would have been so for the majority of Church of England Protestants. (9) Nevertheless, in Othello, not only lago but also the Moor himself may be reprobates, men whose hearts God hardens--on whom He will not have mercy. (10) In 1604, the likely year of Othello and Measure for Measure, the Hampton Court Conference occurred, the focus of which was the unsuccessful attempt of godly English Protestants (Puritans) to convince King James and his representatives to revise Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563) so that reprobation would be explicitly mentioned for the first time in ways that would make double predestination official dogma of that Church. (11) Interestingly, Cassio's utterance "there be souls must be saved, and there be souls must not be saved" makes more explicit than the language of Article XVII does the assumed reality of double predestination.
The title of Article XVII of the 1563 Church of England Articles is "Of Predestination and Election." "Election" was the English word regularly used in Shakespeare's time by Protestants to designate those persons predestined for God's salvation. And so, when a playgoer or reader reconsiders lago's assertion at the beginning of the play that Cassio "had th'election" in the light of Cassio's later predestinarian utterances in his act 2 dialogue with lago, he or she wonders whether Cassio is elect in the play's theology. Lieutenant Cassio is, after all, saved before the ensign lago, in the sense that his privy coat preserves him from death while lago's easy detection by Emilia and his subsequent arrest insures his imminent death through execution. By means of Cassio's privy coat, Shakespeare underscores the truth of Cassio's prediction of his preservation. Admittedly, it is Cassio's physical life that is saved. Does this physical preservation augur religious salvation?
Answering this question is complicated by the mixture of denominational signs in Othello. On the one hand, the play, as previously explained, includes traces of Reformation Protestant theology, in its evocation of predestination and suggestion that Othello and lago may be reprobates. In this vein, Shakespeare takes some pains to imply disturbingly that Desdemona, while certainly not a reprobate, is non-elect (in the sense that Article XVII of the Church of England implies that those who are not elect may not be reprobates but simply nonelect). (12) Consistent with this Protestant emphasis is Shakespeare's representation of a heresy of merit in Othello's idea of himself (e.g., 3.3.190-92, 352-59), a personal construct dependent in the Moor's mind upon the performance of meritorious deeds rather than the power of faith. (13) Sixteenth-century Protestants had stereotyped their religion as a theology of faith opposed to a Catholicism of merit based on performed deeds, a merit that reformers claimed invariably entailed the sin of pride. (14) Paradoxically, Cassio's Protestant predestinarian judgment that "the lieutenant is to be saved before the ensign" acquires Catholic coloring in the assumption that merit (presumably exercised in the acquiring of higher military rank) determines priority in religious election.
This Catholic coloring gains strength from a stereotypical Catholic trait of Cassio's, his view of "divine" Desdemona and his religious worship of her in language evocative of the Virgin Mary. Venerating Desdemona as she steps off the ship that has brought her safely through a sea storm to Cyprus, Cassio exclaims,
O, behold, The riches of the ship is come on shore! You men of Cyprus, let her have your knees. Hail to thee, lady; and the grace of heaven, Before, behind thee, and on every hand, Enwheel thee round! (2.1.82-87)
E. A. J. Honigmann hears in this passage an echo of the Catholic "'Hail Mary,' reinforced by an emphasis upon kneeling and by [the phrase] 'the grace of heaven.'" (15) Ironically, Cassio's reverent benediction apparently has no effect in the play; heaven's graces never do "[e]nwheel" Desdemona, protecting her from fatal lago and Othello. (16)
The mixture of Protestant and Catholic theologies detected in Cassio is writ large in the play as a whole. Within Othello, Shakespeare has incorporated two mutually exclusive theologies--a Catholic Morality-play theology of relatively free will, temptation, better and worser angels, and a seemingly voluntary fall from grace; and a predestinarian theology of reprobation, non-election, and gracelessness. For many playgoers, Othello remains Shakespeare's Catholic Morality play par excellence, a drama in which angelic Desdemona and devilish lago vie for the future of Othello's soul. In this reading, Othello, internalizing devilish lago, destroys Desdemona and gives meaning to Emilia's summary judgment about the Moor and his wife: "O, the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!" (5.2.131). The Morality-play reading of Othello's disaster presupposes freedom of choice, that he could have resisted lago's temptation but chose to credit his lies and innuendoes about Desdemona's and Cassio's behavior. In the words of Robert G. Hunter, "the Augustinian, while recognizing that Othello could not have chosen well without prevenient grace, insists that the fall to reprobation is, in some way that is mysterious to human reason, the just result of wrong free choice.... [For the Augustinian] the lines in which Othello sees his love for Desdemona as a bulwark against chaos and perdition ... betray a tendency in Othello toward a terrible error: it is not the love of man for woman that saves us from chaos and perdition, but the love of man for God, and of God for man. The value which Othello places upon Desdemona is, in this view, idolatrous and he suffers the fate of the idolater when his idol seems to fail him." (17) In other words, for a large critical camp, Othello's tragedy stems from his choosing to lapse into sin (and thus damnation), chiefly by not loving God properly. Occurring within the Morality-play paradigm of temptation arising from an agon between better and worser angels, this lapse reveals certain Catholic voluntaristic assumptions about human choice. And yet a predestinarian pattern in the play argues otherwise.
This mixture of denominational theologies in Othello affects what playgoers and readers make of Cassio's special privy coat. When Cassio, to use Steve Sohmer's words, at play's end "is resurrected on a wooden frame and hauled onstage as a ruler of Cyprus [5.2.331].... [he apparently] fulfills the promise of his name, which Shakespeare derived from 'Cassia,' the cinnamon bark that scented the anointing oil of the priests of the Jews since Aaron (Exodus 30.24-26)." (18) According to Sohmer, Cassio's "name identifies this character as 'the anointed,' 'the chosen,' 'the elect.' Cassio's startling, unprepared exaltation is the apotheosis of the play's great theme, the triumph of inscrutable election over earthly merit." (19) Despite the inappropriate connotations of Sohmer's phrase "resurrected on a wooden frame" for Cassio's presentation to the audience (as well as his word "exaltation"), this commentator on Othello can cause us to become aware of a different religious dimension of Cassio's character. Considered in this context, Cassio's armored privy coat could be associated perhaps with the Christian armor of St. Paul. In an episode of the later dramatic romance Pericles that is usually attributed to Shakespeare (rather than his collaborator), act 2, scene 1, Walter Cohen has judged that "the fishermen [on the shore of Pentapolis] are literally, like St. Peter, fishers of men. Amid talk of devouring whales ... they fish out the Jonah-like figure of Pericles whom the sea hath cast upon [their] coast." (20) The fishermen's retrieval of rusty armor from the sea shortly after they rescue Pericles draws the messianic fisher of men, Paul, into the episode. Caught in the Second and Third Fisherman's net, the armor, part of Pericles' "heritage" which his father bequeathed him, becomes his means to "repair" himself (2.1.120-26). This armor, according to Pericles, was a "shield" between his father and death, often saving his life (2.1.127-30). "'In like necessity,'" Pericles reports his father as having told him, "'may't defend thee'" (2.1.130-31). In the dense Judeo-Christian context of this scene of this late dramatic romance, this armor, presented by a "fisher of men," figures as the Pauline armor of God, the salvatory symbolic armor that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:11-17. In this respect, Peggy Munoz Symonds cites episodes in Book I, chapters 10 and 17, of Sir Philip Sidney's New Arcadia (1590), a prose romance generally thought to be a source for Pericles, wherein suits of rusty armor refer to "some spiritual value system," most likely that of the Pauline armor of God. (21) For Symonds, "the mystical rusty armor of Sidney's Musidorus and of Spenser's Redcrosse Knight (in The Faerie Queene) provide direct literary links between the rusty armor of Pericles' father and St. Paul's Biblical armor of God." (22) In keeping with this religious allusiveness, the armor provided by the fishermen resurrects Pericles from despair over his bankrupt condition, from destitution after shipwreck, by giving him the heroic identity and means to win Princess Thaisa and begin a new life. (23)
Considered in the Protestant predestinarian context of Othello, a setting most explicitly articulated in the play by Cassio, this character's privy coat seems to resemble the symbolic armor of St. Paul in its protective effect, if not in its form and outward manifestation. Partly because the characters appear in radically different genres (allegorical epic and drama), few readers would think of directly comparing Spenser's Redcrosse Knight and Shakespeare's Cassio. In this case of armor, my emphasis falls upon general resemblance of symbolic literary function rather than upon any kind of equation involving character. Even then, general resemblance foregrounds certain problems in giving Cassio's coat a specific religious symbolic value. Stress falls upon the word "apparently" in the original claim, retrospectively regarded, that Cassio's saving coat apparently illustrates his theological election. In the first place, Cassio is an odd character to identify as elect in a Reformation Protestant sense of the term. Arguing that Cassio survives at play's end, as Eileen Cohen does, because he represents the play's "mirror of virtue" is difficult. (24) Admittedly, graceful, mannered Cassio does indeed seem to have the "daily beauty" in his life that envenoms lago and drives the ensign to plot the lieutenant's death (5.1.18-20). Yet early modern English Protestants, especially godly Protestants, would hardly agree that polite manners and graceful behavior, by themselves, manifest saving election.
To make her case, Cohen must distort or ignore certain details of Cassio's characterization. In the play's mixed theology, Cassio reveals Catholic character traits more so than Protestant ones. His criterion for election, one recalls, is vertical military rank, earned by meritorious deeds rather than justified by faith alone. Cassio's despair over his supposedly lost reputation, demolished presumably by Othello's cashiering him (2.3.250-62), reflects his belief in the importance of personal merit in fashioning character, even identity. When lago attempts to "console" Cassio by asserting that "'[r]eputation' is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit, and lost without deserving" (2.3.259-61), the ensign implicitly says, cunningly, that merit is important in creating reputation, because he cites the exception when it sometimes is not present in the "deserving" man.
Furthermore, the Catholic, that is to say, Marian, overtones of Cassio's idolatrous veneration of Desdemona coexist with his whoremongering, a dramatic fact that makes Cassio representative of a widespread tendency toward destructive stereotypic bifurcation of women manifested throughout early modern English culture and that of later periods. This uncomplimentary combination makes Cassio an even more surprising candidate for Christian election. Quite a few years ago, I argued that Shakespeare, as part of his dramatization of Protestant predestination in Othello, may have made Desdemona's deeply disturbing desire to cling to life at any cost a sign in the death scene that she was non-elect. (25) This debatable and risky claim rests, I argued then, upon the absence in Desdemona's life of the closure and calm typical of early modern Protestant accounts of the deaths of elect persons, a closure and calm described by Barbara Lewalski and contemporary polemicists such as Richard Rogers, Arthur Dent, and William Perkins. (26) My argument in this case involved the ultimate claim that, in Othello, Shakespeare may have been implicitly endorsing a more tolerant theology within the Church of England, a theology represented by Richard Hooker for example, by showing the outrageousness of the possibility of the non-election of someone as fully Christian in her attitudes as Desdemona proves to be. This highly speculative ultimate claim included the suggestion that Othello participated in the 1604 controversy surrounding the Hampton Court Conference, by indirectly contributing to the arguments against the godly Protestant attempt explicitly to introduce reprobation into the Articles of the Church of England.
Reconsidered in the context of this speculative argument, Cassio's questionable qualification for the special coat of preservation, of election, may be another thrust against the strict predestinarian theology of godly Protestants, of, that is to say, those Puritans whom Shakespeare throughout his career tended to satirize through stage stereotypes such as Malvolio of Twelfth Night and Angelo of Measure for Measure. When Desdemona dies fighting pitiably against her brutal death, Lieutenant Cassio's being saved before the ensign lago seems to matter little.
Maurice Hunt, Baylor University
(1.) It is lago who straightway seriously wounds Cassio by stabbing him from behind in the leg. lago most likely aims for Cassio's leg because he has just heard Cassio in effect say that he is wearing a privy coat, and seen evidence for that claim.
(2.) Quotations of Othello are taken from the text in The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford World's Classics ed., ed. Michael Neill (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006). Quotations of passages in other Shakespeare plays come from texts in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington, 5th ed., (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004).
(3.) Othello, 364. See Charles Edelman, Brawl Ridiculous: Swordfighting in Shakespeare's Plays (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1992), 29.
(4.) All references to the Oxford English Dictionary are to the 13 vol. ed., ed. James A.H. Murray, et al. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993; repr. 1961).
(5.) Editors aware of the allusion to proof armor in Cassio's reference to his coat and to the stated purpose of his sword thrust into Roderigo are M. R. Ridley in Othello, Arden Shakespeare, 2nd ed., (1958; London: Routledge, 1965), 171; and E. A. J. Honigmann in Othello, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ed., (London: Thomson Learning, 2001), 297.
(6.) The Geneva Bible (The Annotated New Testament, 1602 Edition), ed. Gerald T. Sheppard (New York: Pilgrim P, 1989), 76.
(7.) Roland Mushat Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1963), 147.
(8.) One meaning of the word "handfast" in Shakespeare's time was "[a] contract or covenant, spec. a betrothal or marriage contract" (O.E.D. II. 4). Shakespeare also uses the word in this sense in Cymbeline: "'The Remembrancer of her, to hold / The hand-fast to her Lord'" (cited in the O.E.D. to illustrate the above definition).
(9.) Arguing that Claudio and Juliet's handfast constitutes a valid Elizabethan per verba de praesenti marriage contract are many critics, among them Ernest Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare: A Study of Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure, Antony and Cleopatra (1963; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 75-76, 110-11; and Karl Wentersdorf, "The Marriage Contracts in Measure for Measure: A Reconsideration," Shakespeare Survey, 32 (1979): 129-44. While such a marriage was regarded as valid by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, if the couple sexually consummated the marriage before it was sanctioned by the church service of matrimony, they, like Claudio and Juliet, were considered fornicators by Roman Catholics and Puritans, but not so by the large number of non-Puritan, more traditional Church of England Protestants (Wentersdorf 134-44).
(10.) See Maurice Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit in Othello," Comparative Drama, 30 (1996): 346-76; rev. and rpt. in Maurice Hunt, Shakespeare's Religious Allusiveness: Its Play and Tolerance (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2004), 97-125; and Steve Sohmer, "The 'Double Time' Crux of Othello Solved," English Literary Renaissance, 32 (2002): 214-38, esp. 235-38.
(11.) Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit in Othello," 348-51. Before the Protestant Reformation, and at times during the sixteenth century, Predestination was understood in the single sense of divine election for heavenly salvation, or bliss. The phrase "double predestination" has been consistently used to identify the Calvinist belief that men and women have been before the beginning of time either divinely elected for salvation or divinely reprobated to damnation, with no tertium quid possible. As framed in 1563, Article XVII of the Church of England Articles could be understood as implying the possibilities of either election or non-election. Since it was never mentioned, reprobation (with its attendant damnation) was implied only in a circuitous fashion. The closest that framers of the 1563 Article XVII came to the Calvinist notion of predestined reprobation, that God had mysteriously and unchangeably consigned to damnation some Christian souls, occurs in this oblique comment: "so, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness [recklessness] of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation" (E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England [London: Longmans, Green, 1947], 219.) Forms of the word "reprobation" were especially heard in London in 1604. Gratiano's imagination of Brabantio's "fall to reprobance" (5.2.207) appears in Othello, while the Provost in Measure for Measure calls the incorrigible prisoner Barnadine, a "reprobate" (4.3.74), one of only three usages in the canon.
(12.) See Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit," 355-67.
(13.) Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit," 354-55.
(14.) Christopher Hill, "Protestantism and the Rise of Capitalism," Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1975), 81-102, esp. 82-83.
(15.) Othello, 167.
(16.) This point is also made repeatedly in terms of the Marian imagery of Othello by R. Chris Hassel Jr., "Intercession, Detraction, and Just Judgment in Othello," Comparative Drama, 35 (2001): 43-67.
(17.) Robert G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgments (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1976), 130-31.
(18.) Sohmer, 235-36.
(19.) Sohmer, 236.
(20.) Walter Cohen, "A Reconstructed Text of Pericles, Prince of Tyre," The Norton Shakespeare, gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 1997), 2709-17, esp. 2712-13. Also see Peggy Munoz Symonds, "The Iconography of Transformed Fish in Shakespeare's Pericles: A Study of the Rusty Armor Topos in the English Renaissance," Shakespeare and the Christian Tradition, ed. E. Beatrice Batson (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen P, 1994), 121-61, esp. 124-25, 130.
(21.) Symonds, 145-46.
(22.) Symonds, 158.
(23.) See Maurice Hunt, "Shakespeare's Pericles and the Acts of the Apostles," Christianity and Literature, 49 (2000): 295-309, esp. 302.
(24.) Eileen Z. Cohen, "Mirror of Virtue: The Role of Cassio in Othello," English Studies, 57 (1976): 115-27.
(25.) Hunt, "Predestination and the Heresy of Merit in Othello," 362-66.
(26.) Barbara K. Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1979), 13-27; Richard Rogers, Seaven Treatises (London: H. Lownes, 1605), 523, 525, 576; Arthur Dent, The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven: wherein euery man may cleerly see, whether he shall be saued or damned (London: Edw. Bishop, 1607), 235; William Perkins, The Works, ed. Ian Breward (Berkshire: Sutton Courtenay P, 1970), 245-46, 247.