Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation!”
Thus cried Michael Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant, who foolishly allowed himself to be drawn in to a drunken brawl and suffered the consequences of being stripped of his rank. But the loss of his reputation, rather than his rank, was for him much worse.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays explore themes of reputation and honour, and in 16th century Europe such notions were absolutely core to human experience in ways most of us would find strange today. “Mine honour is my life; both grow in one: Take honour from me, and my life is done” was not just a poetic maxim but also a living reality for commoners as well as kings.
Reputation still matters even in the cynical 21st century - just look at the length people will go to, to clear 'their name' if they feel they have been wrongly accused. Global ‘brands’ will spend millions to protect and maintain their marque.
But what happens to professional people when they lose their reputation?
Ask a politician who has been convicted of fiddling expenses claims…. a doctor who has been struck off the medical register for misconduct… or a police officer convicted of corruption…
They are likely to have lost trust, authority and the respect of the public, their clients and their colleagues – usually with catastrophic and irredeemable effect. For them the road back to respectability is a long and tortuous one – if it's open at all.
Cassio was left bereft and inconsolable: “I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial".
As a professional person, your reputation is your greatest asset. Protect it with your life.
Adrian Lester as Othello and Jonathan Bailey as Cassio in the 2013 National Theatre production of Othello.