Read Othello‘s ‘Virtue! A Fig!’ monologue below with a modern English translation and analysis, plus performance.
Spoken by Iago, Act 1, Scene 3
Virtue! a fig! ’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. 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: but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.
‘Virtue! A Fig!’ Monologue Translation
Virtue? Rubbish! What we can do, how we are, is up to ourselves. Our bodies are our gardens and our wills are gardeners. If we plant nettles or sow lettuce, whether we cultivate hyssop or weed out thyme, plant all one kind of herb or dilute it with many kinds, let it become sterile or fertilise it with hard work, all this depends on what we want to do. If the balance of our lives didn’t have a weight of reason to set against those weights of sensuality, the blood and natural bad that we have in our natures would take us to the most preposterous depths. But we do have reason to cool our raging emotions, our carnal desires and our unbridled lusts, which I take this – that you call love – to be.
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