Jealousy, commonly described as “the green-eyed monster” is a consistent theme throughout Shakespeare’s literature. It is, more often than not, the fuel that drives the plot, the tragic hero’s flaw and the main motivation for the story’s antagonist. It is the universal theme of jealousy that set the mood for most of Shakspeare’s plays, including Othello. The obvious antagonist of the play, Iago makes it clear to the audience how deep his hatred towards Othello runs. When the play opens, we see Iago scheming to ruin Othello’s life in any way he can when Othello has done nothing to him. His motives behind all the evil he does stems from his jealousy, which leads him to plan an elaborate scheme to get revenge on those whom he believes wronged him and ruin Othello and Cassio’s reputation. Atop his jealousy, his lack of a stable mental states plays a big role behind all his immoral actions.
Jealousy is one of the most corrupting emotions and can lead an individual down a very dark path in which recovery becomes almost non existent. When others have something we want, we become envious of what they have and per human nature, we psychologically enter a state of mind to hate that person when they have nothing directly to us. In the beginning of the play through Iago’s conversation with Roderigo it become evident how determined Iago is to get revenge on Othello and Cassio for not being chosen as lieutenant. “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.” (1.1.12). We see Iago’s passion and self reassurance and how he genuinely believes he deserves to be Othello’s right hand man. Iago knows that he is more qualified than Cassio, who lacks his experience. Othello appointing Cassio as lieutenant was the fuel for the fire, and Iago’s jealousy was the spark that ignited it. Iago’s position in this scenario is very relatable in today’s society which is a big reason why Shakespeare’s literature is still relevant. When you work hard on something and stay up all night to put those finishing touches on a project while your friend does it last minute and gets a higher mark than you, feelings of jealousy take over you and, unconsciously, you begin to resent that person because of their success. Iago’s villainous traits ultimately get the best of him when he goes overboard with his plan for vengeance. Dramatic irony plays a large role in many of Shakspeare’s literature and evidently a large one in Othello. “Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty, Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves” (1.1.52-53). In this quote we are shown how cunning and evil Iago is and to what extent he would go to in order to get his revenge. He would pretend that everything is fine in front of Othello and Cassio, but behind their backs he was plotting their downfalls. He is a very good manipulator because he knew how to make other characters believe that he was an honest man, and by doing that he took advantage of their trust. He has the skills to manipulate others by exploiting their weaknesses.
In sixteenth century Venice and in today’s society power is accompanied with a high status. With a high status comes the ability to control others and a strong reputation that requires maintenance to maintain. Iago in the play has no power whereas Othello and Cassio do. Since Iago believes that he deserves to be lieutenant, he thinks that the power was stripped from him and as a result he comes up with a plan to ruin Othello and Cassio’s reputation making his seems better than theirs. He is extremely clever and uses other people such as Roderigo as his scapegoat to do his dirty work while his hands stay clean. He never directly involves himself in the downfall of the characters, he only instigates them. The most obvious example of this was the fight between Cassio and Montano. Iago cunningly convinces Cassio to get drunk while on duty which leads to Cassio stabbing Montano. Through this scene we see to what extent Iago is willing to go to, to achieve his goal while still remaining “the good guy”. In act 2, Iago says, “I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth Than it should do offence to Michael Cassio.” (2.3.184-185). Iago makes himself appears to be loyal to Cassio to deter any suspicions of him framing him. After the fight, Othello fires Cassio according to Iago’s plan. Cassio’s reputation as drastically fallen and Iago’s now seems much better in comparison. Iago’s manipulative skills of playing on an individual’s weakness comes into play when he begins to make Othello jealous. Jealousy is Othello’s tragic flaw and with this knowledge Iago began to plant seeds of doubt about Desdemona’s fidelity in Othello’s mind. “…Receive it from me. I speak not yet of proof. Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio.” (3.3.201-202). While Othello is mad at Cassio for what he did to Montano, Iago is amplifying those feelings by lying and saying that Cassio is having an affair with his wife. Iago is exploiting Othello’s weakness for his own personal gain because he know that Othello will let his jealousy get the best of him and he will do something that will ruin his reputation. The actions that Iago commits are ones that no sane person who even think about doing. To completely betray and ruin a friend’s life hints at Iago’s mental stability.
As the play progresses, Iago’s character makes a clear and dramatic transition from sane to mentally unstable. After becoming jealous of Othello and Cassio and setting out a strategic plan to ruin their lives, he develops an insatiable desire for revenge until his actions ultimately result in the death of multiple people he once cared about. The emotions he feels at the start of the play are only the beginning stages of his rage. These emotions build on each other over time into more intense feelings of anger and paranoia to the point where he thinks Othello is sleeping with his wife, Emilia. Eventually, Iago becomes completely consumed by his fear and hate and acts on it the only way he knows how and By the end of the play, this leads him to kill off those close to him without feeling the slightest bit of guilt. In Act 2 Desdemona and Othello kiss and Iago says in an aside, “Oh, you are well tuned now, but i’ll set down the pegs that make this music.” (2.1.185). Iago is saying that he will ruin the happiness that Othello and Desdemona share. No sane person has thoughts of destroying their friends marriage over a job promotion. It is through these moments where he is speaking to the audience where the reader gets a glimpse of who Iago truly is. In another aside in act 2 he says, “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio”. Iago uses a metaphor of how he will weave a web of lies and deception and catch Cassio in it. A metaphor as such shows how deranged and psychotic Iago’s thinking process is.
Overall, it is evident that Iago’s motives for everything he did throughout the course of the play stems from jealousy. He was jealous of Cassio because he was chosen to be lieutenant, and he was jealous of Othello because of his position of general and his reputation. His motives are also rooted from his lack of a stable mental state. He allows his emotions to eat away at him rather than seeking out a rational solution to his conflict. All of this motivates Iago to start scheming, which eventually leads to the deaths of several main characters.