The Quibbling of Othello / The Quibbles of Iago

Clown.  Why, masters, have your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i’ the nose thus?
First Musician.  How, sir, how?
Clo.  Are these, I pray you, wind-instruments?
First Mus.  Ay, marry, are they, sir.
Clo.  O! thereby hangs a tail.
First Mus.  Whereby hangs a tale, sir?
Clo.  Marry, sir, by many a wind-instrument that I know. But, masters, here’s money for you; and the general so likes your music, that he desires you, for love’s sake, to make no more noise with it.
First Mus.  Well, sir, we will not.
Clo.  If you have any music that may not be heard, to ’t again; but, as they say, to hear music the general does not greatly care.
First Mus.  We have none such, sir.
Clo.  Then put up your pipes in your bag, for I’ll away. Go; vanish into air; away!  [Exeunt Musicians.]
CASSIO:  Dost thou hear, mine honest friend?
Clo.  No, I hear not your honest friend; I hear you.
CASSIO:  Prithee, keep up thy quillets. There’s a poor piece of gold for thee. If the gentlewoman that attends the general’s wife be stirring, tell her there’s one Cassio entreats her a little favour of speech: wilt thou do this?
Clo.  She is stirring, sir: if she will stir hither, I shall seem to notify unto her.
CASSIO:  Do, good my friend.  [Exit Clown.]   

Othello, William Shakespeare. Quillets mean much the same as quibbles; as described in the text I read – The New Penguin Shakespeare 1970.


I picked up my copy of Othello, Othello being a play I had previously found little that has excited me; relative to the other late tragedies. The passage above seems pedestrian (by Shakespeare’s own standards) and while there are excellent reasons for a pedestrian passage (fitting the humour of the time) quibbling runs through the play and features highly in Iago’s arsenal. The clown quibbles to drive off the musicians, musicians disturbing Othello’s opportunity of love making, only for the musicians to be replaced by Cassio in turn. Iago is machinating and designing interruptions for the beginnings of Othello and Desdemona’s married life.


Othello is trapped by petty reasoning, the small becomes large and actions are imbued with meaning where there were none. Quibbles become fatal, quibbles drown out sense and interrupt attempts at higher purpose





& this, this is gorgeous: