We are going to analyse Othello, Iago and Desdemona’s characters and how the web of lies engineered by Iago led to the demise of many characters. As Lee Jamieson has stated, Iago “is jealous of Cassio for obtaining the position of Lieutenant over him, jealous of Othello- believing he bedded his wife- and jealous of Othello’s position, despite his race.”
At the beginning of the play we are introduced to Roderigo and Iago. Iago was an ensign in the Venetian army who was overlooked by Othello. In their conversation we learn that Iago is bitter about Cassio being given the lieutenant position and not him, he announces his hatred towards his commander, Othello, because he passed him over and gave the position to someone who was supposedly less experienced than him. It is also in Act I Scene I where we learn about Iago’s conniving behaviour and his hatred towards Othello, he also felt that he was much better than Cassio and he was the person best suited for the job that he undermined Cassio, “And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, -A fellow almost damned in a fair wife, that never set a squadron in the field…” (Shakespeare, I.I. 20-25). Iago’s duplicity is evident from scene one, he is manipulative, conniving and treacherous. He was able to orchestrate everything because of people who perceived him as an honest person, it is due to that misinterpretation of his appearance that he gained the trust of people which made it easier for him to manipulate them and play on their feelings and insecurities.
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Othello was an officer in the Venetian military, and a Moor. Despite his military prowess, the way he is eloquent, how he appeared to be more of a gentleman than those who judged him and he perceived his manners and words as a bit rough (Smith, 2014). He never really felt comfortable in his skin he thought less of himself because he was ‘My name, that was as fresh – As Dian’s visage, is now begrim’d, and black -As mine own face’ (Shakespeare, III.III.392-94) and because of this insecurity, Iago was able to manipulate him easily. As a Moor, he was defensively proud of himself and what he has acquired so he worked very hard to maintain his reputation so that he could be regarded as equal as his white counterparts (Smith, 2013). Othello’s insecurities got the better of him and Iago saw that and seized to opportunity to destroy him, he led him on and made him believe that Desdemona was not being faithful to him. As many characters perceived Iago to be a man of honesty, Othello thought so too and because he was a very proud man the allegations brought forward to him that Desdemona was having an affair really hurt his feelings and his pride even more. They fuelled his “jealousy and vanity because he always wanted to appear as powerful, accomplished, and moral at every possible instance” (Smith, 2013). His pride and jealousy could not make him think straight and played right into Iago’s hands that he ended up taking his wife’s life, even after learning of Iago’s schemes he could not bring himself to acknowledge that he made a mistake, he instead took his own life after stabbing Iago to death.
Desdemona was married to Othello even though he was a bit older than her. She came from a well off family and because of who her father was she overly virtuous and that led her to her death. She felt that it was necessary to defend Cassio by pleading with her husband to restore his rank not realising that it would later have serious repercussions in her marriage; or rather in her life.
Iago had problems with his identity and felt inferior to Othello even though he was a Moor, he used that against him to make himself feel better about his own insecurities “insofar as lago can make Othello experience his own blackness as a contamination that contaminates Desdemona, he succeeds in emptying himself out into Othello; and insofar as Othello becomes in effect lago’s faecal baby, Othello-rather than lago-becomes the bearer of the fantasy of inner filth” (Adelman, 1977:143). As Lee puts it, “Iago is consumed with hatred and envy” and it’s because of his character that Othello ends up murdering his wife in their matrimonial bed. Even though Desdemona was innocent in all of this, she became a collateral damage of Iago’s schemes to get back at Othello.
- Adelman, J. 1977. Iago’s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello. Shakespeare Quarterly, 48(2), 125-144
- Lee, J. 2020. “Iago Character Analysis From Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.” ThoughtCo. Date of access: 19 May 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/iago-from-othello-2984767.
- Smith, J.N. Joseph Ward. “Othello Summary”. GradeSaver. Christine McKeever ed. Date of access: 19 May 2020. https://www.gradesaver.com/othello/study-guide/themes in MLA Format
- Shakespeare, W., & McDonald, R. (2001). 18th ed. The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. New York: Penguin Books.