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Summary: the Character of Iago in Othello Play

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When the play starts, the audience is struck with Othello naming a new lieutenant, that is not Iago, even though Iago has always been a faithful person to Othello. He is so outraged that it leads him to formulate the downfall of Othello by ruining his life. This incident acts as the main motivating starter for Iago to destroy Othello. Although perfect people do not exist in this world of temptations, pain, and sin, and that every character in the play has some form of weakness in the play, for example, Othello’s Jealousness, Iago’s pride, or Desdemona’s innocence, there will always be a someone out there capable of exploiting that weakness. Iago, in this case perfectly manipulates the characters of this play to achieve what he wants rather than the characters own weaknesses allowing Iago’s plan to come to fruition. The Character of Iago, the antagonist of the play, incites chaos, deception and manipulation in the play which allows the events in the play to unfold rather than the vulnerabilities of each character to move the play along.

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It is important by saying, Iago manipulates the characters by revealing and exploiting their fatal flaws to bring about their downfall. Some would argue that without the fatal weaknesses of each character existing Iago would not have been able to go about his plan. However, that is what makes Iago a master manipulator. In several cases Iago doesn’t have to push very hard when manipulating because his suggested actions either seem harmless resolutions to each character’s woes or take advantage of character flaws. In each case, because he does not have to push very hard, he is able to sustain an atmosphere of total indifference while promoting his malevolent goals.

For example, Iago takes advantage of both Cassio’s wanting for his old position of lieutenant as well as Desdemona’s innocent nature in order build the image that Desdemona is being adulterous with Cassio. First Iago schemes to get Cassio drunk, “If I can fasten but one cup upon him. With that which he hath drunk tonight already, He’ll be as full of quarrel and offense, As my young mistress’ dog. Cassio loses his lieutenancy due to his drunkenness and brawl with Roderigo and Montano, and then Othello states, “I love thee, but nevermore be officer of mine”. Demoralized, Iago turns to Iago, a self-proclaimed, “honest man”, who happens to be nearby. Iago has gotten what he wanted in reducing Cassio to a pathetic state; a state in which he will be highly susceptible of manipulation due to his anguish. Iago first soothes Cassio claiming that, “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving”, which is ironic since Iago has a reputation as an honest man when he cons frequently in addition to Iago’s wanting of the position as well, while Cassio is now considered a wild drunk when, he is Othello’s dearest ally. Iago states that, “Our general’s wife is now the general”, and that with her as his petitioner his relationship with Othello, “shall grow stronger than it was before”. In this scene, Iago masterfully uses Cassio’s low tolerance for alcohol, to rob him of his position. He then plants the notion of using Desdemona as Othello’s supplicant, on the newly gullible Cassio. And therein lies Iago’s mastery; he reduces the people that he is manipulating into such a state that a simple seemingly small social cue on his part persuades Cassio to encounter Desdemona which empowers the sense of infidelity being put into motion.

When dealing with Roderigo, Iago manipulates both his stupidity, as well as his desperate love for Desdemona. By exploiting Roderigo’s dim nature, Iago can get any financial resources he wishes. Roderigo’s mental function is also hindered by his affection for Desdemona, which shames him in its strength: “I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is no in my virtue to amend it.” Thus, with the guarantee that Desdemona might be predisposed to divorce Othello and marry Roderigo, Iago obtains whatever resources he wishes: “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” . Roderigo desperately wants Desdemona and is incompetent to think that no sum of money will improve the situation. Iago seizes upon Roderigo’s lack of ability to draw this conclusion, and slowly bleeds Roderigo’s purse. By simply stating to Roderigo that, “[Desdemona’s] eye must be fed”, and that “Desdemona is directly in love with [Cassio]” , he convinces his vulnerable “friend”. Thus, Roderigo simply accepts Iago’s unlikely theory, given Desdemona’s exceedingly virtuous nature, without a piece of evidence.

Iago’s manipulation of Desdemona occurs through Cassio. He utilizes Desdemona’s natural tendency to help others, toward his purpose. We see this manipulation blatant in , “So will I turn her virtue into pitch,”. Through his advice to Cassio, Iago can now be certain that Cassio will beg Desdemona to speak with Othello. Cassio does implore Desdemona for her aid and predictably she responds that, “Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.? , and thus Iago’s plan succeeds. Iago will use their contact to further broaden his plan. Iago’s suggestions to Othello will cause him to interpret Desdemona’s requests for Cassio, as pleas for her “lover”. Each time she indicates, “His [Cassio’s] present reconciliation takes;”, Iago retrospectively states, “she shall undo her credit with the Moor, [Othello]” (II, iii, 379), further. Thus, Iago manipulates Desdemona’s wholesome need into helping Cassio who fall as evidences of unfaithfulness in Othello’s ear.

Iago is a puppet master that knows just how to play on Roderigo’s flaws to produce the desired effect. Iago’s recognition of Roderigo’s flaw in his love for Desdemona is clear: “my sick fool Roderigo, whom love hath turn’d almost the wrong side out”. The more he fails in securing Desdemona’s love for Roderigo, the more frantic for its Roderigo becomes. Given that Roderigo threatened to, “incontinently drown [him]self”, his desperation for Desdemona’s love at this point in the play has reached an intense tone. In this debilitated mental state Roderigo accepts Iago’s suggestion that he kill Cassio: “I have no great devotion to the deed; and yet he hath given me satisfying reasons” (V, i, Yet for us we begin to wonder, what “satisfying reasons” has Iago offered except wild conjecture and no proof. Yet, Iago successfully manipulates Roderigo to his purposes, as he and Cassio fight, leaving only Cassio for Iago to manipulate.

Finally, Iago’s most damaging manipulation of the characters of Othello, is his manipulation of Othello himself and this is due to his relationship with Othello. Othello’s insecurities about his race are what Iago uses to manipulate Othello into internal conflict and getting what he wants . In his discourse to the Duke, Othello’s adoration for Desdemona seems and pure. It is filled with religious words such as “pilgrimage” and “prayer” which demonstrate both the depth and sacredness of their love. Yet, by the end of the play Iago has tainted Othello’s soul that he is confident that, “[Desdemona] must die, else she’ll betray more men?”. At this point the audience can seem perplexed due to the fact the series of events seem to have no common continuity, How did this drastic shift happen? It is Iago’s gentle prodding and toying with Othello and the relationship that Iago has built with Othello. Iago is Othello’s subordinate and his third in command. This means that they have a tight military relationship. However, the private relationship between Othello and Iago is much more intricate. Othello trusts Iago totally as Iago has a reputation in Venice for being very honest: ‘my ancient; / A man he is of honest and trust.’ He believes Iago to be one of his best friends and believes Iago to be completely devoted to him. However, Iago despises Othello and makes it his personal mission to destroy him: ‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him.’ 

Iago utilizes specific character flaws and situations throughout the play, to serve his own aim. Indeed, Iago is a character whose manipulations often involve perverting that which is good and moral into a pitifully depraved heap. This theme resonates throughout the play. Only as the setting moves from Venice to Cyprus, order to chaos, is Iago able to lead the characters and commit such atrocities ranging from lying and stealing to potential murder. In this manner we see that the series of events that occur throughout the play are not due to a character’s weakness, but a master manipulator to play upon those weaknesses. Othello is not a Venetian and he has an outsider’s insecurities. On one level Iago is manipulating those insecurities; on another level, Iago is that sinful part of Othello’s consciousness that houses those insecurities. What they say to each other in the later scenes of the play reflect the instability of someone who has been stuck too long in his own mind, and whose sense of reality and actuality has become almost completely an internal battle. The relationship that exists between the distressed, noble moor and the deceitful Iago finally collapses after Iago’s villainous plot is revealed, after Othello has killed his wife. 

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