Othello is a story of love deceit and murder. Othello is a black general in the Venetian army. He falls in love with, and marries, a congressman’s daughter, Desdemona. Iago is a high-ranking soldier under Othello. It is not known why but Iago’s main objective in the play is to break up Othello and Desdemona. Iago tricks Othello into thinking that Desdemona is cheating on him with another officer under Othello’s rank, Michael Cassio. Othello does not confront Desdemona but instead puts his trust in Iago. At the end of the play Othello ends up killing Desdemona, and then himself. Iago ends up tricking Othello to think that Desdemona is cheating, provokes Cassio into a fight therefore getting him expelled as lieutenant, and his own friend Roderigo into attacking Cassio.
There is no question that Iago is the driving force of Shakespeare’s play Othello. Iago is conniving and deceitful. He successfully tricks Othello, Cassio, and Roderigo. He is the catalyst of all the trouble in the play. Nobody will dispute that. What is a major question though, is why? What is Iago’s’ motivation for causing all this trouble? Why does he feel that he must destroy the lives of so many?
Some people say Iago’s upset with Othello for passing him up for promotion. Othello gave the rank of Lieutenant to Michael Cassio even though Iago had seniority and seemed better qualified for the position. This is why some say that Iago gets Cassio to lose his position, the desire for power. Others say that not even Iago knows why he does the things he does. Saying that the soliloquies are attempts to rationalize the evil actions from which he seems to derive so much pleasure from. Making him a devil character, who commits evil just for fun. There is also suspicion that Othello slept with Emilia, Iago’s’ wife. At the end of act one Iago states:
“And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.”
Roughly translated Iago says that it is rumored that Othello had an affair with Emilia. He’s done my office means that Othello took care of Iago’s “manly duties” so to speak. I know not if’t be true; But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety means I don’t know if its true but I will continue with my plan as if it is.
People have been speculating about Iago’s’ motivations since the play first appeared in 1604. It wasn’t until 1938 when actor Laurence Oliver put one of these speculations into the performance. Oliver played Iago as a repressed homosexual whose motivation was an unrecognized lust for Othello. Iago’s anger stems from jealousy towards Desdemona, Othello’s wife. It is believed that Iago doesn’t even realize that this is why he acts out.
Many believe that there are other characters in Shakespeare’s play that show underlying characteristics of homosexuality. It is believed that Hamlet was either gay or bisexual. It is also rumored that Shakespeare himself might have indulged in homosexual affairs.
There are many references in the play that Iago is in fact a homosexual. In the beginning of the play Iago reveals that he no longer sleeps with his wife, Emilia. Some may say I just disproved myself. How could Iago be gay and have a wife? In the 1600’s in Europe, homosexuality was not a widely accepted practice. It was probably very common for gay men to have “beard” wives, or covers.
There is little contact between Iago and Emilia throughout the play. There is only one scene in which Iago and Emilia are alone. In this scene Iago treats Emilia very coarsely and like he does not want to deal with her. He refers to her as “common”, or of loose morals and wench. The marriage seems like a “political marriage”. Where the couple only stays together to avoid social discourse. At the end of the play Emilia immediately abandons her husband when Desdemona dies. Emilia doesn’t even seem surprised that Iago masterminded this scheme. That can only illustrate how close their marriage was.
Iago seems to show no sexual interest in Emilia. As a matter of fact Iago doesn’t seem to show sexual interest in woman at all. Iago actually refers to heterosexual sex as beastly. Referencing heterosexual lover to monkeys and goats. On the other hand he goes on to talk about homosexual sex.
“And then, sir, would he grip and wring my hand,
Cry “O sweet creature!”, then kiss me hard,
As if he plucked up kisses by the roots
That grew upon my lips; then laid his leg
Over my thigh, and sighed, and kissed,”
He is talking about an occasion between him and Michael Cassio, the man whom he is framing. From this dialogue you would think that it is conclusive evidence that Iago is in fact gay. But in the context of the conversation Iago said that,
“In sleep I heard him say, ‘Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves!'”
This explains that Cassio did not know that it was Iago that he was kissing. This isn’t about Cassio’s sexuality; it’s about Iago’s. This brings up some more serious questions about Iago’s sexual tendencies. First of all, what are Iago and Cassio doing sleeping in the same bed? As high-ranking soldiers in the Venetian
army you would think that both men could afford their own beds. Beyond that, if Iago was straight, don’t you think that he would pull away or try to wake Cassio up? Cassio grabbed Iago’s wrist, kissed him, and then laid his leg across Iago. I think that there is plenty of time during that to wake up Cassio or at least move. Iago has no hesitation in saying this which supports my prior thought that Iago has so repressed his sexuality that he no longer even realizes it. He doesn’t think about pulling away from Cassio because in actuality he wants it. He has no reserve in saying it because he doesn’t see it as being “gay”.
Shakespeare is a master of the English language. He hints things without saying it. During a struggle, Iago cuts of Cassio’s leg but this is impossible to do in one slice like they say in the play. Also Cassio is up and walking at the end of the play. Walking is quite tough without a leg. By “leg”, Shakespeare might have been referring to Cassio’s penis. This doesn’t have a direct correlation to Iago being gay, but maybe he would cut off Cassio’s penis in a “lover’s rage”. Meaning there would have to be a reason for Iago to target this area and not go for a death blow.
The work of Shakespeare has been the center of many conversations and controversies. They are timeless stories of love, betrayal, murder, and many topics that still keep people glued to his work today. Shakespeare tells his stories but leaves some things up for interpretation. Such as Iago’s motivation in his acts. Many of his plays have survived over 400 years so obviously there is no way we will ever know exactly what Shakespeare intended when he created his characters. As more and more time passes there are new ideas and theories on Shakespeare’s work. None of them right or wrong but just ideas.