othello essay

In Shakespeare\'s Othello, the character Iago, Othello\'s lieutenant, is the cause of all the tragedy which comes to pass as the play progresses. Iago is the antagonist of the play, but rather than being the direct opponent to the tragic hero, Iago is a manipulator, opposing Othello not directly but through other characters whom he tricks into acting for him.

In the first scene of the play, Iago gives the audience warning that he is not all that he seems when he says, "I am not what I am." (I,i,65) He is first seen in this scene appearing to help Roderigo, a suitor to Desdemona, who has run off with Othello, the Moorish general of the Venician army. Iago hates Othello for another reason. Instead of choosing him to be his lieutenant, Othello chose Cassio, another foreigner, and relegated Iago to the position of his ancient. When Roderigo asks why Iago continues to serve Othello, in spite of how the general has treated him, Iago replies, "I follow him to serve my turn upon him." (I,i,42) He goes on to give an example of how he intends to serve him, by acting like the perfect servant, while secretly enriching himself, and later says, "In following him, I follow but myself." (I,i,58)

From this, one might think that he is still fairly straightforward in his plans, that he merely intends to betray Othello at some later date. However, in the third scene, he shows the audience his ability to manipulate people, when he convinces Roderigo to follow him to Cyprus and to bring all of his money, presumably to win back Desdemona. After Roderigo has left to do what Iago has suggested, Iago says, "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse." (I,iii,37 y9) Later, in Act IV, we find that Roderigo has been giving jewels to Iago to give to Desdemona, which Iago, it is implied, has sold for his own uses. Thus, it is seen that Iago is merely using Roderigo to further his own ends, just as he said he was only serving Othello to serve himself.

Also at the end of the third scene, Iago sets forth his plan to take Cassio\'s position, by telling Othello that his lieutenant ". . . is too familiar with his wife." (I,iii,402) It also comes out in this speech that he suspects Othello of committing adultery with his wife. Near the end of the first scene of the second act, Iago convinces Roderigo, who was observing Cassio\'s enthusiastic greeting of Desdemona, that Cassio and Desdemona have something going on between them. Thus manipulating Roderigo through his passion for Desdemona, Iago convinces him to provoke Cassio to anger, so that the lieutenant will be discredited in Othello\'s eyes and Iago can take his position. At the end of this scene, he again makes reference to his role not being what it seems: "Knavery\'s plain face is never seen till us\'d." (II,i,324)

In the last scene, after Othello has killed Desdemona, all of Iago\'s schemes are revealed by his wife, who was his unwitting accomplice in his schemes. After she has betrayed him, he kills her and flees, only to be caught and brought to justice. Othello\'s flaw, as Iago pointed out, was that he was "… of a free and open nature,/That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,/And will as tenderly be led by the nose/As asses are." (I,iii,405-408) Thus, Iago\'s scheming and roleplaying character made it easy for him to manipulate Othello, which led to Othello\'s fall.

From his actions in the play, one sees that Iago is a gifted manipulator of other people who uses underhanded schemes, manipulation of others, and betrayal at appropriate times. Thus, one could say that the whole play is a parable showing the "vile success" such tactics bring, and also showing the reward awaiting those who use them. Hence, Iago in Othello is a schemer and manipulator, who causes the deaths of all of the virtuous characters in the play while attempting to advance his position and revenge himself upon Othello for a rumoured affair with his wife. He is portrayed by Shakespeare as a completely unsympathetic character.