Iago in "Othello"

Analysis of the character Iago in "Othello" by William Shakespeare.
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I have chosen task number 2. In accordance with this, I have chosen to write an analysis of the character Iago.


In the character analysis I am going to focus on these topics:

  • How is Iago’s personality – which traits has he? Complex/simple personality?
  • How does Iago appear to the other characters? Their opinions about Iago. Relationships - with other characters in the story.
  • Is Iago aware of how he appears to others?  
  • Is Iago aware of how he appears to others?
  • How does Iago manage to trick everyone?
  • Does the character have a function in the story? Which function?
  • What is the importance of the soliloquies?
  • How important is the issue of keeping up his appearances?
  • How does Iago`s goals change during the story? Does Iago’s play evolve throughout the story?
  • May Iago have any underlying motives?
  • Do Iago succeed in his plan? If he does, in which way does he succeed?
  • Additionally, I am also going to support some of my interpretation of my personal view.


Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh and as Othello and Iago, respectively, in a scene from the 1995 version of "Othello".


Iago is a fictional character in William Shakespeare’s play Othello. In the play Iago is 28 years old. The story is set in 14th-15th century.


How is Iago’s personality – which traits has he? Complex/simple personality?

Although the title suggests that the tragedy belongs primarily to Othello, Iago is also an important role, with more lines than the title character. At 1097 lines, he speaks more lines in the play than Othello. Furthermore, Iago is definitely the villain in the tragedy Othello. However, he is a complex villain, rated by scholars as the villain in world fiction. His cunning and craftiness makes him a truly dastardly villain indeed.


First and foremost Iago is a very jealous person. His mentality and goals are imbued with jealousy. Already in the first scene we get the impression of him as jealous person, seeing that he plans to make Othello demote Cassio from being a lieutenant. Thus, one of Iago’s motives for his plot is that he wants to promote to lieutenant. Moreover, Iago is jealous of Othello's ability to woo the young, alluring Desdemona. He is enraged at the idea of the "old black ram" (as Iago calls Othello) attaining what Iago himself desires:

“It cannot be that Desdemona should long

continue her love to the moor… She must change for youth.

When she is sated with his boody, she will find the error of her choice… If sanctimony and a frail vow

Betwixt an erring barbarian and a supersubtle Venitian

he not to too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell,

thou shalt enjoy her. (act 1, scene 3).”

Shakespeare contrasts Iago with Othello's nobility and integrity. Whereas Iago is unprincipled and dishonest. Another contrast is Othello’s remorse contrast to Iago’s lack of guilty conscience.


In my view, Iago seems malevolent. Besides, it appears as he has a bitter and cynical view of the world around him.


Does the character have a function in the story? Which function?

Iago is extremely significant for the play due to the fact that it is Iago that drives the play. He is the main driving force in this play, pushing Othello and everyone else towards their tragic end. When taking a closer look at the play, you could say that the action in the play is a result of Iago’s actions. The story sort of revolves around Iago’s actions; He is the one who gets Othello jealous, he is the one who gets Cassio drunk, he is the one that gives the handkerchief to Bianca, he is the one that gets jealous at Cassio, he is the one that kills Emilia and Rodrigo, et cetera. Consequently, you can say that Iago absolutely has a function in the play as a puppeteer.


As a mater of fact, Iago is General Othello’s most trusted advisor. When taking a closer look at the play, Iago has been Othello’s swordsman for seven years, which is a major vote of confidence. Iago takes advantage of his position as Othello’s most trusted advisor. Iago prejudices Othello against Desdemona by carefully planting misleading images of Desdemona on Othello’s mind. But Othello does not see through it. With his carefully thought-out words and persuasions, Iago callously creates intrigues and manipulates Othello, Rodrigo, Desdimonia, Emilia and Cassio. Hence, it is Iago who manipulates all other characters at will, controlling their movements and trapping them in an intricate net of lies.


The issue of keeping up appearances, and his soliloquies

Iago only reveals his true nature in his soliloquies, and in occasional asides. Thus, the soliloquies are important because it is then he shows his true-self and his motives, in other words he tries to justifies himself. Elsewhere, he is charismatic and friendly. Or as he says in act 1, scene 1: “I am not what I am”. Which implies that he is not the person he gives himself out to be. This is very essential to Iago, because Iago is so clearly conscious of how he appears to the other character. He speaks differently to each character in order to manipulate the respective person. In other words, it is very important for Iago to keep up appearances (keep his mask).


Iago tries to justify himself throughout the play (apart from the end), something which is quintessential for his character. We know that he tries to justify his actions, but we do not know whether he has guilty conscious. Nevertheless, it appears as he does not feel remorse; at least we do not sense it. Because, given the fact that he has guilty conscious, he would probably not let Desdemona die, but when it had gone that far there was no turning back.


The jealous Iago, and possible underlying motives

Iago has an infatuation on Desdemona, which implies that he is jealous at Othello. He really hates Othello, saying “Though I do hate him as I do hell pains” [Act 1, scene 1, Line 152], which state hates him like the torments of hell. In act 1, scene 3, Iago delivers his first soliloquy, declaring his abhorrence for Othello, and a bit later his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. He lays out his plan to cheat Rodrigo out of money, to convince Othello that Cassio has slept with Desdemona, and to use Othello’s honest and unsuspecting nature to bring him to his demise. Typically, in this soliloquy, he tries justify himself by his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife, something which is quintessential for his character.


However, in my opinion, this claim together with the fact that Cassio has been given the post of lieutenant in favour of Iago, does not seem to adequately explain Iago’s deep hatred of Othello. Furthermore, I think that Iago’s hate against Othello partially has to do with racism. But in spite the fact that Iago is a very jealous person, I believe that he does not express his motivation entirely; he does not tell the profound background of all the hate he feels. There is some underlying motive that he does not tell us. However, when it comes to Iago’s underlying motives, it is a matter of discussion. It can be several and variously of reasons. But on account of his bitterness, I think that he perhaps has experienced something very painful and hurting during his lifetime, hence he has an additional motivation to revenge himself. I incline to a description where his immoral actions are his retaliation of the cruel experience he has painfully experienced in the past. And further on, he becomes completely addicted to the powers he that wields over him. At the same time he feels jealous and does manage to control his feelings.


Iago mentions his suspicion again at the end of Act 2, scene 1, explaining that he lusts after Desdemona because he wants to get even with Othello, saying “And nothing can or shall content my soul Till I am evened with him, wife for wife…” [Act 2, scene 1. 297]. In spite of Iago`s suspicions, we never get to find out whether Othello has slept with Emilia or not. We can only guess.


How does Iago appears towards the other characters? Is Iago aware of how he appears to others?

There is no doubt whatsoever whether Iago is aware of how he appears to other character, because he unquestionably is. Iago appears as honest and friendly towards the other characters in the play. In view of that, Iago seems to have good relations to the other characters. Besides, he is regarded as Othello’s loyal and reliable ensign and friend. Iago is often referred to as "honest Iago," displaying his skill at deceiving other characters so that not only do they not suspect him, but they count on him as the person most likely to be truthful. However, Iago is everything but this; he is immoral, unreliable, false, jealous and deceiving. Iago's immorality can be seen throughout the play and is demonstrated by his actions. Iago's merciless taking of Emilia's and Roderigo's lives is for instance a image of his immorality. In nearly every scene in which Iago speaks one can point out his deceptive manner, hidden motives and evil intentions. Iago is as false as forged id. Clearly in this play, appearances are deceptive.


How does Iago manage to trick everyone?

Iago manage to trick everyone by means of language and keeping up appearances. In keeping with this, language is exceptionally important to the play. Iago is a master to persuade people, and he has the ability to say things at the right time. In other words, it is Iago’s talent for understanding and manipulating the desires of those around him that makes him both a powerful and a convincing figure. For instance he persuade Rodrigo to not drown himself but rather go to Cyprus to have Desdemona. Furthermore, Iago is smart. He is an expert judge of people and their characters and uses this to his advantage. For example, he knows Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and figures that he would do anything to have her as his own. Iago says about Roderigo, "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse." [Act 1, Scene 3, Line 355]. By playing on his hopes, Iago is able to swindle money and jewels from Roderigo, making himself a substantial profit, while using Roderigo to attain his other goals. Being as smart as he is, Iago is quick to recognize the advantages of trust and uses it as a tool to forward his purposes. Iago slowly poisons people's thoughts, creating ideas in their heads without implicating himself. Iago is simply a master of deception.


After dishonored Cassio by getting him drunk (which eventually leads to a fight where Montano gets wound), Iago sets another of his plans in motion by telling Cassio to ask for Desdemona to help his cause, saying, "she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested." [Act 2, Scene 3, Line 287]. And thus, Cassio is lead astray, which leads to trouble and mischief. Yet, Cassio follows it blindly telling Iago, "You advise me well." [Act 2, Scene 3, Line 292]. With this, Cassio is eventually led into a trap where Rodrigo wounds him, and all that time, Iago - his friend - is behind it all.


How does Iago`s goals change during the story? Does Iago’s play evolve during the story?

His goals changes during the play, however his motives are the same. Iago’s play evolves during the story, as he has to improvise because everything does not work out the way he had planned it to do; Cassio does not get killed and Rodrigo gets hurt, therefore Iago has to kill Rodrigo to ensure that Rodrigo can not rattle on him. In addition, his wife (Emilia) rattles on him when she hears the truth about him. Subsequently, he kills Emilia, which was not originally a part of his plan. In addition, Iago’s plan appears to succeed when Othello kills Desdemona, who is innocent of Iago's charges. But shortly afterwards Iago’s treachery is brought to light by Emilia. As a result of this, Iago kills his Emilia, which was not originally a part of his plan. And subsequently, Iago is placed under arrest. He remains famously reticent when he gets pressed for an explanation of his malicious conduct:

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
From this time forth I never will speak word” [Act 5, Scene 2, Line 300-301].


Do Iago succeed in his plan? If he does, in which way does he succeed?

Ultimately, Iago plan apparently does not succeed. On the other hand, I believe that Iago feels disregarded due to the fact that he in spite of being held in high esteem does not get recognition in form of a good position as lieutenant. In consideration of this, Iago succeed in the sense that he manage to get heavily influence; he is no longer overlooked. Hence, it is a victory in itself that he has managed to get that much influence; he that possibly has been disregarded through parts of his lifetime. When taking a closer look at his character, he is disregarded by the senators whom does give a damn about him. And above all, Othello gets the position as a General being black, and besides, he obtains Desdemona as well even though he is much older. So my conclusion is that he in some sense succeeds with his plan by getting a sort of confirmation of his significance by being that much trusted and not disregarded.

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