Comment on Iago's contribution to the action and concerns of the play Essay
Coleridge’s famous remark about “the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity” does point to one aspect of Iago’s nature - Comment on Iago's contribution to the action and concerns of the play Essay introduction. His need for an audience is so great that he constantly presents us with a choice of motives. But this is misleading in the suggestion that Iago has not motives whatsoever. It is rather that his motives differ from what he makes them out to be, or sometimes are hidden; ‘but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to pick at – I am not what I am. Salgado suggests, “A deep-rooted contempt for fellow human beings, based on the insecurity of a self-made man, is a constant element in his make-up.” While his strong desire to possess and gain should not be over looked.
His carefully built up image as ‘honest Iago’ with “no time for intellectual sophistication” is a result of intelligence and skill on a psychological level combined with perfect planning, which will be explored later. He is much more than a device to trigger Othello’s hubris. It might be said that he becomes, “as the plot grows in complexity, something like a cog in his own devilish machinery.” Except he retains his capacity for thinking through to the end of the play.
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Analysis of Iago’s nature should not just take into account his manipulation of Othello, but his dealings with other characters. From this we can decipher what Iago wishes other characters to believe about him and what he wants the audience to believe.
In the very first scene we are pitched in the middle of a heated conversation. The speaker is complaining, the other talking of hatred, ‘thou didst hold him in thy hate.’ As we listen to Iago speak we may be struck by the way he resorts to oaths: ‘abhor me’, ‘despise me.’ This serves to show the assertiveness of Iago and the sense that what Roderigo needs is assurance. This is what Iago continues to give him in every scene that they meet.
Though we can’t say whether Iago is justified yet, we can already decide that this hatred is a key element in his personality, as well as the no-nonsense manliness with which he flatters Roderigo: the rhythm of his lines is in string contrast to Roderigo’s whining, and the humour of lines like ‘a fellow damned in a fair wife, or ‘and I- god bless the mark! – his moorship’s ancient!’ As he continues however, the tone of his speech becomes darker.
‘We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed.’
We must wonder why such a cunning villain is revealing his own nature. Two reasons for this maybe, Roderigo is such a fool that Iago can safely tell him the truth. He is one of the characters that Iago speaks frankly to, confident that he will not be believed. The other reason is that Iago, for all his self-confidence, needs an audience. Someone has to appreciate his villainy, and Roderigo is a very poor judge of character.
Iago claims that the passion of Othello and Desdemona is no more than ‘an erring barbarian and a super-subtle Venetian.’ This statement is intended to convince Roderigo that success with Desdemona I possible to him. Roderigo Fancies Desdemona and Iago fools him into believing Cassio is making on her, later on in the play.
Iago says, ‘Desdemona is directly in love with him.’
Ropderigo says, ‘with him, ’tis not possible.’
But Iago does not have enough respect for Roderigo to bother to deceive him; his language is a sufficient indication that there is a “desire to believe.” Roderigo should not fall into the trap that Iago sets, “believing that his view of thing is somehow closer to objective reality than that of other characters.” (Salgado)
At the end o Act 1, Scene 3, I believe that Iago reveals too much of his character in his soliloquy, he makes his intentions perfectly clear. He wants us to understand that he associates with a dolt like Roderigo for his own particular purposes, namely to manipulate him for his plans. He also declares ‘I hate the moor ‘before he gives us any reason for it, then he declares he will have his revenge on the moor regardless of whether the reason he gives is true or not. Finally, we learn from his soliloquy that Iago has a great talent for spotting the weakness of others, especially in Othello whose jealousy he manipulates and twists.
‘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 speaks to Cassio who is worried about his reputation suffering for his part in the brawl. Iago tries to persuade Cassio that reputation snot important.
‘Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving.’
It is ironic for Iago to say that reputation doesn’t matter, because it matters so greatly to him. Everyone thinks of him as ‘honest Iago’, even though he is living under these false pretences, he knows that his plot depends on his good reputation otherwise he would be without authority. He even says, ‘as I am an honest man…’ to Cassio who knows that Iago’s words carry weight. Unfortunately, Cassio’s reputation is of greater worth for he was promoted over Iago at the start of the play, thus causing Iago to take on the role of villain and bring about Othello’s downfall. Cassio is merely another of Iago’s puppets, Iago’s ability as a good judge of character allows him to manipulate Cassio so well.
Iago is also makes a reference to Othello’s hubris, Othello allows his own reputation go to his head. Iago is trying to say that some people with great reputations are un-deserving and that it is based on merit, which is why Iago isn’t promoted. Cassio is of higher merit.
Iago uses animal imagery to try and comfort Cassio but there is an underlying malicious attack on Othello.
‘You are but now cast in his mood, a punishment more in policy than malice; even so as one would beat his offenceless dog to affright an imperious lion.’
Iago is saying to Cassio that Othello is punishing a mere man, ‘offenceless dog,’ so that Othello may establish himself as mighty, to make an example of the mighty. His Hubris makes him believe he is almost Godly. There is irony in that Cassio is humble and Othello proud but he learns humility.
Iago contrasts his Ideas; his statement about wine is juxtaposition.
Cassio says, ‘Every Inordinate cup is unblest, and the ingredience is a devil.’
Iago says, ‘Come, Come, good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used.’
This quotation by Iago is a metaphor punning on ‘familiar spirit.’ He admits to Cassio that the wine may actually be a devil when it is drunk, but good wine well used is a good devil. Iago is explaining his motives here, he says that wine is bad to Cassio but knows that is good for him because it can be used to his own advantage to get Cassio drunk, which helps Iago execute his plan!
Also, Iago’s language when he speaks to Cassio about Desdemona has an underlying encouragement.
‘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 she is requested,’
The way Iago describes Desdemona shows two things, that he himself may have a hidden lust for her, and that his hidden motive by describing her in this way is to make Cassio fall for her. The words he uses encourage Cassio’s lust for Desdemona, if this succeeds then his plot against Othello can continue. Cassio will only see it as honest Iago helping him.
Iago, by scene 3 in act 3, has managed to manipulate the necessary characters to ensure that the seeds of doubt are planted in Othello. The most notable instance of this kind of irony occurs in the lines Othello now speaks,
‘Excellent wretch! Perdition catches my soul but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again.’
Othello speaks the dreadful literal truth. The stage is now clear for Iago to administer further doses of his deadly poison and watch as it takes effect. This begins with an innocent enquiry as to whether Cassio knows of the Othello and Desdemona romance. His refusal to give a direct answer to Othello’s question, ‘Why dost thou ask?’ is characteristic of a main part of his technique. He uses psychological games to break down Othello’s [psyche. Making Othello come to his own conclusions, Iago is implying doubt by double phrasing Othello’s questions. Tension rises as Othello becomes more impatient, Othello’s impatience explodes in an outburst which makes it clear that Iago’s technique has succeeded completely:
‘By heaven, he echoes me, As if there were some monsters in his thought too hideous to be shown.’
We realise that Iago’s questions remained imprinted in Othello’s mind from Othello’s’ account of Iago’s demeanour and how close he comes to the truth when he speaks of Iago having ‘some horrible conceit’ within him.
Iago bides his time and ‘plays’ his victim with caution. Othello shows his capacity, to recognise displays of loyalty in villains, but the irony is that he puts Iago in the wrong one of his two categories of ‘false, disloyal knave’ and ‘the just man’. Othello is a play about the hazards of judging people, the way our judgements are likely to be distorted when the people concerned are close to us.