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How Does Iago Manipulate Characters And Bring About Their Downfall In Shakespeare’s Othello?

The play ‘Othello’ was created by William Shakespeare. Othello is a tale set in Venice at the time when adultery was a hanging offence. It is a tale all about jealousy and manipulation by one of the main characters, Iago. It was originally created by Giraldi Cinthio and was titled: ‘The Story of Desdemona of Venice and the Moorish Captain’ Shakespeare created his play by taking the characters and location and then adapting it to his own style for effect. Iago manipulates the characters by revealing and exploiting their fatal flaws to bring about their downfall. Iago uses Othello’s jealousy of Cassio to make Othello believe he is having an affair with Desdemona. Iago uses Desdemona’s trust and love for Othello to bring about her downfall. Iago even uses his wife’s trust to make her not notice his schemes. Iago also uses Cassio’s fatal flaw, trust. Cassio is in love with Desdemona. Iago has his own weakness too, greed. He is greedy for power and is jealous of Cassio for being promoted above him, and will do anything to stop Othello and Cassio.

In act 1 scene 1, Iago starts to manipulate Othello straight away. Iago is speaking to Roderigo about how he despises Othello and wants revenge. Iago refers to Othello as ‘it’ or ‘him’ never speaking his name, this is used to make Iago sound more devious, and to give more effect to the scene. Iago carries on and says that he also hates Cassio forgetting ‘his job’ by being promoted to lieutenant ahead of him, a promotion, Iago feels, should have belonged to him. Iago vows that he will get revenge upon Othello and Cassio, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters can be truly followed.” He says this to Roderigo then he says, “I am not what I am.” To try to suggest to Roderigo that no one knows who he really is. This is when we realize just how sly and manipulative Iago really is.

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Iago then tells Roderigo to inform Brabantio, Desdemona’s father about Desdemona and Othello’s secret marriage. Iago yells out to get Brabantio’s attention, “Thieves, thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! Thieves, thieves!” Iago yells this out to imply that Desdemona has been stolen away from him by Othello, and in doing so, is calling Othello a thief. Iago continues to yell out to Brabantio, building up his disgust for Othello by using derogatory terminology to suggest that Othello and Desdemona’s love is dirty and wrong, instead of the innocent, pure love that is really there. Iago continues, and uses animal imagery, “an old black ram is tupping your whiter ewe.” The speech Iago uses is to try and destroy Othello’s marriage and to make Brabantio despise Othello. He says this to try and make it sound worse than it is. All of this speech also enrages Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona.

Iago then shows his hatred for Othello by stating, “In which regard, though I do hate him as I do hell pains, yet for the necessity of present life I must show out a flag and a sign of love.” Iago openly admits this to try and win Brabantio over and to make him feel as if Iago is his friend. Othello trusts Iago, he trusts him so much he gives Iago the responsibility of looking after Desdemona while he is sent away to war. This is part of Othello’s downfall. Iago is happy about this because it allows him to start his plans. Othello states this about Iago. “A man he is of honesty and trust to his conveyance I assign my wife.” This is dramatic Irony as Iago is dishonest and deceitful, and is going to betray his trust. Othello then states that if Desdemona were unfaithful he would kill himself, “My life upon her faith.” Which gives Iago a way to bring about his downfall.

Iago then uses a soliloquy. A soliloquy is when a character talks about his/her innermost thoughts and feelings to themselves and to the audience, the other characters are unaware of what is said during a soliloquy because it is said in their thoughts. Iago uses this soliloquy to tell the audience his plan for bringing about Othello’s downfall. Iago thinks up his excuse if he gets caught, ” I hate the Moor, and it is thought aboard that ‘twixt my sheets he’s done my office.” Iago says this to say that Othello is having an affair with his wife, he knows this is completely untrue but he will pretend it is true just to get back at Othello. Iago also plans to tell Othello that Cassio is becoming very friendly with Desdemona to try and put the thought into Othello’s mind that they are having an affair. Iago then insults Othello, by calling him an ‘ass’.

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“The moor is of free and open nature, that thinks men that but seem to be so and will as tenderly be led those as asses are.” Iago mentions a ‘double knavery’ this means that he will try to manipulate Cassio as well as Othello at the same time. Iago also uses a rhyming couplet to make his plan sound more sophisticated. He calls his plan a ‘monstrous birth’, as it a horrible thing to do. Iago uses a second soliloquy to say how he is going to carefully manipulate Cassio. He notices Cassio’s close friendship with Desdemona and uses this to put thought into Othello’s mind that they are having an affair with each other. Iago also uses more animal imagery to make his plan sound evil, “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.” This is imagery says that Cassio will be caught up in Iago’s web of manipulation and deceit.

Iago then uses musical imagery to say that he is going to break apart Othello and Desdemona’s marriage, “O you are well tuned now but I’ll set down the pegs that make this music as honest as I am.” Iago says that Desdemona will soon become bored with Othello and will eventually give him up for someone else, “When the blood is made it dull with the act of sport, there should be, again to inflame it and give it satiety a fresh appetite loveliness in favour, sympathy in years manners and beauties, all which the Moor is defective.” Iago then reminds himself what he is doing is right by saying to himself that Othello has slept with Iago’s wife. “But partly led to diet my revenge for that I do suspect the lusty moor hath leaped into my seat,” he says this to remind himself why he is doing what he is doing, but to also convince himself that it is right to do this. Iago says he will get his revenge through Desdemona, “And can or shall content my soul until till I have evened with him a wife for wife”

Iago then goes on to say that he will manipulate Cassio through his drink problem, which Iago knows about. “Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb, for I fear Cassio with my nightcap too” Iago plans to get Cassio drunk on duty and interrupt Othello and Desdemona’s honeymoon so he will lose his job. Iago then plans to try and get Othello to thank Iago for showing Cassio’s true colours and give him ‘his job’ that Cassio received. Iago then goes and questions Cassio on his feelings for Desdemona, and manages to get Cassio to admit loving feelings for her. Iago constantly says bad things about her, so that Cassio will say better until he admits that he feels that Desdemona is the image of perfection, “She is indeed perfection.” Iago then goes to Montano and says that Cassio is a man who enjoys a drink a bit too much, this makes Montano distrust Cassio and makes him think that Othello is a bad judge of character, and trusts people too much.

Iago’s plan soon comes into action, when he manages to get Cassio drunk on duty and then gets Roderigo to taunt him to the point where Cassio gets so mad he starts a fight with Roderigo. Cassio gets so angry with Roderigo, that ends up stabbing Roderigo. Othello comes out and asks Iago what happened but Iago says he will never tell, “I would rather this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offence to Michael Cassio. Yet I persuade myself to tell the truth.” This statement gives Othello the impression that Iago is loyal and trustworthy, and will keep a secret with his life, but if Othello were to ask him, he will tell. This is dramatic irony, as Iago caused the fight and is giving Othello a false image of friendship. Cassio loses his job, and he asks Desdemona to convince Othello to give him his job back. This makes Othello suspicious of their relationship, as Desdemona is constantly telling Othello to give Cassio his job back.

Othello goes to talk to Iago and asks him what he knows about Cassio and Desdemona’s relationship. Iago tells very little, often repeating himself to try and make Othello want to know more. Iago acts concerned for Othello and tells him that there is a seed of doubt in Othello’s mind, “O beware of jealousy, it is the green-eyed monster which doth marks the meat it feeds on.” Iago says this in order to make Othello think that he is a friend and is trustworthy. This is dramatic irony as Iago was the person who planted the doubt in Othello’s mind, to begin with. Iago continues to play a mind game with Othello by making him doubt Desdemona’s innocence, “Look at your wife; observe her well with Cassio; Wear your eyes thus, not jealous nor secure.” Saying this makes Othello suspicious of Desdemona’s faithfulness, and makes him believe that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Iago continues to build up Othello’s suspicions by stating, “She did deceive her father, marrying you.”

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This makes Othello think that Desdemona is capable of lies and deceit, and she could be deceiving him as well. Othello then gets really paranoid about Desdemona and Cassio’s friendship, which is exactly how Iago was trying to make him think. This shows that Othello is totally under Iago’s control. Iago carries on to manipulate Othello’s mind, he keeps manipulating him so much that Othello starts to doubt his reasons for marriage, “Why did I marry?” Othello believes every word that Iago is saying because he feels that Iago is honest and trustworthy, this is how Iago is constantly managing to get into Othello’s mind and alter his perception. Othello believes that Iago is such a good friend that he knows much more than he says to keep Othello from getting hurt, “This honest creature doubtless sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds.”

In a soliloquy, Othello lets out all his thoughts, and we see how much Iago has altered Othello’s perception. He starts by stating that he still thinks that Iago is a true friend and is honest and trustworthy, “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty, And knows all qualities with a learned spirit of human dealings.” He then goes on to say that if Desdemona is using him he will leave her and never look back, “If I do prove her haggard though that her jesses were my heartstrings, I’d whistle her off, and let her down the wind To prey at fortune.” This shows that Iago has made him think that Desdemona is unfaithful, and is having an affair. Othello carries on to say, “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of the conversation that chamberers have; or, for I am declined Into the vale of years – yet that’s not much – she’s gone.” This quote says how Othello feels about Desdemona. He says feels that he loves her very much, but he cannot compete with Cassio in loving conversations, as he is a fighter, and he also says that he feels that he is getting too old for her. In Othello’s soliloquy, he also states, “I’d rather be a toad, and live upon the vapour of a dungeon, then keep a corner in the thing I love for other people’s uses.”

This quote shows how much Iago has manipulated Othello’s thoughts. Iago says he’d rather be a toad than have Desdemona use him. At the end of his soliloquy, Othello adds, “if she is false, O then heaven mocks itself, or not believe.” In this quote, Othello is saying that he will ask her about her faithfulness, and if she lies, then God helps her. Othello soon starts to have a breakdown. All his speech starts to occur in non-verse colloquial language. This shows that he has lost his mind and cannot control himself or his emotions. As he continues speaking, we can see him falling down further and further into his insanity. We now start to notice how much he has changed from an intelligent and well-spoken general to a weak, jealous and pitiful man, through his incurable jealousy. Othello starts to get really paranoid about Desdemona and believes she is having an affair with Cassio. Othello seeks Iago’s help in uncovering the truth about their relationship. Iago tells Othello that he will ask Cassio about his relationship with Desdemona, but once Othello leaves, Iago states, “now will I question Cassio of Bianca, a housewife that by selling her desires buys herself bread and clothes; it is a creature that dotes on Cassio.”

This shows how cunning Iago is, as Othello will be listening to the conversation, thinking that they’re talking about Desdemona, while they are really talking about Bianca. Iago tells Cassio that Desdemona loves him, to which Cassio says, “Alas, poor rogue! I think I’faith she loves me.” Cassio just denies it and laughs it off. Iago continues by saying, “She gives it out that you shall marry her. Do you intend it?” Cassio says, “I marry her? What? A customer!” By saying this, Cassio gives the impression to Othello that Cassio isn’t actually in love with Desdemona, but uses her instead and treats her as if he were a customer. This enrages Othello as he thinks they are talking about Desdemona. During Iago and Cassio’s talk, Bianca enters with a handkerchief that belongs to Desdemona, a gift from Othello when they got married. Bianca yells, “What did you mean by this handkerchief you gave me even now?” This quote gives Othello the thought that Cassio gave this handkerchief to Bianca as if it were worthless. Bianca continues to yell, “There, give it to your hobby-horse; whosoever you had it, I’ll take no work don’t.” Bianca says to give it back to the woman he was sleeping with.

This was a set-up by Iago to give Othello ocular proof that Desdemona is cheating on him. Bianca shortly storms off, and Cassio follows her. Othello approaches Iago once again, and is so enraged by Cassio’s answers that he says, “How shall I murder him (Cassio), Iago?” Iago questions Othello about the handkerchief and manipulates Othello so much, that he vows to kill her (Desdemona) that night. Othello starts to question Iago on how to kill her, “Get me some poison Iago; this night. I’ll not expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again. This night, Iago.” This is where we see that Othello trusts Iago so much that he lets Iago tell him how to kill his wife, “Do it not with poison, strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated.”

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When Othello goes off to kill Desdemona, he makes a speech and lets out his feelings. He says how he feels that he doesn’t want to hurt her, just kill her, not leaving a mark, “Yet I’ll not shed her blood, Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, and as smooth as a monumental alabaster: yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.” He then uses a phrase, “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” He uses this phrase to say he will be extinguishing two lights, first the candle he is holding, then Desdemona. He explains how he knows that if he kills her, she will never come back, but he needs to kill her, “When I have plucked thy rose, I cannot give it vital growth again.” He knows what he is doing, but he feels that he definitely needs to do it; this shows that Iago has managed to get under his skin enough to convince him that Desdemona is deceitful, “I must weep, But they are cruel tears.” Desdemona wakes up, she knows that Othello will kill her, but she trusts him so much, that she lets him.

As they speak, Desdemona shows no fear about dying, this shows her fatal flaw, she is not afraid because of her love and trust for Othello. Iago has managed to set up this so well, that she knows what is going to happen, but will not stop it. Othello then smothers Desdemona to death Soon after Desdemona is murdered, Emilia, Iago’s wife, runs to Othello and explains to him that Iago had manipulated him so much, that he managed to make Othello kill Desdemona. She explains how Iago has managed to manipulate people up to the deaths of Roderigo, Desdemona, and the serious injury of Cassio. Soon Iago, Montano and Gratiano and others enter. Emilia confesses to Iago that she has told Othello about his evil deeds and sly manipulation, and Iago denies it, trying to make himself appear innocent as usual. Emilia continues and gets Iago so wound up that Iago kills his wife. Othello gets so heartbroken by finding out that Desdemona was innocent, and it was all Iago’s manipulation that convinced him otherwise, that he kills himself out of grief. In the final speech, Iago is being sentenced to torture for all his crimes, “The time, the place, the torture, O’ I enforce it.”

Iago manipulates all the characters, in different ways. Othello was the main focus of Iago’s manipulation. Iago manages to make Othello feel that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. He manipulates Bianca by making her find the handkerchief, a wedding present from Othello to Desdemona. Iago very cleverly manipulated every character subtly without them realizing until the damage had been done. Iago managed this by using rhetoric in his manipulation. He uses Ethos – the use of authority or educator to break up arguments – and he uses Pathos – the use of emotive language and imagery to add dramatic effect – and finally Logos – the use of logic, data and statistics. He carefully uses all of these on all characters throughout the play to bring about their deaths. An example of Ethos was when Iago talks to Montano about Othello and Cassio’s drink problem, an example of Pathos is when Iago talks to Brabantio about Othello and Desdemona’s marriage, and an example of Logos is when Bianca is seen with the handkerchief by Othello. All of this clever and sly manipulation leads to the downfall of several characters, and the imprisonment of himself, (which was unplanned).

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How Does Iago Manipulate Characters And Bring About Their Downfall In Shakespeare's Othello?. (2021, May 29). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from