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The Different Sides of Iago in Othello

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William Shakespeare is known throughout literature about his thoughts and ideas on the subjects of betrayal, death, and love. All three of these subjects can be found in Shakespeare’s piece of literature ​Othello. ​Although, the most dominant topic that I noticed in this piece of literature is jealousy. Jealousy can be seen as a central feeling shared between pretty much all of the characters in Shakespeare’s ​Othello. ​Throughout the history of literature, many literary critics consider Iago to be one of the most evil characters in literary history. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s ​Othello, ​Iago is introduced and seen as a smart man, with a good reputation of speaking the truth and being honest. Later as the play progresses we begin to see Iago becoming a very manipulative person and begins to act almost as a puppet master. What I mean by this is that Iago knows just how to pull on everyone’s strings a certain way. In ​Othello,​ Iago’s overall goal is to make characters feel the same misery and jealousy that he himself feels. Iago does not stop there though. The jealousy and misery that the other characters feel is not enough to make Iago content. Iago seeks revenge and wants everyone to suffer. Iago achieves this goal of everyone suffering by betraying and manipulating other characters throughout this story. Iago can also be seen as being a prime example of freudian psychoanalysis. I say this because all throughout the story Iago can be seen as almost two different sides of him. He has one ego that seems as if he is caring for others, then he has a dark side of him where he wants everyone to suffer and feel the misery that he feels.

Long story short, the envy of the characters in this story, will soon overcome them and take control of their actions and emotions. Iago is fueled and seems as if he is motivated by the jealousy of others from the very beginning of this piece of literature. As a reader, we see Iago being very jealous of Michael Cassio from the start, as Iago says “​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”(I. i. 20-23). Here we see that Iago is jealous and upset that Othello promoted Michael Cassio to being his next Lieutenant. Iago is saying that Michael Cassio is a Florence man, who is is better at doing math than fighting, and has never lead men in battle before. Iago is now very confused as to why he did not get promoted to lieutenant. After Iago was not promoted he goes on talking about his hate that he has for Othello because of the passed over position. Iago then tells Othello that she has been cheating on him. This here, is when I first began to notice Iago’s way to pull people by their strings just the right way. Iago is very well at understanding and reasoning with other characters. I believe this is what allows Iago to play the part of walking all over and manipulating other characters so well. Roderigo also is in love with Desdemona, so he and Iago then begin to stir up some trouble. They then head down to the house of Brabantio. Brabantio is the father of Desdemona. Roderigo and Iago go to Brabantio’s house to inform him that his daughter has ran away. As Roderigo and Iago approach the house Iago says that “[he is the]​ one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”(I.i. 114). Iago tells Brabantio that he his daughter Desdemona is has left him and is now having sex with a Othello the moor. Brabantio does not believe him so Iago tells him to check his daughters room and if she is not there, that he may sue him. Brabantio comes to realization that Iago and Roderigo are not telling a fib. Brabantio gets together a group of men with swords and torches to head out to look for his daughter. Brabantio soon finds Othello and wants to get him arrested for using a witchcraft on his daughter to fall in love with him.

Desdemona tells the Duke that there was no kinds of witchcraft used on her. Brabantio then says “Come hither, Moor./I here do give thee that with all my heart”(I. iii 193-194). Brabantio says that he is forced to bless the marriage, then sends Othello and Desdemona on their way to Cyprus. Which is about to be attacked by the Turkish navy. The turkish navy then tries to trick them by saying that the ships are headed to Rhodes, but the Duke says “Nay, in all confidence, he’s not for Rhodes.”(I. iii. 34), the Duke is saying that they can not be confident that the Turkish navy is headed for Rhodes. Once again, we see Iago trying to manipulate another character once again. Iago tells Roderigo “…fill thy purse with money. The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida.”(I. iii. 309) and follow Othello and Desdemona, as they go on their journey to Cyprus.

Iago tells Roderigo that this is going to be his chance to get Desdemona to fall in love with him. Iago then says Othello, the moor, would then compare her to something bitter and that Othello will no longer want Desdemona. Iago then goes on restating “I have told thee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor​.” ​(I iii. 311). Iago says this because he has heard of rumors that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia. Iago then goes on saying that he and Roderigo should join forces to get revenge on Othello. They start plotting a scheme of to tell Othello that his wife Desdemona has been sleeping with the new Lieutenant Michael Cassio. While the Turkish navy was on their way to Cyprus a storm came through and whipped out all of their naval ships. After this happened there was a feast to celebrate the end of the war and the new marriage of Othello and Desdemona.

Othello then leaves for his wedding night and Cassio and Iago are left in charge. Iago becomes very intoxicated and does what Iago knows how to do best and he manipulates Cassio into picking a fight with Roderigo. Iago tells Roderigo “I pray you, after the lieutenant, go!” (II. iii. 98). Cassio pulls a sword on Roderigo and Montano attempts to try to break up the fight and is wounded. Montano shouts “I bleed still, / I am hurt to the death. He dies!”(II. iii. 126-127). Montano was wounded badly by the laceration of the sword. Othello is then aware of what is going on and comes out and removes Cassio from being drunk at his post. Iago then tells Cassio that he should communicate with Desdemona to get her to talk to Othello about getting his position at the post back. This may seem as if Iago is caring for Cassio but this is all a part of Iago’s manipulative grand scheme of things. Cassio eventually talks to Desdemona about getting his position back at the post. Desdemona is more than happy to help out Cassio because she thinks he is a good loyal friend of Othello. While Cassio and Desdemona are talking, Iago and Othello approach near them. Cassio quickly leaves the scene because he is scared to deal with Othello. Once again the master of manipulation, Iago points out to Othello that Cassio scurried away when they approached. Iago does this once again to get in Othello’s head and give him thoughts of jealousy. Here we see Iago trying to bring down Othello to the level on which how he feels. Once again, it never fails that Iago is never up to no good, but nobody else can see that.

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Very shortly after this we know that this makes Othello suspicious of his wife cheating on him. Desdemona then comes up to Othello and says that him and Cassio should reconcile soon. Now this really makes Othello mad and sends him over the edge. Iago then puts other suspicious thoughts in Othello’s head and begins to question him if there is something wrong. Here we see the freudian psychoanalysis again of Iago pretending to care when this is all just part of his plan to see jealousy take over all of the characters and tries to make them stoop down to his level of pain and envy. Iago then continues to manipulate Othello. Iago says that Othello needs to keep an eye on his wife Desdemona. Iago also gives Othello a heads up that he needs to be cautious of jealousy, because it is not certain if she is cheating on him or not. Othello begins to overthink the whole situation and believes that Desdemona is cheating on him. In the meanwhile, guest are arriving to the house of Desdemona and Othello. Not only are guest arriving, but Othello is being consumed by envy and anger by the thoughts of Desdemona cheating. Desdemona lets Othello know that their company has arrived. Othello then says he has a headache, Desdemona then tries to comfort him and wrap his head with her strawberry embroidered handkerchief. Othello pushes it away and Desdemona drops the handkerchief. Iago then tells his wife Emilia to steal the handkerchief for him. Emilia then picks up the handkerchief from the ground. Othello comes back envious and angry talking about his suspicions of his wife.

Iago then tells Othello that he heard Cassio say in his sleep that he had been sleeping with Desdemona. Iago continues to manipulate othello saying that he saw Cassio wiping his beard with his wife’s handkerchief. Iago convinces Othello that the rumors are true and Othello swears that he will kill both of them for revenge.

A prostitute named Bianca arrives who is in love with Cassio and comes to visit him, he tells her to copy the handkerchief. After this Othello and Iago talk about Cassio and Desdemona’s affairs. Othello begins to get so worked up that he fell into a trans, Cassio then comes by and tells Iago to wait a little ways away. Iago then talks to Cassio about him and Bianca getting married, Cassio begins to laugh from Iago’s questions and Othello takes this as him showing off that he hooked up with Desdemona. Bianca came up with the handkerchief during the middle of the conversation and threw it at Cassio. Now all of Iago’s evil plans are falling into place. When this happens it makes it look as if Cassio took the handkerchief from Desdemona. Iago and Othello then make plans to murder Cassio and Desdemona. Shortly after this Lodovico shows up with letters from the Duke putting Cassio in charge of Cyprus. In the middle of Othello reading these letters he hits Desdemona and accuses Emilia of helping her cheat. Roderigo then accuses Iago of stealing his treasures and promising them to Desdemona.

Once again the manipulative Iago strikes again and convinces Roderigo that the best thing to do to win Desdemona back is to kill Cassio. After Iago talked to Roderigo he convinced him to do it. Roderigo waits outside of Bianca’s home and waits for Cassio to exit. He then attacks Cassio but he did not pierce through the armour. Casio then stabs Roderigo, once this happens Iago sneaks up and pierces Roderigo in the leg and then runs off. Iago was never seen doing this. Iago then returns trying to look like a good guy as if nothing happened and he shows no remorse. Iago seems as if he is helping and returns to stab Roderigo killing him. Othello then goes in and tells Desdemona to prepare for her death, then kills her by smothering her with a pillow. Othello left “Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted.” (V. i. 37). Now Iago’s master plan of all of the characters being overcome with jealousy is now fallen into place and everything goes downhill from there. Emilia comes to tell Othello and Desdemona about the attack on Cassio, Emilia then sees Desdemona’s corpse. Othello admits to killing her, Emilia then begins to argue with him whether or not Desdemona cheated on him or not. Othello then reveals to Emilia that it was her husband Iago who had told him these things. Iago’s plan of manipulating everyone and his envy for other characters finally surfaces when Emilia said that he is making the whole thing up. Emilia then tells the story of her stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief saying that Iago told her to do so. Iago then comes in trying to silence Emilia by stabbing her and killing her. Iago then ran away from the scene and the others captured Othello. Once Othello is captured he then stabs and kills himself, Iago is taken away to be tortured for the chaos that he has caused, and lastly Cassio is promoted to the head of Cyprus.

Throughout literary history, Iago is called the most evil character by famous literary critics. Iago can be viewed as the most evil character by the amounts of destruction that he causes all because he wants jealousy and revenge. Another thing that gives Iago a nastier touch to his evil characterization is that he shows no remorse and does not feel bad at all what he is doing. All Iago wants to do is make the other characters in Shakespeare’s ​Othello​ experience the same pain and jealousy that he feels. Not to mention all of this happened because he was not pleased who Othello picked to be his new lieutenant, but at the end of the story Cassio ends up being promoted to the head of Cyrus with many people dead. Not to mention Iago is now being tortured for what he had done.

Works cited

  1. Bloom, Harold. “Iago / Edited and with an Introduction by Harold Bloom.” ​Primo by Ex Libris​, New York : Chelsea House Publishers, c1992, galileo-usg-ung-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=01GALI_USG_ALMA51152123550002931&context=L&vid=UNG_V1&lang=en_US&search_scope=UNG&adaptor=Local Search Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,iago fictitiouscharacter&sortby=rank&offset=0.
  2. Potter, Nick. “Othello: Character Studies.” ​Primo by Ex Libris​, London ; New York : Continuum, 2008, galileo-usg-ung-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=01GALI_USG_ALMA51152123550002931&context=L&vid=UNG_V1&lang=en_US&search_scope=UNG&adaptor=Local Search Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,othello characterstudies&sortby=rank&offset=0.
  3. Shakespeare, William, and John Crowther. ​No Fear Shakespeare: Othello​. Spark, 2003.

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The Different Sides of Iago in Othello. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-different-sides-of-iago-in-othello/
“The Different Sides of Iago in Othello.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-different-sides-of-iago-in-othello/
The Different Sides of Iago in Othello. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-different-sides-of-iago-in-othello/> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].
The Different Sides of Iago in Othello [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2022 Dec 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-different-sides-of-iago-in-othello/
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