shakemenu.GIF - 5152 Bytes

Iago in Shakespeare's Othello
        Perhaps the most interesting and exotic character in 
the tragic play "Othello," by William Shakespeare, is 
"Honest" Iago.  Through some carefully thought-out words and 
actions, Iago is able to manipulate others to do things in a 
way that benefits him and moves him closer toward his goals. 
 He is the main driving force in this play, pushing Othello 
and everyone else towards their tragic end.
        Iago is not your ordinary villain.  The role he 
plays is rather unique and complex, far from what one might 
expect.  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 I, Scene III, 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 forward his other goals.  He also thinks quick 
on his feet and is able to improvise whenever something 
unexpected occurs.  When Cassio takes hold of Desdemona's 
hand before the arrival of the Moor Othello, Iago says, 
"With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly 
as Cassio." [Act II, Scene I, Line 163]  His cunning and 
craftiness make him a truly dastardly villain indeed.  
        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.  Throughout the story he is commonly known as, and 
commonly called, "Honest Iago."  He even says of himself, "I 
am an honest man...." [Act II, Scene III, Line 245]  Trust 
is a very powerful emotion that is easily abused.  Othello, 
"holds [him] well;/The better shall [Iago's] purpose work on 
him."  [pg. 1244, Line 362]  Iago is a master of abuse in 
this case turning people's trust in him into tools to 
forward his own goals.  His "med'cine works!  Thus credulous 
fools are caught...." [pg. 1284, Line 44]  Iago slowly 
poisons people's thoughts, creating ideas in their heads 
without implicating himself.  "And what's he then that says 
I play the villain, when this advice is free I give, and 
honest," [Act II, Scene III, Line 299] says Iago, the master 
of deception.  And thus, people rarely stop to consider the 
possibility that old Iago could be deceiving them or 
manipulating them, after all, he is "Honest Iago."
        Iago makes a fool out of Roderigo.  In fact, the 
play starts out with Iago having already taken advantage of 
him.  Roderigo remarks, "That thou, Iago, who hast had my 
purse as if the strings were thine." [Act I, Scene I, Line 
2]  Throughout the play, Iago leads Roderigo by the collar 
professing that he "hate(s) the Moor" [Act I, Scene III, 
Line 344] and telling Roderigo to "make money" [Act I, Scene 
III, Line 339] so that he can give gifts to Desdemona to win 
her over.  During the whole play however, Iago is just 
taking those gifts that Roderigo intends for Desdemona and 
keeps them for himself.  Roderigo eventually starts to 
question Iago's honesty, saying "I think it is scurvy, and 
begin to find myself fopped in it." [Act IV, Scene II, Line 
189]  When faced with this accusation, Iago simply offers 
that killing Cassio will aid his cause and Roderigo blindly 
falls for it, hook, line, and sinker.  "I have no great 
devotion to the deed, and yet he has given me satisfying 
reason," [Act V, Scene I, Line 8] says the fool Roderigo.  
And with this deed, Roderigo is lead to his death by the 
hands of none other than, "Honest Iago."
          Cassio, like Roderigo, follows Iago blindly, 
thinking the whole time that Iago is trying to help him.  
And during this whole time, Iago is planning the demise of 
Cassio, his supposed friend.  On the night of Cassio's 
watch, Iago convinces him to take another drink, knowing 
very well that it will make him very drunk.  Cassio just 
follows along, though he says, "I'll do't, but it dislikes 
me." [Act II, Scene III, Line 37]  Iago is able to make him 
defy his own reasoning to take another drink!  Crafty, is 
this Iago.  When Roderigo follows through with the plan Iago 
has set on him, Cassio is made to look like an irresponsible 
fool, resulting in his termination as lieutenant.  After 
this incident, Iago sets another of his plans in motion by 
telling Cassio to beg Desdemona to help his cause, saying, 
"she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she 
is requested." [Act II, Scene III, Line 287]  And thus, 
Cassio is set on a dark path which leads to trouble and 
mischief.  Yet, Cassio follows it blindly telling Iago, "You 
advise me well." [Act II, Scene III, Line 292]  With this, 
Cassio is eventually led into a trap where Roderigo maims 
him, and all that time, Iago - his friend - is behind it 
        Lowly Iago, is capable of anything - not even 
Othello is safe from this villain.  Othello holds Iago to be 
his close friend and advisor.  He believes Iago to be a 
person, "of exceeding honesty, [who] knows all qualities, 
with learned spirit of human dealings." [Act III, Scene III, 
Line 257]  Yes, he does know all about human dealings, but 
no he is not honest.  He uses the trust Othello puts in him 
to turn Othello eventually into a jealous man, looking 

Back To the Top ] [ Back To Essay Page ]
Complete Works Cliff Notes Free Papers! Biography Shakespeare Links Shakespeare discussion