Iago Manipulation Of Othello Essay

Iago’s Manipulation in Act One of Shakespeare's Othello

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Iago’s Manipulation in Act One of Othello


The events that occur in the first half of Act 1 are all in anticipation of the lead character Othello who we are not immediately introduced too. We learn Iago’s name in the second line of the play and Roderigo’s soon after, but Othello is not mentioned by his name once. Instead he is referred to as ‘he’, ‘him’ and is frequently described as ‘the moor’ (1.1.58) he is also described as having ‘thick lips’ (1.1.67) and later as being a ‘Barbary horse’ (1.1.111) is continuously described by his critics, mainly Iago, as a ‘moor’, demonstrating Iago’s frequently concerning nature of race and also portraying Othello as something of an alien. From this reference we are able to immediately understand Iago’s true feelings and motives for Othello.

The audience at this point know nothing of Othello that is gained by their own opinion, instead we are lead to believe from Iago’s race related description that Othello is a threatening and evil moor, whose beastial sexual appetite, conveyed by Iago’s cries to Brabantio, telling him that ‘an old black ram is tupping’ his ‘white ewe’ (1.1.89), is something of a rapist. Iago’s coarse animal related language conveys Iago’s feelings against Othello’s marriage in a much more pronounced way. The image of an ‘old black ram’ gives the audience nothing but negative images of Othello, especially when this ‘old black ram’ is being associated with the innocence of a ‘white ewe’. Iago then associates Othello with the image of ‘the devil’ (1.1.92) because of Othello’s colour, Iago warns Brabantio that he has ‘lost half [his] soul’ now that Desdemona is married to Othello. Iago here emphasises the biracial nature of the marriage, already showing his ability to manipulate people, in this case he is manipulating Brabantio, to believe in Iago’s own opinions and in theory to eliminate all thoughts that Brabantio might of had of his own about the marriage.

Despite the negative foregrounding of Othello’s character by Iago, our first impressions of Othello in Act 1 are of a noble and well-spoken man, his nobility is conveyed through his speech ‘most potent grave and reverend signiors’(1.3.76) to his future father-in-law Brabantio of Othello’s love for his daughter Desdemona in Act 1 Scene 3. This is a very different character to what we expect from Iago’s preparation for the introduction of Othello. Where we are expecting an angry and possibly violent character, we instead are met with something completely surprising, a quiet and calm man who dismisses Roderigo’s insult and even avoids the prospect of a conflict.

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Iago         Manipulation         Othello         True Feelings         Moor         Appetite         Anticipation         Roderigo         Alien         Lips        






Although, this kind nature can also be contrasted with Othello’s ability to boast at his own achievements ‘Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances’ (1.3.133) Othello demonstrates here a side to him that agrees with Iago’s perception of him. His personified language ‘greedy ear’ (1.3.148) also allows us to form the opinion that due to the way Othello uses language, he is a very exaggerated and boastful character.

Instead of having a character describe Iago for the audience, Shakespeare allows Iago to paint his own character portrait. Although Iago starts off as a somewhat passive character he soon shows himself to be the villain of the play; although Iago isn’t your conventional “villain” and is instead can be seen as a far more complex character, this self exposing feature of Iago also helps us as an audience to prepare ourselves to be sympathetic towards Othello. Iago’s complex and villainous role is shown through his ability to judge people and their characters and use it manipulate them to do things in a way that benefits him and allows him to move closer towards his goals. He tries to present himself as a friend to Othello in an attempt to gain his trust, in the line ‘you were best go in’ (1.2.29) he makes Othello feel that Iago is a friend who is trying to help him. Although it shows us as an audience how Iago’s plans to destroy Othello’s marriage are developing early on in the play.

Iago’s manipulations are driven by a basic desire to get back at those who have hurt him and gain what he believes is rightfully his. In Act 1 Scene 1 Iago describes his disgust at being overlooked for Othello’s lieutenant and instead have to settle as being ‘his Moorship’s ancient’ a position below lieutenant, we are able to see here that his main motivation was revenge and anger.



An Analysis of Iago's Manipulation of Each of the Characters in Othello

The essay describes in detail Iago's manipulation of Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Othello.


From beginning to end Iago moves the characters of Othello as if they were chessmen. He uses their individual aspirations and passions to motivate them to whatever devious plan he desires. His adroit manipulation of those characters range from convincing Roderigo to serve Cassio another glass of wine, to leading Othello to the conclusion that only by killing Desdemona could he save himself and mankind from her treacherous acts of infidelity. However, in each case Iago doesn?t have to push very hard because his suggested actions either seem harmless resolutions to each character?s woes or take advantage of character flaws. In each case, because he does not have to push very hard, he is able to maintain an air of apathy while promoting his ultimate malevolent goals: ?I am not what I am?(I, i, 71). In this manner, Iago manipulates Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Othello to play their separate pieces in the puzzle that will ultimately mean Desdemona?s death.
Iago takes advantage of both Cassio?s yearning for his old position of lieutenant as well as Desdemona?s good-hearted nature in order create the image that Desdemona is being unfaithful with him. Cassio loses his lieutenancy do to his drunkenness and brawl with Roderigo and Montano: ?I love thee, but nevermore be lieutenant of mine? (II,iii,264-265). Dejected, Iago turns to Iago, a self-proclaimed, ?honest man?(II,iii,285), who happens to be nearby. Iago has succeeded in reducing Cassio to a pitiful state; a state in which he will be highly suggestible due to his desperation. Iago first comforts Cassio asserting that, ?Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving?(II, iii, 287-9), which is ironic since Iago has a reputation as an honest man when he deceives routinely, while Cassio is now considered a wild drunk when in reality he is Othello?s dearest ally. Iago states that, ?Our general?s wife is now the general?(II, iii, 333-4), and that with her as his petitioner his relationship with Othello, ?shall grow stronger than it was before?(II, iii, 344-5). In this scene, Iago masterfully utilizes Cassio?s low tolerance for alcohol, to rob him of his position. He then plants the idea of using Desdemona as his supplicant, on the newly impressionable Cassio. And therein lies Iago?s mastery; he reduces his chessmen to such a state that a mere seemingly well-meaning whisper on his part coaxes them toward his action.
Iago?s manipulation of Desdemona occurs through Cassio. He exploits Desdemona?s natural proclivity to help others, toward his dark purpose; he ?turn[s] her virtue into pitch?(II, iii, 380). Iago is a satanic figure who endeavors to pervert that which is pure and good. Through his suggestion to Cassio, Iago can now be certain that Cassio will entreat Desdemona to petition for him with Othello. Cassio does implore Desdemona for he aid and predictably she responds that, ?Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.?(III, iii, 1-2), and thus Iago?s plan succeeds. Iago will use their interaction to further extend his evil plot. Iago?s suggestions to Othello will cause him to construe Desdemona?s pleas for Cassio, as pleas for her paramour. Each time she suggests, ?[Cassio?s] present reconciliation take?(III, iii, 51), ?she shall undo her credit with [Othello]?(II, iii, 379), further. Thus Iago manipulates Desdemona?s wholesome urge into entreaties who fall as proofs of infidelity on Othello?s ear.
Iago also manipulates the undeserving devotion that Emilia shows him. We learn from Emilia at the end of the play that Iago, ?begged [her] to steal?(V, ii, 272), the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona: ?that handkerchief?I found by fortune, and did give me husband?(V, ii, 267-9). Iago?s manipulation of his wife is tragic; she clearly sees his ?wayward?(III, iii, 336) nature, and yet she remains obedient even though she knows that it is her mistress?s, ?first remembrance of the Moor?(III, iii, 335). Like Desdemona?s good nature, Iago exploits Emilia?s devotion toward his malicious goals. He then, ?lose[s] this napkin?in Cassio's lodging?, where it will serve as the ?ocular proof? that Othello demanded before concluding that Desdemona was unfaithful. Thus, as Iago was able to control Desdemona through her character flaw of good will, he is similarly able to bend Emilia to his purpose by exploiting her spousal devotion.
In Roderigo?s case, Iago manipulates both his obtuseness, as well as his desperate love for Desdemona. By exploiting Roderigo?s dimwitted nature, Iago is able to attain any monetary resources he wishes. Roderigo?s mental function is also inhibited by his love for Desdemona, which shames him in its strength: ?I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is no in my virtue to amend it?. Thus, with the promise that Desdemona might be swayed to divorce Othello and marry Roderigo, Iago procures whatever funds he wishes: ?Thus do I ever make my fool my purse?(I, iii, 426). Roderigo desperately desires Desdemona and is unable to reason that no amount of money will help the situation. Iago seizes upon Roderigo?s inability to draw this conclusion, and slowly bleeds Roderigo?s purse. By simply stating to Roderigo that, ?[Desdemona?s] eye must be fed?(II, i, 246), and that ?Desdemona is directly in love with [Cassio] ?(II, i, 240), he convinces his impressionable cretin. Thus Roderigo simply accepts Iago?s unlikely theory, given Desdemona?s exceedingly chaste nature, without a shred of proof. Iago is a puppeteer that knows just how to play on Roderigo?s weaknesses to produce the desired affect. Iago. Iago?s recognition of Roderigo?s weakness in his love for Desdemona is clear: ?my sick fool Roderigo, whom love hath turn'd almost the wrong side out?(II, iii, 52-54). Iago?s manipulation of Roderigo is indeed perfect; the more he fails in securing Desdemona?s love for Roderigo, the more desperate for it Roderigo becomes. Given that Roderigo threatened to, ?incontinently drown [him]self?(I, iii, 347), his desperation for Desdemona?s love at this point in the play has reached a feverish pitch. In this incapacitated mental state Roderigo accepts Iago?s suggestion that he kill Cassio: ?I have no great devotion to the deed; and yet he hath given me satisfying reasons?(V, i, . Yet in the audience we wonder, what ?satisfying reasons?? Iago has offered only wild conjecture and no proof. Yet, Iago successfully manipulates Roderigo to his purposes, as he and Cassio fight, leaving only Cassio for Iago to deal with.
Finally, Iago?s most destructive manipulation of the characters of Othello, is his manipulation of Othello himself. Othello?s insecurities about his race are what Iago uses to bend him to his will. In his discourse to the Duke, Othello?s love seems elevated and pure. It is filled with religious words such as ?pilgrimage? and ?prayer? which demonstrate both the strength and sanctity of their love. Yet, by the end of the play Iago has so poisoned Othello?s soul that he is convinced that, ?[Desdemona] must die, else she'll betray more men?(V, ii, 6). How did this radical change occur? It is Iago?s gentle prodding and toying with Othello. First, Iago uses Othello?s blackness to create doubt in his mind: ?Whereto we see in all things nature tends. Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural?(III, iii, 271-273). Also, Iago takes advantage of Othello?s alienation from Venice to create further doubt mentioning that for the women of Venice, ?their best conscience is not to leave undone, but keep unknown?. Othello?s insecurities, Iago knows, will bolster his argument. Desdemona?s very choosing of Othello indicates that there is something wrong with her. Knowing these insecurities reside in the Othello?s mind, Iago begins dropping subtle hints such as, ?I like not that?(III, iii, 37), that he knows will plaque Othello?s mind. Iago immediately repents saying, ?I cannot think it that he would steal away so guiltylike?(III, iii, 41-42), yet he is masterfully planted a seed of doubt in Othello?s mind. As this seed takes root in Othello?s mind Iago need only supply, ?trifles light as air?, which Othello demands from Iago: ?Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore?(III, iii, 411). Iago, then supplies him with the ?ocular proof? that he demands, ?I know not that: but such a handkerchief,-- I am sure it was your wife's,--did I today see Cassio wipe his beard with?(III, iii, 496-8). And thus, with this sole shred of proof, that Othello does not even see himself, Iago has completely bent Othello to his purpose: ?O, blood, blood, blood!?(III, iii, 512). Thus, because Iago is able to exploit Othello?s insecurities about being black in Venice, he is able to easily manipulate him using only hints and thin proofs.
Put out the light, and then put out the light
In conclusion, Iago harnesses individual character flaws and situations throughout the play, to serve his own demonic purpose. Indeed, Iago is a satanic character whose manipulations often involve perverting that which is good and moral into a pitifully depraved heap. This theme reverberates throughout the play. Only as the setting moves from Venice to Cyprus, order to chaos, is Iago able to blacken each character?s soul or appearance. In this manner, Shakespeare warns of the corruptibility of society when it veers from the order of a dominant patriarchy.






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