Coleridge’s well-known quote regarding the “motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity” accurately acknowledges a facet of Iago’s character. He craves an audience so strongly that he consistently offers us various motives to choose from. However, this can be misleading in suggesting that Iago has absolutely no motives at all.
It is not so much that his motives differ from what he claims, or sometimes are hidden; ‘but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to pick at – I am not what I am. According to Salgado, a constant element in his personality is a deep-rooted contempt for fellow human beings, stemming from the insecurity of a self-made man. However, we should not overlook his strong desire for acquisition and success. His meticulously crafted persona as ‘honest Iago’ with “no time for intellectual sophistication” is a result of intelligence and skill on a psychological level, as well as careful planning, which will be further analyzed later.
While he may serve as a catalyst for Othello’s downfall, Iago is far more than that. As the plot thickens, he transforms into a critical component of his own wicked scheme. However, he still maintains his ability to strategize throughout the entirety of the play. To fully understand Iago’s character, it is crucial to examine not only his manipulation of Othello but also his interactions with other individuals.
By analyzing this, we can understand Iago’s intentions in terms of what he wants other characters and the audience to perceive about him. In the opening scene, we are immediately thrown into a tense conversation where one speaker expresses their complaints while the other speaks of their hatred towards someone. As we listen to Iago’s words, we might notice his frequent use of oaths such as ‘abhor me’ and ‘despise me’.
‘The assertiveness of Iago and the sense that Roderigo needs assurance are demonstrated. Iago continues to provide this assurance in every scene they meet. Although we cannot determine whether Iago is justified, we can conclude that this hatred is a significant aspect of his personality, along with his no-nonsense manliness. He flatters Roderigo with a rhythm in his lines that sharply contrasts with Roderigo’s whining. The humor in lines such as ‘a fellow damned in a fair wife’ and ‘and I – god bless the mark! – his moorship’s ancient!’ is present. However, as he continues, the tone of his speech becomes darker. ‘We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed.’
It is worth considering why a cunning villain like Iago would choose to expose his true nature. There are likely two reasons for this. Firstly, Roderigo is such a fool that Iago can openly share the truth with him, knowing he will not be believed. Secondly, despite his confidence, Iago still craves an audience to witness his manipulative ways.
Iago manipulates Roderigo’s poor judgment by asserting that the love between Othello and Desdemona is merely a clash between a passionate outsider and a cunning Venetian. With this statement, Iago aims to persuade Roderigo that he has a shot at winning Desdemona’s affection. Later on in the play, Iago deceives Roderigo into thinking that Cassio is pursuing Desdemona.
Iago claims that Desdemona is deeply in love with him. Ropderigo, however, doubts the possibility of this. It is evident from Iago’s dismissive language towards Roderigo that he does not value him enough to deceive him. This lack of respect indicates a “desire to believe.” Roderigo should be cautious not to be swayed by Iago’s manipulations, as his viewpoint may not necessarily be closer to objective reality than that of other characters.
“At the end of Act 1, Scene 3, I believe that Iago reveals his true character in his soliloquy. He openly expresses his intentions, which are to use Roderigo for his own purposes. He confesses his hatred for Othello before providing any justification for it and vows to seek revenge against him, regardless of the validity of his reasons. In addition, Iago demonstrates an exceptional ability to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities of others, particularly Othello’s jealousy.”
‘The moor is of free and open nature that but seem to be so, and will as tenderly be led by th’ nose as asses are.’ After the street brawl that Iago manipulates Roderigo into instigating, Iago reassures Cassio, who is concerned about his reputation being tarnished by his involvement. Iago attempts to convince Cassio that reputation is unimportant by stating, ‘Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft acquired without merit and easily lost without deserving.
‘Iago’s statement that reputation doesn’t matter is ironic because it actually matters a great deal to him. Despite living a life of deceit, he is known by everyone as “honest Iago”. He is fully aware that his scheme relies on maintaining his good reputation, as without it, he would lose all authority. He even acknowledges this by saying, “as I am an honest man…’
Cassio, who is aware of the importance of Iago’s words, knows that they hold weight. However, Cassio’s reputation is more valuable, as he was promoted over Iago in the beginning, which leads Iago to assume the role of the villain and ultimately contribute to Othello’s downfall. Cassio becomes yet another one of Iago’s puppets, as Iago’s skill in assessing character enables him to manipulate Cassio effectively.
Iago refers to Othello’s hubris, implying that his reputation has inflated his ego. Iago suggests that some individuals with esteemed reputations do not deserve them and that they are not based on merit. This is the reason why Iago is not promoted while Cassio, who possesses greater merit, is. Iago utilizes animal imagery to console Cassio, but there is a concealed malicious intent against Othello.
Iago tells Cassio that Othello is punishing someone who is innocent, like a dog, in order to intimidate someone powerful, like a lion. Othello’s arrogance makes him think he is almost like a god. It is ironic that Cassio is humble while Othello is proud, but Othello eventually learns humility.
Iago presents contrasting ideas regarding wine, employing a juxtaposition. Cassio asserts that excessive drinking is unholy and has devilish ingredients. In response, Iago contends that good wine is a friendly entity when consumed responsibly. This quote by Iago serves as a metaphor, playing on the term “familiar spirit.”
Iago openly admits to Cassio that wine can have negative effects when consumed, likening it to a devil. However, he also acknowledges that well-used wine can be advantageous to him, as it allows him to manipulate Cassio by getting him drunk. This is crucial for Iago’s plan to succeed. Moreover, Iago’s language when discussing Desdemona with Cassio contains underlying encouragement. He describes her as being generous, kind, skilled, and blessed with a good nature. By portraying Desdemona in this light, Iago subtly hints at his own hidden desire for her and aims to make Cassio develop feelings for her. If he can achieve this, his scheme against Othello will progress as planned.
Cassio sees it as Iago helping him sincerely. In scene 3 of act 3, Iago successfully manipulates key characters to instill doubt in Othello. The most significant example of this irony is seen in Othello’s words: “Excellent wretch! Perdition catches my soul but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again.” Othello is expressing the harsh reality.
The path is now open for Iago to continue administering his lethal poison and observe its effects. This starts with an innocent inquiry about Cassio’s knowledge of the romance between Othello and Desdemona. Iago’s refusal to provide a straightforward answer to Othello’s question, “Why are you asking?” is representative of a significant aspect of his strategy. He employs psychological tactics to gradually undermine Othello’s psyche.
Iago successfully sparks doubt in Othello by cleverly repeating his questions. Othello’s impatience grows, leading to an explosive outburst, proving the effectiveness of Iago’s technique: ‘By heaven, he echoes me, As if there were some monsters in his thought too hideous to be shown.’ We can see that Othello has retained Iago’s questions in his mind based on Othello’s description of Iago’s demeanor and how he gets dangerously close to the truth by mentioning Iago’s ‘horrible conceit.’ Iago patiently waits and manipulates his victim carefully.
The irony is that Othello, despite his ability to identify acts of loyalty in villains, mistakenly places Iago in the wrong category of “false, disloyal knave” instead of “the just man.” The play exposes the dangers of making judgments about others, particularly when they are people we are close to, as our perceptions can become distorted.