“Othello” was written in 1603 and is one of many tragedies that Shakespeare wrote. It is set in Venice and is about the downfall of a noble Venetian general, Othello, due to grudges harboured by his second lieutenant, Iago. Iago is revengeful, for a number of reasons, the most prominent is the fact he is angry at Othello and Michael Cassio (the man who Othello promoted), jealous of Othello and Desdemona (Othello’s wife) for their happy relationship and racist against Othello as he is a black man in a “white man’s world”. It is this racial prejudice and the jealousy Iago keeps against him, that ultimately leads to the breakdown of Othello which results in the murder of his wife Desdemona.
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Even though the play in named Othello, the character who is more complex and unknown to the audience is Iago. He is the self employed trickster of the play and is simply ruining lives for “sport”. Shakespeare lays down the motives for Iago’s actions through the soliloquies creating dramatic irony and providing crucial information to the viewers. Iago’s personally set goal is to destroy Othello’s life. Iago is cunning, untrustworthy, selfish, and plotting. He uses these traits to his advantage by slowly planning his own triumph while watching the demise of others. Iago is very deceptive and dupes the characters into believing he is honest and true. Originally this would have been performed to a live audience in the theatre and with the soliloquies that Iago says, he breaks the fourth wall which separates him even further from the other casting members.
Iago jealously starts when Othello promotes Michael Cassio to lieutenant, which angered him as he thought that it would have been his promotion. It is this jealously which lights a fuse in Iago and sets off a chain reaction of events. Yet not only is it in his own nature of evil that he succeeds but also in the weaknesses of the other characters. Iago uses the weaknesses of Othello, specifically jealousy and his devotion to Desdemona. From the start of the play, Iago’s scheming ability is shown when he convinces Roderigo to tell about Othello and Desdemonda’s engagement to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio. Confidentially Iago continues his plot, which is working just how he would want it, making fools of others, and himself being rewarded. In the play only Roderigo is aware of Iago’s plans. This is because Iago pretends to be an honest man loyal to his superiors. The fact that Othello views Iago as trustworthy and honest gives Iago a perfect opportunity to put his schemes into action. He creates the impression that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio in order to create jealousy within Othello.
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action both demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am
This speech is relatively early in the play and this is where Iago explains what his plans are to Cassio. He says he doesn’t follow Othello because of “love and duty” but because he feels he can trick Othello and get revenge on him. Iago says that “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve: For daws to peck at” which means he won’t let his heart lead him and so will never get emotionally attached which is one of Othello’s downfalls.
As well as being devious Iago is very clever, he sees that Desdemona can be manipulated to be a very important part in his tricks because she can directly effect three key players in this game of chess. Othello, Cassio and Roderigo are all in love with her, but only Othello has proclaimed this love. By convincing Roderigo that Cassio is at fault for his mishaps with Desdemona, Iago creates a red mist around him and Roderigo sees that his only chance of getting her is to kill Cassio.
Like Roderigo, Cassio is also unaware that Iago is not trying to help him and blindly follows every word that he says. One night when Cassio is on watch duty, Iago convinces him to have another drink knowing that this would get him drunk. This alone proves that Iago has already commenced with his schemes on the way to the downfall of Othello. When Roderigo goes ahead with the plan that Iago has given him, Cassio is made to look irresponsible and in turn ends up being demoted from Lieutenant. After this incident, Iago tells Cassio to beg Desdemona to help his situation saying “She holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested” which naively Cassio agrees to because he wants his job back. Iago new that this would cause jealous to stir within Othello as all he would see is Cassio trying to get with his wife. He doesn’t know that Iago Is playing a game with all of them. By this point in the play Iago has already relised that Othlello thinks thiat he is trustworthy and so uses this to his advantage.
The play then shifts from Venice to Cyprus and it is here in the war torn villages that Iago commits one of the largest parts of his plan. Act III Scene III, is very important because it is the point in the play where Iago begins to manipulate Othello. Cassio feels that in order to get his job back he has to talk to Desdemona and so meets with her to see what he can do. Iago and Othello enter the scene just after Cassio leaves, and Iago tries to make it look like Cassio left because he does not want to be seen with Desdemona.
Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guilty-like,
Seeing your coming.
Iago cleverly implies that Cassio is guilty of meeting with Desdemona but yet he never directly accuses him of it. It is this manipulation that yet again stirs the jealousy that Othello has. When Desdemona leaves, Iago tries to improve Othello’s views of honesty and trust towards him by saying ironically;
Men should be what they seem,
Or those that be not,
Would they might seem none.
Iago poses the question of why someone would pretend to be something they are not, yet this is everything he represents. After hearing what Iago has said about what happened with Cassio, Othello is, for the first time, unsure about what is the truth. As Emilia becomes suspicious about Othello’s new feelings of jealousy, Desdemona claims it is all her fault in order to defend her husband. This shows Desdemona’s compassion and willingness to sacrifice herself for Othello. However it is in Act 3, Scene 4 when Desdemona fails to produce a handkerchief. Although it is a small item of little practical importance it had a significant sentimental importance.
Lend me thy Handkerchief
Here, my lord.
That which I gave you.
I have it not about me.
No, faith, my lord.
Act 4, Scene I continues with the same feelings that Othello had in Act 3, Scene 4. Iago takes advantage of this by being blunt with Othello about Desdemona. It is here that Iago manages to subtly suggest she is having sexual relationships with other men and that his may include Cassio yet he continues on as if nothing has been said. This suggestion about Desdemona transfixes Othello into a trance. Iago convinces Othello to think about getting rid of Desdemona and even suggests killing her. It is in his next soliloquy that he confesses his joy of the work he has done.
My med’cine works! Thus credulous fools are caught,
And many worthy and chaste dames even thus,
All guiltless, meet reproach.
Because Iago has managed to manipulate Othello’s view about Desdemona, Othello is now stubborn and enraged towards her, and commits his first act of violence by hitting Desdemona because she mentioned Cassio to him. From then on Othello’s jealous begins to lead to the demise of others and he has isolated himself from everyone except Iago. Here Iago realises he can complete his plans and he must kill Roderigo in order for him not to tell of what he was doing.
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As Othello’s mind is so riddled with the lies that Iago has been feeding him, he kills Desdemona, but she blames the death on herself and not Othello which proves she is good of heart.. Iago’s wife, Emilia, becomes the ultimate undoing of Iago. After revealing Iago’s plot to Othello, Iago kills her. This is yet another vicious act that shows how evil Iago is. Othello now realises that he has been tricked into murder:
I look down towards his feet – but that’s a fable
If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.
“I bleed, sir, but not killed”,
This is the final statement by Iago that truly shows his belief in evil and that he truly thinks he is the devil. That is the destruction of all that is good. Hell over heaven and black over white. Iago, is a representation of evil, has one major motivational factor that leads him to lie, cheat, and commit crimes on other characters. Jealousy. This is represented between Iago and Desdemona. Desdemona is described frequently by other characters as
“she is divine, the grace of heaven”
while Iago in contrast is described as hellish. After his plot is discovered Iago uses the other characters in the play to work specifically towards his goal. In this way, he can maintain his supposed ignorance about the events going on and still work his scheming ways. Iago’s schemes however at times seem to work unrealistically well. Iago’s major mistake, ironically, is that he trusted his wife Emilia and found that she was not as trustworthy as he thought. Although not completely victorious at the conclusion of the play, Iago does successfully achieve his wishes to ruin Othello’s life.
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