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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 


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