Othello As Iago


Othello As Iago Essay, Research Paper

As villain in Shakespeare?s play Othello, Iago has two main actions. They are

to plot and to deceive. Iago hates Othello for two reasons. He believes that

Othello made love to his wife, and Iago is mad that Cassio was chosen to be

Lieutenant instead of himself. From this hate comes the main conflict of the

play. Iago plans to ruin Othello by carrying out a plan based on lies and

deceit. This plan will make Iago the only person that Othello believes he can

trust, and Iago will use this trust to manipulate Othello. First, Iago plans to

remove Cassio from his position as lieutenant so that he himself take over

Cassio?s position as confidant and Lieutenant to Othello. Then Iago hopes to

convince Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. If Iago?s

plan unfolds properly, he will be granted the revenge that he believes he

deserves. Iago?s plan and his motives are disclosed through a series three of

conversations. He speaks with Roderigo twice and Cassio once. These three

conversations show how Iago manipulates others to gain his own ends, and they

also give motives for Iago?s behavior. The conversations all follow the same

pattern. Iago first speaks with Roderigo and Cassio to forward his plan, and

then Iago has a soliloquy in which he discusses his motives. Iago states that

the reasons for his hate are that Othello slept with Emilia and Cassio was

chosen to be Othello?s Lieutenant. However, Iago?s actions lead to ends that

do not revenge his given motives. Coleridge calls Iago?s actions "the

motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity" . In other words, Iago?s only

reason for destroying Othello is that Iago is an inherently bad person. The

conversations that Iago has with Roderigo and Cassio show that Iago invents

reasons for his actions against Othello, so that his own selfish ends can be

met. Iago?s first dialog with Roderigo serves as an introduction to Iago?s

plan. In this scene the reader learns that Roderigo is in love with Desdemona,

because he threatens to drown himself when he learns that Othello and Desdemona

are engaged. Uses Roderigo?s weakness to help him remove Cassio from his

lieutenant position. Iago tells Roderigo to "put money in thy purse"

(333) . Iago believes that Othello and Desdemona will not be together for a very

long time since Othello is a Moor and Desdemona is an aristocrat. Iago urges

Roderigo to earn money now so that he can be an eligible suitor when Desdemona

is looking for another husband. This conversation and the soliloquy following it

introduce the two different sides of Iago. Iago tells Roderigo what he wants to

hear in order to enlist his help. However, in the following soliloquy the reader

is introduced to what Iago really has planned. He states that he would never

associate with someone like Roderigo except to gain his own ends. "Thus do

I ever make my fool my purse–/ For I mine own gained knowledge should profane/

If I would time expand with such a snipe/ But for my sport and profit"

(365-368). Iago feels that Roderigo is a foolish man who exists only for

Iago?s use or "sport." This idea a strengthened by the word

"snipe". The Arden Shakespeare defines snipe as "fool" (p.

159) and states that the word meant "gull or dupe" (p. 159) before

Shakespeare. These definitions emphasize the fact that Iago feels no respect for

Roderigo and is manipulating Roderigo only to further his plan. In the same

speech, Iago?s real plan is revealed only to the audience. Iago wants to

convince Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are in love. They are the two people

that Othello trusts, and if Othello believes that they have turned on him, this

will lead to his downfall. Iago plans to tell Othello that Cassio and Desdemona

are having an affair. Cassio is a ladies man, and Iago believes that Cassio?s

charm makes women fall in love with him. Iago will make the innocent flirtations

of Cassio and Desdemona seem like secret love to Othello. "After some time

to abuse Othello?s ears/ That he is too familiar with his wife/ He hath a

person and a smooth dispose/ To be suspected, framed to make women false"

(378-380). Iago planted a seed of hope in Roderigo, and the next time they speak

Iago uses this hope to turn Roderigo against Cassio. In this scene Iago tells

Roderigo that "Desdemona is directly in love with [Cassio]" (215).

From there previous discussion, Roderigo believes that he will be with Desdemona

when she is no longer with Othello. Here, Roderigo learns that he has

competition, and this information is given to Roderigo only because Iago hopes

that Roderigo will initiate a fight with Cassio. This fight will get Cassio in

trouble and hopefully remove him from his position. Cassio is not an agressive

soldier like Iago, and he has to be tricked and provoked in order to fight. When

Cassio fights with Roderigo, Iago will create a riot in Cyprus and blame the

cause on Cassio. Cassio?s uncharacteristic agression is what ultimately

removes his from his position as lieutenant. Sir, he?s rash and very sudden in

choler, and haply may strike at you. Provoke him that he may, for even out of

that will I cause these of Cyprus to mutiny, whose qualification shall come into

no true taste again but by the displanting of Cassio (261-264). The New Arden

Shakespeare defines "qualifications" as "condition, nature or

pacification" (180) and uses the word "trust" instead of

"taste". When "taste" is used, the line says that the people

of Cyprus will not feel comfortable with their nature until Cassio is removed

from his position. In contrast, when "trust" is used, Iago?s words

say that the people of Cyprus will not be able to trust authorities again until

Cassio is no longer Lieutenant. While Cassio is fighting, Iago is using the

violence to create a riot in Cyprus and unnerve the people. Cassio is blamed for

this riot, and order cannot be restored until he is no longer Lieutenant. The

word "trust" makes more sense in this sentence, because Cassio lost

the trust of the masses when he acted with aggression. He was always a well

mannered and peaceful man, and now the people of Cyprus do not know who he

really is. In the soliloquy following Roderigo?s exit, Iago reveals the real

reasons for his plotting against Othello. Iago says that Othello slept with

Emilia, Iago?s wife, and he feels that he must even the score with Othello by

sleeping with Desdemona. If Iago fails to woo Desdemona, he plans to prove to

Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Iago hope that this

information will make Othello forever jealous. For that I do suspect the lusty

Moor/ Hath leapt into my seat, the thought whereof/ Doth, like a poisonous

mineral, gnaw my inwards/ And nothing can or shall content my soul/ Till I am

evened with his, wife for wife–/ Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor/ At

least into a jealousy so strong/ That judgement cannot cure (282-288). This

soliloquy shows that Iago has no real motives for his actions. To substitute for

real motives, Iago treats rumors like they were facts and invents situations

that never happened in order to suit the ends he wishes to achieve. The Furness

Variorum Edition points out that Iago admits in his first soliloquy that the

affair between Othello and Emilia is only a rumor (p.120-121). "And it is

thought abroad that ?twixt my sheets/ he has done my office. I know not if?t

be true/ But I, for mere suspicion in that kind/ Will do as if for surety"

(369-372). Iago has no reason to hate Othello, but because he is an evil person

Iago wants to ruin Othello?s life. Iago heard a rumor that Othello had slept

with Emilia, and he declares that he will believe this rumor as if it were a

fact. By the time Iago says his second soliloquy, he has convinced himself that

Othello and Emilia had an affair. He is able to say that Othello "hath

leapt into my seat" (283) with such conviction because in his head Iago has

made the rumor a fact. This shows that Iago has no motives for destroying

Othello. He invents reasons why he hates Othello, and these reasons lead to the

end that Iago envisions, not the logical end that these motives should reach. In

this soliloquy the hypocrisy of Iago?s motives and actions is also visible.

Iago says that he wants to be even with Othello "wife for wife" yet he

does nothing to try and get in bed with Desdemona. Instead of wooing Desdemona,

Iago spends his energy on trying to break up the marriage of Desdemona and

Othello. Othello did not break up Iago?s marriage by sleeping with Emilia; it

is never proven that this even happened. Therefore, breaking up Othello?s

marriage does not get Iago revenge in any way. The only way that Iago?s

actions could be the result of his motives is if he is jealous of Othello for

sleeping with Emilia. If Iago was jealous then making Othello jealous would be

an appropriate form of revenge. However, Iago does not seem to regard Emilia as

a wife, and he uses her to forward his plans in the same way that he uses

Roderigo. Iago is not jealous of Emilia and Othello and, therefore, he acts

without motive. In the final conversation Iago is speaking with Cassio instead

of Roderigo. Now that Cassio has been removed from his position as Othello?s

lieutenant he is very vulnerable, and wants only to win Othello?s trust again.

Iago pretends to be Cassio?s friend and uses Cassio to begin the second phase

of his plan. Iago suggests that Cassio request the help of Desdemona to try and

win back the respect of Othello. This is a good idea for two reasons. First,

Desdemona is a person that cannot turn her back on someone in need, such as

Cassio. Secondly, Othello is under Desdemona?s control. Othello loves

Desdemona so much that if she believes Cassio to be trustworthy, Othello will

believe it also. Our general?s wife is now the general? Confess yourself

freely to her. Importune her help to put you in your place again. She is of so

free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition, she holds it a vice in her

goodness not to do more than is requested (292-298). Iago?s hypocrisy is again

illustrated here. In this passage Iago admires and respects Desdemona?s

personality. However, as the New Arden Shakespeare shows, Iago attacked and

ridiculed Desdemona in a previous conversation with Roderigo (p. 201). Iago

tells Roderigo that Desdemona is unintelligent because she is enamored with a

"pestilent complete knave" (239) like Cassio. Iago says this to

infuriate Roderigo. By hearing Iago describe Desdemona as an average person

Roderigo will want to prove him wrong. Roderigo will also want to win Desdemona

from Cassio, who Iago described as unworthy of Desdemona. When Iago again speaks

of Desdemona, this time to Cassio, his opinion of her has changed drastically.

Here she is described as "blessed" (297), when Iago made an issue of

proving that Desdemona is not blessed when speaking with Roderigo. Iago speaks

highly of Desdemona to Cassio so that Cassio will speak to her about Othello.

Cassio thinks that Iago is "honest" (309) and trusts the advice that

Iago gives. Iago acts in any way that helps him destroy Othello. Iago

manipulates his words and uses Cassio and Roderigo as mere means to his own

ends. Iago makes it seem as if he is helping Cassio because he is a genuine

friend. However, in the soliloquy following the reader learns the real reason

why Iago is helping Cassio. Iago?s biggest aim is to ruin the marriage of

Othello and Desdemona. If Cassio asks Desdemona for help and Desdemona speaks

highly of him to Othello, it could appear that the two are in love. Iago plans

to show Othello how often they are together and how close they are. Seeing this

will make Othello jealous. I?ll pour this pestilence into his ear:/ That she

repeals him for her body?s lust/ And by how much she strives to do him good/

She shall undo her credit with the Moor/ So I will turn her virtue into pitch/

And out of her own goodness make the net/ That shall enmesh them all (330-336).

At this point in the play, Iago?s plan is underway. Cassio is no longer

Lieutenant, and the evidence of the affair between Cassio and Desdemona is ready

to be shown to Othello. This is a good concluding soliloquy, because it

foreshadows what will happen. Iago will constantly show Othello that Desdemona

and Cassio are deceiving him, while Desdemona will constantly tell Othello what

a good man Cassio is. These two factors, plus Cassio and Desdemona always being

together, will prove to Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are in love. Through

much deceit and manipulation Iago will drive Othello into madness and ruin the

lives of everyone. Iago never gives a logical reason for ruining the lives of

Othello, Desdemona and Cassio. Iago claims that Othello slept with Emilia, and

he feels that he must have revenge. However, Iago never makes any attempt to

sleep with Desdemona, and he never tries to revenge Emilia?s honor. Instead,

Iago destroys Othello?s marriage, which is illogical given Iago?s stated

motive. Othello did not ruin Iago?s marriage. Iago even admits that he is not

sure if Othello and Emilia were ever together. Yet he uses this as a motive for

revenge anyway, because this allows him to accomplish all of his goals. Iago

becomes Othello?s Lieutenant, and destroys Othello?s marriage. Iago acts in

this illogical manner because he is a naturally bad person who has no real

reason to hate Othello. Iago changes his opinions and makes up events in order

to ruin the lives of those around him. I ago is, as Coleridge said,

"motiveless malignity".


Furness, Horace Howard, A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Othello.

Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, copyright 1886. Honigmann, E.A.J. The

Arden Shakespeare: Othello. Surrey, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd, 1997.

Shakespeare, William. "Othello." The Norton Shakespeare. Ed.

Greenblatt, Stephen et al. W.W. Norton and Company: New York, 1997. Pp.


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