Article Title

Flattery in Shakespeare's Othello: The Relevance of Plutarch and Sir Thomas Elyot


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

"How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend" is the title of one of Plutarch's most famous Moralia, but the phrase could just as easily be the subtitle of Shakespeare's Othello. Flattery and false friendship were topics that preoccupied many people during the Renaissance, a period in which private connections were even more important than today in determining a person's economic success, social status, and even his deeper sense of self-worth. We pride ourselves, in the present era, on objective measurements of merit, including impartial testing, "blind" reviews, and the detached assessments of disinterested peers. Of course, establishing personal connections-winning friends and influencing people-is hardly unimportant even now, but in the early modern period the process of achieving (and maintaining) social status and social security depended crucially on earning the trust and respect of others.1


1 For previous discussions of this topic, and for citations of many relevant secondary sources, see the chapter on friendship in my book Ben Jonson and the Poetics of Patronage (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1989), and see also my article "Friendship in Hamlet," Comparative Drama 33 (1999): 88-124.

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