Iago’s Character in Othello

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In William Shakespeare’s famous tragic play Othello, Iago is perhaps the play’s most important character, since his machinations drive the tension in the narrative. Through his various soliloquys, readers and viewers come to better understand the complexity of Iago’s character and his capacity for deception. Through Iago’s soliloquys in Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago’s deceit and ability to manipulate others by preying on their insecurities form the central conflict in the play and lead to its tragic ending.

Iago’s first soliloquy in Act I, Scene 3 is perhaps the most important in the play since it sets up the action that will follow. Also, through this soliloquy, readers and viewers learn a great deal about Iago’s character and his ability as a master manipulator, as shown here:

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Thus do I ever make my fool my purse:
For I mine own gain’d knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe.
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor ‘ (2006, 1.3.740-744)

Here, we see Iago’s true intentions. Though he plays an ardent supporter of Othello’s, he actually ‘hates’ his superior, mostly because Othello denied him the position of Lieutenant and gave it to Cassio instead. Indeed, Iago also holds a grudge against Cassio, who he involves in his plan for Othello’s downfall:

Cassio’s a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will ‘
After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear
That he is too familiar with his wife. (2006, 1.3.749-752)

As shown above, Iago schemes to make Othello think that Cassio is having an affair with Othello’s wife Desdemona. This shows that Iago is what literary scholar Djundjung (2002) terms as the ‘director’ of the play since he decides the course of the narrative in much the same way as a director would script a play (p. 1).

The second soliloquy that reveals Iago’s duplicitous character occurs in Act II, Scene 1, where he goes into more depth regarding his intentions to not only discredit Othello but do it in a way that makes Othello think Iago is acting as a trusted advisor: ‘Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me. / For making him egregiously an ass’ (2006, 2.1.1009-1010). Here, readers infer that Iago is not only duplicitous, but also vindictive and a bit sadistic. Iago does not simply want to deceive Othello. He wants Othello to ‘thank’ and ‘reward’ him for his service while he furthers Iago’s malicious plan.

The third soliloquy that illustrates Iago’s character comes in Act V, Scene 1, as Iago reveals his insidious nature and his disregard for human life. Iago’s only care is that he sees his plan to fruition, at whatever cost of collateral damage, as shown here, where Iago discusses his manipulation of Roderigo:

I have rubb’d this young quat almost to the sense,
And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill Cassio,
Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other,
Every way makes my gain ‘ (2006, 5.1.3146-3149)

Here Iago admits that his manipulations are working and that he has made Roderigo mad enough to kill. This is significant because it shows just how effectively manipulative Iago can be, and how deeply he affects and ‘directs’ the action of others while simultaneously insulting them along the way.

William Shakespeare’s play Othello highlights a character in Iago, who is among Shakespeare’s most successful and manipulative villains. Iago acts like a ‘director’ in the play since his plan for vengeance drives the plot tension in the narrative and forces the actions of all the other characters. Through Iago’s soliloquys, readers and viewers gain insight into his character, illustrating just how duplicitous and sadistic Iago can be as he directs the action to a tragic climax.

  • Djundjung, J.M. (2002). Iago and the ambiguity of his motives in Shakespeare’s Othello. Kata (Surabaya) 4(1): 1-11. Retrieved from http://kata.petra.ac.id/index.php/ing/article/viewFile/15480/15472.
  • Shakespeare, W. (2006). Othello, the Moor of Venice. Complete Works of William
    Shakespeare. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers: 1168-1209.

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