Iago’s Character in Shakespeare’s Othello

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In the opening scene, the play’s villain, Iago, openly declares his type of character, his intentions and his motivations.

All of which then continue to underline each of his actions, as the plot continues to unfold. Through his careful twisting of the facts and opportunities that are presented to him, Imago is able to direct, position and influence each of the other characters in order to achieve his objective.In scene one, the reader is introduced to the unlikely pair, Iago – an ensign in the Venetian army – and Roderigo – a nobleman. Who are in furious discussion about the secret elopement of Othello and Desdemona, Iago is particularly very disgruntled about being passed over for promotion, in favour of Cassio, who played an important role in arranging the wedding.

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“[…] Despise me, if I do not.

Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capp’d him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: But he; as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance […] Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer.

‘ And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, […]” – Iago(1.

1.7-17)In this passage Iago expresses his loathing at Cassio being promoted and resolves that he and Cassio will in one way or another trade places (1.1.28-30).

Roderigo proposes simply to kill Cassio, thereby acquiring the desired place (1.1.31), however the more cunning and intelligent Iago dismissed such crudity by explaining that military advancement, is not an automatic process but rather based upon favour (1.1.

32-37).Thus are the events leading up to Iago’s passage of proclamation, where he announces his intentions and expresses his motives in a most lucid manner (1.1.39).

Here Iago explains that there are two distinct types of servant. The first, ‘knee-crooking knave[s]’ (1.1.42), serving their masters with total loyalty, without the slightest desire or aspiration of self-gain and who receives little by way of reward.

The second, ‘[…] trimmed in forms and visages of duty, Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves’ (1.

1.47-48), although appearing to serve loyally do so only to acquire what they wish to obtain. It is here that Iago professes himself as one of the second types of servant. To this end Iago sets his plan in motion, manipulating each of the other characters with his lies and propaganda (2.

1.196-98).Dim-witted Roderigo, in his declaration to commit drown himself sets himself up as Iago’s first target. With the repetitious comments of ‘put thy money in thy purse’, Roderigo is convinced that by forgoing his wealth, estates and title he will ultimately win the hand of Desdemona (1.

3.331-57), therefore sealing his fate as Iago’s cash cow.”Thus I do ever make my fool my purse, For I mine own gained knowledge should profane, if I would time expend with such a snipe, but for my sport and profit.” – Iago(1.

3.174-77)Once the party is established on Cypress, Iago appears to offer good and helpful advice to both Othello and Cassio, this advice while in itself good works against each character. For instance after being demoted, Cassio is desperately to repair the damage, which he has caused and under Iago’s direction (2.3.

303-314) he appeals to Desdemona for her assistance in regaining Othello’s favour (3.3.1-2). This careful omission of certain information and distortion of events presents the opportunity for the others to create an allusion of the actual reality of the situation.

By instilling the rift between Othello and Cassio, Iago ultimately sets the foundation of the collapse of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship.”And by how much she strives to do him good, She shall undo her credit with the Moor.” – Iago(2.3.

346-7)Iago uses the handkerchief, which Othello gave Desdemona as the final device to embed doubt and suspicion in Othello’s mind (3.3.320-9). His provoked jealousy of Cassio and his own assumption leads him to distrust his young wife; he is lead to believe that Desdemona has willfully given her handkerchief to Cassio.

When the infuriated Othello demands that she produce it (3.4.89), she cannot, presumed as an adulterer her fate is sealed.”I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me!” – Othello”O, ’tis foul in her” – Iago”With mine officer!” – Othello”That’s fouler.

” – Iago(4.1.194-7)With Othello convinced of his wife’s guilt, Iago takes control of the situation telling him not to poison her, but rather to strangle her in “[..

.] the bed that she hath contaminated” (4.1.202), while he assures Othello that he will deal with Cassio.

Shortly after co-conspiring in Desdemona’s death, Iago is in discussion with the young woman assuring her that it is only the affairs of state that trouble Othello’s mind. By this stage in the play Roderigo in feeling that Iago has not been keeping up his end of their bargain, demonstrates how he is gradually becoming the flaw in an otherwise perfect plan (4.2.173-210).

In a final move to tie up all the loose ends and complete his cunning plan, Iago plots how he could effectively dispose of both Roderigo, who has by this stage long out lived his usefulness, and Cassio. He decides that the best course would be to employ Roderigo to carry out Cassio’s murder, thinking that either of them or even possibly both of them would be killed.”I have rubbed this you quat almost to the sense, And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill Cassio Or Cassio kill him, or each do kill the other, Every way makes my gain.

Live Roderigo, He calls me to a restitution large Of gold and jewels that I bobbed from him As gifts to Desdemona. It must not be. If Cassio do remain, He hath a daily beauty that makes me ugly; and besides, the Moor May unfold me to him; there stand I in much peril. No, he must die.

[…]” – Iago(5.

1.10)Although the characters in the play each demonstrate their own individual intellect and rationality at various points, such as Roderigo comprehending that he had been played for a fool and used as a scapegoat, Emilia, becoming conscious her involvement in the outcome of events, Desdemona being apparently aware of her imminent death and Othello in hindsight clearly seeing his own undoing, mistakes and fault. The overall depth of the situation is not realized until too late. Iago’s far greater skills in the art of pretense, manipulation, treachery, insinuation and scheme that allows him to so easily blind the other characters and control the situation.

Combined with Roderigo’s bungling of Cassio’s murder and the way in which he tries to silence his own wife that he inadvertently reveals the full extent of his malicious actions.

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Iago’s Character in Shakespeare’s Othello. (2017, Oct 29). Retrieved from


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