Shakespeare’s play Othello is a masterpiece of trickery and tragedy driven by the villain, Iago. Early on in the play, it is revealed that Desdemona, the wife of Othello (the Moor and the play’s namesake), married without her father’s consent or knowledge. The Duke, the speaker of the below lines from Act 1 Scene 3, sees no reason to be opposed to the marriage and offers Desdemona’s father some consolation and a bit of advice in how to get along with the couple for the future. In the lines, Shakespeare makes use of metaphor to share his opinion in the later lines, that “the robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief; he robs himself that spends a bootless grief.” By drawing a comparison between Othello and a thief that stole Desdemona from him, the Duke consoles Desdemona’s father by mirroring his own opinion of Othello as a knave but also cushioning their relationship with words such as “the robb’d that smiles” to advise him to forego any inkling of revenge.
Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence,
Which, as a grise or step, may help these lovers
Into your favour.
When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
In Act 3 Scene 3, Iago shares quite a bit of his schemes with the reader through a sizable aside. In it he plans to create jealousy between Cassio and Othello by creating a perceived conflict of interest between them with Desdemona’s handkerchief (the “napkin” mentioned in the first line). Iago compares “trifles light as air” to “proofs of holy writ” in the jealous man’s eye, The metaphor serves to emphasize Othello’s (the Moor’s) disposition with respect to Desdemona. The poison Iago refers to carries heavy irony with it as Othello refers to Iago as “honest” throughout the play, and, in a sense Iago is honest — setting up his schemes in such a way as to keep himself honest in interpretation of orchestrated events. Finally, “Burn like the mines of Sulphur” is a curse upon Othello that not only carries implications of fiery crucifixion, it shares Iago’s odorous opinion of him.
I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin,
And let him find it. Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ: this may do something.
The Moor already changes with my poison:
Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons.
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood.
Burn like the mines of Sulphur. I did say so:
Look, where he comes!