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Iago's deception in Othello: Luck or Skill?

Describe the course of Iago's deception of Othello, showing which incidents were planned and which were opportunistic. Does Iago succeed by skill or by luck?

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Iago is a master of manipulation. Throughout Othello, he elaborately convinces other characters to believe whatever suits his machinations. His primary goal is to displace Cassio, who he believes was wrongly promoted ahead of him, and his first act of vengeance is opportunistic; Cassio confides that he has ‘poor and unhappy brains for drinking’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 2.3:33-34) so Iago pressures him into drinking and ultimately brawling, which disgraces him. At the end of this scene, Iago soliloquises, having formed his plan to ‘play the villain’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 22.3:337) and ‘turn[Desdemona’s] virtue into pitch’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 22.3:361) by convincing Othello that Cassio is sleeping with her. He artfully builds Othello’s suspicion of Cassio, first by simply implying that Desdemona should not be talking to him - ‘Ha! I like not that’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 3.3:24) – though he pretends to be reluctant to speak against Cassio or Desdemona, he works to undermine their honesty: ‘she did deceive her father in marrying you’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 3.3:206). Othello demands ‘ocular proof’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 3.3:360), which culminates in a scene where Iago carefully positions Othello out of sight as he elicits a specific performance from Cassio: beforehand, he has primed Othello to believe that Cassio will confess to sleeping with Desdemona, so when Iago questions him about his liason with Bianca (a prostitute), he cheerily responds with ribald remarks: ’I marry her! […] Prithee, bear some charity to my wit: do not think it so unwholesome’ (Shakespeare, 2005, 4.1:119-121). This careful staging is the epitome of Iago’s planning and is what leads directly to the tragic conclusion of the play: Othello’s jealousy leads to Desdemona’s murder. While luck certainly aids Iago in some instances, careful planning and manipulation of others ultimately results in the success of his diabolical plan.


Shakespeare, W. (2005). Othello. St. Paul, Minnesota: EMC/Paradigm Publishing.