Iago's Manipulation of Othello in William Shakespeare's Play
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Iago's Manipulation of Othello in William Shakespeare's Play
Iago has previously taken the audience into his confidence and we know
what he is going to do. In Act 1 Scene 1, he uses animal imagery such
as "For daws to peck at", "Barbaryhorse", and "an old black ram is
tupping your white ewe"; and images of disease like "poison his
delight" and "Plague him with flies". These images add depth and
cruelty to what he says and provide amusement for the audience. He is
telling Brabantio in the worst possible away about his daughter's
relationship with Othello and he's bad mouthing Othello behind his
back. This makes the audience feel sympathy for both Othello and
Brabantio but the images are so obscene that they can be found funny.
Iago relates to the audience by doing this, therefore getting them on
his side early on in the play.
In Act 1 Scene 2, Iago shows diversity in the way he speaks to
different people and we see deeper into the real Iago; it is as though
he is changing faces. The audience has previously seen him speaking to
Roderigo with little respect and using cruel and racist comments
towards Othello. Now they are witnessing him deceiving Othello by
pretending to be loyal and honest whilst also deceiving Roderigo by
telling clever lies. The way that Iago manipulates Othello makes the
audience think and then realize that people believe him to be honest
because he is sly.
However, Othello proves harder to deceive than Roderigo and Brabantio
because he confident and proud. At the end of Act 1 Scene 3, Iago
starts to plot the downfall of Othello. Firstly, he gives instructions
to Roderigo and then, in a soliloquy, tells the audience his plan as
it comes to mind, "How? How? Let's see". By making Iago do this,
Shakespeare forms a relationship between the audience and Iago and
lets them know everything that's going through Iago's mind. He reveals
his motives to the audience, "'twixt my sheets he's done my office",
he believes that Othello has been to bed with his wife and wants to
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get revenge. Iago is good at finding people's weaknesses and he knows
that Othello's is Desdemona so will use her to seek revenge and to get
This gets the audience to go along with Iago because it's human nature
to like seeing bad things happening to somebody else. The plotting
also has shock value and anticipation because anything could happen
and Iago changes his tone when speaking to different people. The
audience is interested in the plot because they see Othello as
respectful and honest and they don't want anything bad to happen to
In Act 2 Scene 1, Othello says, "not another comfort like to this
succeeds in unknown fate"; he believes that he will never be this
happy again. This is ironic because soon after Iago says, "I'll set
down the pegs that make this music"; he is going to destroy Othello's
happiness and manipulate him. Iago says this in an aside so that the
audience knows the whole plot and the characters don't. Iago has
observed what makes Othello happy and straightaway plots to his
downfall. Scene 1 ends with Iago's soliloquy in which he reveals
another motive for his evil plotting, perhaps to justify his behaviour
to the audience and try to keep them on his side.
In Act 2 Scene 3, Iago relates to the audience by talking about
English people in a favourable way, "O sweet England", he reacts how
people, including the audience, want him to. Shakespeare has done this
so that the audience are involved and are provided with some comic
relief from the seriousness and intrigue of the play. Also, so that
the audience remember he is only human and are more likely to go along
with him and feel that he isn't really doing anything wrong in making
Cassio drunk, just having a good time. By thinking this way, the
audience don't feel so guilty for admiring Iago's cleverness.
Shortly after, Iago manipulates Othello when he is angry and wants to
know what has been going on. He uses imagery of lovers, "like bride
and groom devesting them for bed", to remind Othello of where he was
and to make him resentful of the disturbance. This generalisation
discreetly deceives Cassio and arouses Othello but makes himself look
better. Iago then goes on to say that he would "rather this tongue cut
from my mouth than it should do offence to Michael Cassio", to make it
seen as though the information will have to be dragged from his mouth,
the audience know this is a lie and Iago's calm tone makes Othello
even angrier. Things are going exactly as Iago wants them to and at
this point the audience can enjoy his plots coming to life and,
although the results are devastating to other characters, admire the
quickness of Iago's mind as he makes things up on the spur of the
moment. The fact that the audience know everything might make them
think Othello is stupid to believe everything he is told but he is
unaware of the web of lies surrounding the characters in the play.
Therefore, the audience may be more likely to side with Iago because
they think Othello is just being foolish and doesn't deserve his high
rank in society.
At the end of Act 2 Iago confides in the audience with the rest of his
plan as it emerges. When he talks to Roderigo he says, "this advice is
free I give and honest", he's defending himself and when the audience
begin to side with him his plan gets worse. However, he goes too far
and when death is involved it's not funny anymore. The audience can,
however, admire the way he makes the most of opportunities.
In Act 3 Scene 3 the audience watch Othello fall straight into Iago's
trap when Iago says, "I like not that". Iago has made something from
nothing and just because Cassio is too scared to face Othello, and
Desdemona is kind-hearted, Othello is manipulated into believing they
are having an affair. Iago makes it seem that Othello has thought of
it by himself when actually Iago has planted it in his head. He does
this by being subversive, "In Venice they do let God see the pranks
they dare not show their husbands", giving hypotheses and making
explicit suggestions. He also uses facts for example, "She did deceive
her father, marrying you", to let the audience know he isn't all evil
and to give him power over Othello. This can be seen when Othello
mirrors Iago's language, "goat" and "monster". Iago is repellent
because he is evil and a villain but he is also attractive because he
is cunning and clever.
In Act 3 Scene 4 Iago makes something from nothing by making Othello
caught up by the business of the handkerchief. The way Othello acts
here would be totally unbelievable if not for the lead up to this
scene. This is one of the few scenes when Othello and Desdemona speak
to each other, Iago is careful not to let them talk too often or too
much because Desdemona would make Othello realise that he is wrong
about Cassio. Instead dramatic tension is built up and the audience
long to say something to the characters to release it and give the
play a happy ending. Confusion is a main element of the play, for
example Desdemona has no idea that Othello suspects her of being
disloyal so she keeps on about Cassio and unknowing makes things worse
instead of better. This causes frustration in the audience and they
can feel annoyance with Iago for causing this pain.
Othello is Iago's device in this play and Iago is asking the audience
to approve of torturing a nice person by ruining his life. To a
certain extent the audience follow him by admiration of his quick
thinking and daring personality. However, by destroying innocent and
naïve people and splitting up lovers, the audience distance themselves
from him. They can find comedy in some of the images he uses and in
the irony of the play but there is no way they can agree with what
he's doing. Feelings of sympathy are aroused towards characters that
are unknowing caught up in evil goings on and are soon to be brought
down. Othello is a nice person and the fact that Iago is ruining his
life proves that it's not possible to stay on his side.
How is Othello's race a factor in the play?
Othello ascends to the rank of the Venetian military, a city - much like Elizabethan England when the play was written - rife with racism. A general in the army, Othello holds a distinguished place in the Duke's court due to his victories in battle, but not an equal one. He suffers barbs and preconceived notions, yet Othello is esteemed and wins the love of the daughter of a nobleman. However, Brabantio is enraged by Othello's marriage to Desdemona and claims Othello used magic to compel her to run to his "sooty bosom". Race is a factor in the tragedy both in those who seek to destroy Othello, and the victims of the schemes - Othello and Desdemona. Perhaps the most pernicious form of race as an instrument of division is Othello's own view of himself as an outsider, which makes him more susceptible to Iago's plan.
How does Shakespeare's use of language reveal character?
Often Shakespeare uses verse lines written in iambic pentameter to illustrate nobility. It is illustrative of Iago's duplicitous nature that he tends to speak in verse when he is with Othello and in prose for his soliloquies. One way in which Iago is a master in manipulation is his tendency to use Othello's own words to disguise his active role of instigator and make it seem that any dark thought came not from him but Othello's own mind. Othello's speech is very sophisticated at the beginning of the play, and in his soliloquy at the close of Act V, but when he is consumed with jealous rage, his eloquence falters. Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey the innerworkings of his characters.
Othello is often called a tragic hero. Discuss his heroic qualities as well as his flaws which lead to his demise.
At the beginning of the play Othello is presented as an honorable man of noble stature and high position. In the end it is his misguided attempt to maintain that honor which brings about his, and Desdemona's, demise. However, Othello is not simply the victim of a plot. Iago is able to engineer Othello's downfall in part because of Othello's own insecurities. His pride blinds him to his weaknesses, and he puts his faith in Iago over the word of his love, Desdemona. Othello is obsessed with his reputation, and ends up killing his wife to save face. Only to a flawed man would murder seem like a solution to a problem of reputation. Othello is spurred on by lies and misrepresentations, but he brings about his own undoing.
What motives, stated and implied does Iago have for taking revenge on Othello?
Iago's stated reason for taking revenge on Othello is that he has been passed over for Cassio's post. But is this enough for him to "hate the Moor"? It is clear that he is jealous of Othello's ascension in the court and successful wooing of Desdemona. Othello's race and status as an outsider also seems to fuel this rage, as well as the rumor that Othello has slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. None of these motivations, however, seem to add up to inspire the violence that unfolds. Iago remains one of the most purely evil of Shakespeare's villains.
Discuss how loyalty is presented as a positive and a negative quality throughout the play.
Othello's lack of loyalty is what incites Iago's plan for revenge. Iago's ability to fool Othello that he is loyal while secretly plotting his demise is what makes his revenge effective. It is Othello's belief in Desdemona's lack of loyalty that seals their fates. In these ways loyalty, when misconstrued, can be dangerous. However Desdemona's loyalty to Othello even in her death and Othello's loyalty to her once his mistake is revealed are seen as ennobling aspects of their characters.
Compare and contrast the jealousy of Othello to that of Iago.
One major theme in Othello is revenge - Iago's revenge on Othello and Othello's revenge on Desdemona. They both believe death will bring justice. Iago's revenge is cooler, plotted out over time where Othello's is an act of heartbroken passion. Iago wears his lack of morals as a badge of honor where it is Othello's moral code that leads to his tragic end.
Although Othello is the title character in what way is Iago the main character?
Often in Shakespeare's plays such as Hamlet or King Lear, the title character is the main character and protagonist. In Othello this is not the case. Iago has almost 20% more lines than Othello, and has more asides with the audience. While it is Othello's decisions and actions that provide the dramatic structure for the play, it is Iago who sets in motion those decisions and spurs him to action. Othello is the tragic figure of the play, along with Desdemona, and it his characteristics that lend itself to most of the themes - jealousy, race, trust. However, Iago is the character who drives the plot.
How does Desdemona's dying assertion that she killed herself effect how you see her character?
From a modern feminist viewpoint Desdemona may be judged harshly for answering Emilia, when she asked who has mortally attacked her, "nobody; I myself. Farewell." Furthermore, she seemed resigned to her fate at the hands of her husband. While contemporary audiences may interpret these actions as unfathomable, they highlight the goodness of her character. Desdemona is described by others in the play with words that symbolize goodness - light, white, fair, delicate, alabaster. By the end of the play, Desdemona begins to symbolize goodness itself, so her reaction to her murder becomes another element in Othello's tragic end. Desdemona still loves Othello, though he is mistaken, and she goes to her death professing her husband's reputation. A modern audience may wish for a response that is less melodramatic, but that is not the world that Shakespeare has created in this play.
In what ways do Othello's suicide strengthen or undermine his heroism?
Though suicide is not usually the chosen end for a heroic figure, it is Othello's only escape from the crimes he has committed. Though the victim of Iago's trickery, Othello is still the author of his own demise. For Desdemona's death to be answered by anything less than his own would have felt false.
Describe how Othello's pride leads to his fall.
At the beginning of the play Othello is proud of himself and his achievements, but when Iago looks to punish Othello for his perceived slight, it is his pride that he preys upon. The belief that Desdemona has tainted his honor ignites Othello's rage, but it is his pride that blinds him to the fact that the evidence of her acts are lies invented not by a loyal friend but an enemy bent on his destruction.