Term of Award

Summer 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Mary Villeponteaux

Committee Member 1

Julia Griffin

Committee Member 2

Candy Schille


This thesis explores how the military service of the ensign disrupts and ultimately obliterates domestic life in Shakespeare’s Henriad and Othello. The rank of the ensign held expectations of honesty and honor, yet Shakespeare portrays his only two ensign characters, Ancient Pistol and Iago, as ironically failing to adhere to these standards. The received view of Pistol that results from his portrayal in 2 Henry IV as a stock braggadocio is challenged by a sympathetic reading of his character, especially in Henry V. Although Pistol occasionally behaves with honor in Henry V, his military service results in the ruin of his domestic life. Shakespeare juxtaposes Pistol to King Henry V, who leaves war with a new wife; his promises of honor and glory in his supposedly inspiring St. Crispin’s day speech clearly do not apply to Pistol, whose wife dies while he is away at war. Iago degrades concepts of domesticity, such as family and marriage, to try to advance his military career. One method he employs is to convert Desdemona’s handkerchief, a token of domesticity, into a symbol of her supposed infidelity, creating a false ensign. He sacrifices the ensign’s honesty and honor, and even his wife’s life, in ruthless pursuit of promotion. His rhetoric plays on Othello’s fears of replacement, which may occur in both military and domestic contexts. Together, these ensign characters reveal Shakespeare’s interest in and distrust of the military’s destructive effects on domesticity.

INDEX WORDS: Ensign, Rank, Ancient Pistol, Iago, Honest, Honorable, Military, Domestic, Shakespeare, Henriad, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, Othello

Research Data and Supplementary Material