Role of Iago in Act III of Shakespeare’s Othello

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Iago is clearly the most poisonous and virulent character in ‘Othello’ and one of the most distinctive villains in the entire Shakespeare collection.

Act III scene 3 is the pivotal scene in which his villainy begins to unfold and this has a growing malignancy over Othello and his relationship with Desdemona. Act III is a pivotal scene as Desdemona immediately expresses her willingness to support Cassio and pleads to Othello to reinstate him. Iago uses this action to plant a seed of suspicion into Othello’s mind. Later in the scene this suspicion turns into jealousy and emotional turmoil, forcing Othello to take action against this deceit.

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At the beginning of this scene Desdemona is showing an act of good friendship and devotion towards Cassio as she pleads with her husband to reinstate him. This seems like an innocent act of kindness however Iago takes this situation and distorts the truth and sows the seed of suspicion in Othello’s mind. Iago takes loyalty and infects it, he appears sincere and honest yet underneath he is corrupt. This causes a cancerous effect on people and their relationships with others.

Iago is such a consummate dissembler that he can even deceive his wife.Desdemona and other characters use the adjective ‘honest’ to describe Iago. This is dramatic irony as he is only hiding his deceit and covering it with a synthetic honesty, which the audience is clearly aware of. Desdemona promises to Cassio that she will plague and harass Othello until he gives way and reinstates him,’.

.. My lord shall never rest,I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;I’ll intermingle every thing he doesWith Cassio’s suit..

.’Desdemona promises to Cassio that she will torment Othello until he agrees to reinstate him. This is a statement of loyalty toward Cassio but the purest motive and yet Iago contorts this into a statement of lust.Iago had not planned this statement of loyalty from Desdemona but as he is an opportunist he takes advantage of this situation,’That he would steal away so guilty-like,Seeing you coming.

..’Iago is also a great manipulator of words. After saying this statement he leaves Othello thinking Cassio has something to hide.

Desdemona approaches Othello and begins to beg for him to reinstate Cassio she tells him that Cassio deeply cares for him and has helped him in the past,’…What! Michael Cassio,That came a-wooing with you, and so many a time.

..’Othello is reminded that Cassio used to come with Othello when he visited her. Unknown to Othello and Desdemona, Iago is carefully listening and cunningly stores this comment.

There are two different types of characters on the stage in this part of a pivotal scene, Desdemona and Iago. The first represents good and the second represents evil and they are both trying to enforce themselves upon Othello.There is a flirtatious ambience between Desdemona and Othello but when Iago interferes with his malignant force this turns into a strained atmosphere. However, to begin with Othello refuses to believe Iago’s accusations and feels as though his world would end up destroyed if he did not love Desdemona,’.

..Perdition catch my soulBut I do love thee; and when I love thee not,Chaos is come again.’Othello lives in a world of love and affection and he feels if he falls out of love with Desdemona the world will turn into complete chaos.

This is heavily ironic because Othello is tricked into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful. Iago causes this to happen and turns Othello’s world into chaos. From the moment in which the seed is planted Othello suffers from immense jealousy and suspicion.Iago is the finest judge of character in the whole of the Shakespearian canon.

He knows that when Cassio is intoxicated that he is easily angered. Iago also realizes that Othello likes a straight answer therefore Iago never gives him a direct answer and so Othello comes to his own conclusion. Iago also angers Othello by repeating his words; this echoing antagonizes Othello’s patience. This annoys Othello until he finally erupts.

However Othello totally trusts Iago and believes that he is entirely honest and virtuous,’…What dost thou think?Think, my lord?Think, my lord! By heaven, he echoes me.

..’Othello has noticed that Iago is repeating what he has already said but does not question Iago about it. The actor playing Iago would emphasis the word think.

Therefore expressing doubt which would worry Othello. This again expresses Iago’s great planning and ideas. Iago then comments that people should only act like they truly are,’ ..

.men should be what they seem…

‘This is ironic because Iago is preaching about honesty to Othello and in act I scene 1 he says the opposite,’ heaven is my judge….

..’tis not long afterBut I will wear my heart upon my sleeveFor daws to peck at. I am not what I am.

‘In Act I scene 1 Iago openly admits that he adopts a deceiving appearance and uses others to achieve his wants. It is ironic that Roderigo is not paying much attention and so he does not realize that he to, is being used by Iago. In Act III scene 3 Iago says to Othello that he believes in honesty and people admitting who they really are. This is ironic as he himself does not follow what he preaches.

Once Iago has told Othello he thinks men should he honest he begins to comment on Cassio’s honesty,’ …for Michael Cassio,I dare be sworn I think that he is honest.

… I think Cassio’s an honest man.

‘Iago repeatedly uses the word think. This is where he begins to plant the seed of jealousy in Othello’s mind. If Iago had said that he knows Cassio is honest then Othello would not worry. Iago has now begun his evil plot against Cassio.

He carries on his idea of not giving Othello a direct answer, which develops his anger and suspicion,’ Though I am bound to every act of duty,I am not bound to that all slaves are free to.Utter my thoughts! ‘These indirect answers are taunting Othello who longs to know what he believes to be the truth. Iago cleverly does not tell him as he is preparing Othello emotionally as he builds up the suspense. Othello does not care for Iago’s insinuations and just wants to know the truth.

Before telling Othello, Iago makes excuses which are guaranteed to worry Othello. He also says that he might even be imagining this and that Othello should not listen to what he says. This will make Othello feel agitated. We the audience notice that Othello’s speeches have been reduced to single short sentences we can infer from this that he has also been emotionally reduced.

On the other hand Iago has long flowing sentences which implies that Shakespeare is trying to show that Iago is the dominant figure on stage and is gaining the ascendancy of Othello. Iago is cruel toward Othello and has a growing malignance over him. This constant taunting angers Othello and he is reduced to single word utterances,’..


Ha ! ‘This shows how influential Iago is and how he becomes the dominant figure on stage as Othello has been emotionally reduced. This is all due to Iago’s carefully chosen phrases which have a cancerous effect upon Othello. When Shakespeare portrays Iago he uses an extremely effective idea as Iago appears to be very reluctant to speak ill of others but at the same time he manages to suggest he knows much more which would distress Othello if he knew. Iago tells Othello many dreadful things but Othello still feels that Iago has not told him everything and is minimizing the truth to protect Othello.

Iago then introduces the word cuckold which deepens Othello’s jealousy. In the time the play was written to cuckold meant to cheat on your husband. In comedy plays a man whose wife was cheating on him would have horns on his head; this would signify to the audience that his wife was having an affair. Later in this scene Othello complains of a headache when he is with Desdemona.

She thinks nothing of this but Othello is implying to her that he knows she is cheating on him. However Desdemona would not understand this as she is not cheating on Othello. The relationship between Desdemona and Othello will never be the same there is now a barrier between them which has been purely caused by the malignant force and determination of Iago.Iago then threatens Othello reputation this makes Othello feel like his life could not get worse,’Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something,nothing,’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands.

..’Iago is skillful throughout the play as he seems to know more than he tells and when he does speak it appears he only speaks under the pressure of Othello. Here Iago advances the argument to Othello that reputation is every thing, this is the total opposite that he said to Cassio.

This shows that Iago has two sides to his personality, maybe more, and that he can change his attitude dependant on his company. He next advises Othello to beware of jealousy; therefore he has cleverly planted the seed of jealousy in his mind. He adopts the same strategy when raising the suggestion of Desdemona’s adultery,’O beware, my lord, of jealousy:It is the green-eyed monster which doth mockThe meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss.

..’Iago is still speaking in general terms and not telling Othello straight that Desdemona is having an affair. He talks about ‘That cuckold’ but he does not explicitly state that he is referring to Othello.

Othello has said very little in reply to Iago’s hinted accusations the more he protests the more evidence there is in his mind that is dwelling on this topic. He then reveals his need for proof and until then he will not believe Iago’s accusations.Despite all of Iago’s denunciations Othello still professes confidence in his wife and gives his absolute priority to this but his language signals uncertainty,’I’ll see before doubt; when I doubt, prove;And on the proof, there is no more but this:Away at once with love or jealousy! ‘Othello clearly states that he wants proof from Iago and if this proof is not delivered then Othello will discard the idea completely. Before he wants proof Othello says he will only doubt her trust and loyalty.

Iago now has a job to find proof for something that does not exist.Iago skillfully twists his words so that the fact of Desdemona’s adultery appears not to be in doubt only the proof of it,’I speak not yet of proof…

Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio…’Iago capitalizes on Othello’s inexperience of Venetian customs when he says ‘I know our country disposition well’.

This encourages Othello to believe his lies by pointing out how Desdemona has already deceived her father in marrying him. This echoes Brabantio’s final words in Act I scene 3,’She has deceived her father and may thee.’Iago heard this comment by Brabantio and cleverly stored it in his mind. He then repeated it at a very poignant moment in the play.

This again contributes to Othello’s suspicion and possible doubt. When Othello and Desdemona were courting she would hide this love and affection from her father and he never noticed this even though he knew her well. Iago implies that this means she is good at putting on false faces and she may well be putting on a false face in front of him. Therefore hiding her feelings for Cassio.

This scene also reinforces our sense of Othello’s important dramatic status as an ‘outsider’. He is someone who is so unfamiliar with Venetian customs and society that Iago’s lies will seem plausible. On the other hand, we must be careful not to see Othello as a uniformed gullible fool as Shakespeare is showing us how all people base their judgments of others on what are unstable foundations. For the audience Iago’s determination to see the possibilities in the motives of others it becomes impossible for us to see any of the characters with an innocent perspective.

This scene is filled with irony as Iago says that Desdemona is a consummate dissembler yet it is Iago who is the true consummate dissembler. These accusations have reduced Othello emotionally and he is now loosing control as long flowing speeches show control and short sharp bursts imply that something is on their mind. Iago is an excellent manipulator of people and words. He uses this talent to his advantages.

However using this talent others have to suffer but Iago believes that in the end he will receive what he has been wanting for a while.Othello believes that Desdemona is honest. Iago takes this belief and fills it with doubt. Iago’s poisoning has begun to work.

Iago then suggests that the love between Desdemona and Othello was against nature and natural instincts,’… I do not in positionDistinctly speak of her; though I may fearHer will, recoiling to her better judgement,May fall to match you with her country forms,And happily repent’Class and racial background are important aspects in relationships in Shakespeare’s day.

Desdemona and Othello break this barrier. Desdemona was a young white high class girl and Othello was a much older, black, lower class man. They were totally different people but Desdemona chose Othello, she chose him for his exciting lifestyle and because she loved him. Desdemona chose not to be attracted to other proposed marriages which came from men that were of much a more suitable stature and it would have been natural for her to chose one of these proposals.

Iago then puts another doubt in Othello’s mind that maybe Othello has lost his excitement and that this may be the reason Desdemona wants another man.Iago leaves Othello to contemplate over what he has been told,’Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtlessSees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds…

‘Othello only has two lines of apparent soliloquy. This shows that even when he is alone he can only manage a short amount of speech. In this soliloquy Othello reveals that he regrets his marriage and his faith in Iago who he calls an ‘honest creature’. Othello’s attitude and affection has totally changed during this scene.

At the beginning of the scene Othello is totally in love with Desdemona and yet due to Iago’s accusations he now regrets the day he married her.Othello’s self esteem has been damaged. In his next soliloquy he talks of being ‘black’ which suggests he lacks fluency and he reflects on his age being different to that of one he once loved, Desdemona,’This fellow’s of exceeding honesty..

.’Othello believes that Iago is an honest friend and this is ironic as Iago is scheming behind Othello’s back to disrupt his entire relationship with Desdemona. Iago has a profound understanding of the human psyche and he can manipulate people and their emotions. He manages to use this skill and fool Othello.

Othello is now completely convinced that Desdemona is gone and no longer belongs to him,’…She’s gone, I am abused, and my reliefMust be to loathe her.

..’Iago’s plan has worked; Othello now resents Cassio and Desdemona. Although he did not wish to destroy their relationship he deemed this the only possible way.

Iago has to be the most ruthless and undermining character in ‘Othello’. He has left Othello in a terrible state of confusion, jealousy, doubt and hatred towards a woman he used to love and care for dearly. Othello believes that Desdemona sees him as an old black man who has few of the civilized graces which sophisticated men bear. She re-enters and is concerned as her husband seems unwell, but not in the way she thinks, as he is sick of spirit not body.

However when she enters Othello responds with an emotional truthfulness,’ If she be false, O then heaven mocks itself;I’ll not believe it…’Othello is finding it hard to cope with the fact that Desdemona has been used by other men and yet he is persistent not to believe Iago’s increasingly believable accusation.

Desdemona tries to comfort Othello’s pain in his head. Her help is only rejected and her handkerchief discarded on the floor. Othello becomes abrupt with Desdemona and it is clear to the audience that Iago’s remarks have affected him and it seems Othello’s is beginning to doubt his wife. Once Desdemona and Othello have left, Emilia picks up the discarded handkerchief and waits for her husband to return,’What handkerchief!Why, that the moor first gave to Desdemona,That which so often you bid me steal.

..’It seems that Iago and Emilia have a playful and flirtatious relationship and yet Iago is using his wife to help him destroy Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. Emilia seems totally unaware of what her husband is plotting and just does what he asks of her.

Desdemona dropping this handkerchief has happened by accident and has not been planned but Iago is the perfect opportunist and takes this opportunity to fulfill his target. She is dismissed whilst Iago contemplates over his luck of gaining the handkerchief which he will use to prove the affair between Desdemona and Cassio,’I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin,And let him find it…

‘In this soliloquy Iago reveals the source of his success; he knows that it is Othello’s weakness that will bring about his own destruction. Iago is closely identified with the powers of hell at several points in the play. In this scene he refers to ‘the mines of sulphur’ which echoes the traditional image of hellfire. Iago knows that the smallest thing can be the strongest confirmation for Othello.

Although the handkerchief is small and there could be a plausible explanation for the situation, this will give Othello all the proof he needs.At the beginning of this scene Othello was a thoroughly contented husband and now, thanks to Iago’s interference Othello is totally consumed by jealousy and has been twisted and taunted throughout this scene. Now Othello feels as if Iago is torturing him as it would be better to know everything than only know a little of what his wife is doing. This jealousy has begun to eat away at Othello like a cancer.

Othello interrupts Iago’s soliloquy and seeks proof of his wife’s dishonesty,’Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore;Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof,Or by the worth of mine eternal soul…

‘Othello’s words indicate that he has already decided Desdemona’s guilt and that all he is seeking is confirmation from his faithful friend Iago. These lines also indicate his potential for violence. Othello now uses demented logic as he says to Iago that if something is stolen and you do not miss it, it is better not to know it is missing. Applying this to the current situation Othello is trying to explain to Iago that if his wife is having an affair it would be better for him not to know.

In this scene we see a human being rapidly declining as it is destroyed by another human. Othello feels he is losing his wife and becomes emotionally bitter and is approaching insanity.Othello’s violence begins to unfold as he threatens Iago and he wants ocular proof or Iago will be forever damned,’Make me o seee’t ; or, at the least, so prove itThat probation bear no hinge nor loopTo hang a doubt on – or woe upon thy life! ‘Iago did not expect this from Othello and then retreats slightly. Othello may be much stronger than Iago physically but Iago has a greater mental strength.

Othello has become agitated and now he wants proof or he will kill Iago for betraying his trust and Iago will have no way out. Iago is in an awkward situation if Othello is to find out the truth he is sure to be killed. Iago now tries a different tactic. He tires to make Othello feel guilty and therefore evokes sympathy from him,’.

..O heaven forgive me!Are you a man? Have you a soul? Or sense?God bu’y you; take mine office.’Iago tells Othello that he is being honest and now he is being threatened and that is unsafe to be directly honest with anyone.

Another skill of Iago’s is unfolded in this scene. He is a great actor and he acts outraged that his honesty is not believed and this works as he manages to fool Othello,’ I think my wife be honest, and think she is not,I think that thou art just, and think thou art not…

‘Here we see Othello wavering between suspicion and loyalty as he struggles with himself to determine the truth. This proves to be a turning point for Othello whose character is such that he finds it difficult to release a notion once it is formed in his mind. Othello’s vision of himself and his wife excludes compromise, and so when Iago eventually offers Othello ‘proof’ he is savage in the passion with which he believes her to be guilty. At this stage in the play Othello is again reduced to brief and curt responses which remind us of his emotional turmoil.

Towards the end of the scene ago introduces his ocular proof, the handkerchief. He mentions that he has seen Cassio wipe his beard with this gift that Desdemona was given by Othello,’Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchiefSpotted with strawberries in your wife’s hand?…

I am sure it was your wife’s- did I today see Cassio wipe his beardwith…’By previously mentioning the handkerchief, Iago has made it even more believable when Othello finds this in Cassio room.

Iago has now taken over his mind and despite Othello’s demands for a ‘living reason she’s disloyal’ and ‘the ocular proof’ he ends this scene convinced both of Desdemona’s false ness and of what he must do,’…Within these three days let me hear thee sayThat Cassio’s not alive.

..I will withdrawTo furnish me with some swift means of deathFor the fair devil..

.’Othello wants Cassio dead and it is Iago’s job to fulfill this task. Othello now believes that he is acting rationally. He and Iago have moved together.

Previously Iago had refused to listen to Othello’s thought and yet now he agrees to kill Cassio for his master. Not only has the death of Cassio been ordered, but the death of Desdemona. Cassio is being killed because pf what he has done and for betraying Othello. On the other hand Desdemona is being killed because Othello loves her and does not want to lose her again.

The concluding lines reveal what Iago has wanted all along,’…Now art thou my lieutenant.

I am your own forever.’Iago is granted the promotion he had said he wanted at the beginning of the play. If only his motivation had been straight forward then he would surely now be satisfied, but it has come clear that Iago is driven by malevolence that cannot be explained.This scene ends with bitter irony as Othello has lost the one thing he treasures most, Desdemona.

However Iago has gained what he treasures the most, a promotion. Iago is totally dominant by the end of the scene and has achieved all he desires. In doing this he has destroyed Othello’s love for Desdemona, Desdemona’s life, Cassio’s life and Othello’s piece of mind. This is a pivotal scene in the play as we see Iago for what he really is and his malignant forces are clear to the audience.

It is also noticeable that he can have a cancerous affect on people and their relationships once he has placed the seed of jealousy or doubt into their minds. Iago leaves this scene in the ascendancy having gained exactly what he wanted to achieve. Due to the naivety of Othello and his belief of the lies and deceit created by Iago this has had had a detrimental effect on everyone’s relationships.

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Role of Iago in Act III of Shakespeare’s Othello. (2017, Oct 28). Retrieved from

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