When people think of Shakespeare, they usually imagine a play full of love, drama, and tragedy. Shakespeare’s Othello is considered a tragedy due to the deaths of two main characters and two minor characters. Iago is the antagonist in Othello, and he is responsible for the deaths. Iago has a major influence on the fates of all the other characters, and his malicious desires cost them more than they ever imagined. There are multiple characters that fall victim to Iago’s manipulation, and he has a tremendous influence on each circumstance due to his power of language. The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello possesses conniving and manipulative characteristics that affect the development and decisions of the other characters, which in turn affects the outcome of the drama.
Iago harbors a deep hatred for certain characters, especially women, based on his conversations and attitude towards Emilia. He belittles women, and he doesn’t think of females as a male’s equal. Nicola Borrelli states, “Iago’s obsession with cleanliness can be negatively inferred from the disgust for the filthiness he seems to spot in women …” (640). Iago is constantly telling Emilia to be quiet when she tries to speak, and he tolerates her only when he needs something from her. Once she gives him the handkerchief, he wants nothing more to do with her. Iago needs the handkerchief because it is the only evidence he can use to prove to Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair; he realizes that Othello will believe his lies if he proves that Cassio has the handkerchief. Moreover, he is able to manipulate and use Emilia by never respecting her enough to tell her anything. If she never knows what he is doing, then she is unable to watch out for the sneaky signs. However, Emilia finally learns of Iago’s conniving and lies, and he says, “What, are you mad? I charge you, get you home” (5.2.201). He does not want her to speak or reveal what she has learned, and he is demanding for her to go home before she ruins his plan. Nicola Borrelli declares, “She means nothing to him, neither as a woman nor as a wife, her love and her passion are unreciprocated by her husband” (651). Emilia is nothing more than a pawn in Iago’s game.
Iago is able to lead Othello down whatever path he wants him to take without having to blatantly say anything by his use of language. Iago’s strength is his ability to speak and his use of conniving language. Othello is so willing to trust Iago, but he is causing Othello to develop insecurities and inner turmoil. Iago believes that Othello slept with Emilia, which is why he resents Othello. Based on Iago’s speech, he only follows Othello in order to gain his revenge. Iago states, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him” (1.1.44). Iago is attempting to make Othello feel the same way that he felt when he heard that his wife was having an affair. Therefore, Iago persuades Othello to murder Desdemona, Othello expresses, “Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, And love thee after” (5.2.18-19). Othello has been so corrupted by Iago that he is going to murder Desdemona for her apparent transgressions even though he is still in love with her.
Furthermore, Othello is under the impression that Iago has his best interest in mind, but he has no idea that he is being wrongly influenced. Haim Omer and Marcello Da Verona state, “Similarly, when Iago describes his thoughts as unworthy and begs Othello to ignore them, Othello becomes even more curious” (104). Iago has a way of making the situation seem unimportant based on the words and sneaky hints he uses. Nicola Borrelli discusses Iago’s nuances and explains, “Characterized by well-placed silences, hesitant pauses, significant repetitions, and cunning insinuations …” (637). Moreover, Othello never realizes that Iago is playing mind games and manipulating him into trusting him. Iago is able to control Othello so easily because he is completely isolating him from everyone that he trusts. Othello no longer has Desdemona or Cassio to turn to for advice; therefore, he has no options but to trust Iago’s word. George L. Geckle explains, “Iago alienates or estranges Othello from Desdemona to the extent that Othello kills her” (66). Iago chooses his words wisely, and he never says anything that could incriminate himself. Instead, he uses characters, such as Roderigo and Emilia, to do all of the dirty work.
Likewise, Othello believes Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair when he witnesses Cassio with his handkerchief. He asks Emilia, but he will not believe anything that she is telling him because he has already established what he believes the truth is. Haim Omer and Marcello Da Verona declare, “Othello little by little seeks evidence and interprets events only in ways which confirm the new truth” (104). Othello’s unwillingness to believe anybody else besides Iago is a demonstration of how manipulative and believable Iago really is. No matter what Desdemona tells him, Othello chooses to still kill her. Desdemona is an innocent bystander that Iago uses in order to control Othello. Othello’s love for Desdemona is so strong that Iago was easily able to manipulate him. George L. Geckle explains, “That is, Iago causes Othello to lose his faith in Desdemona, to suspect her of infidelity” (Geckle 65). Iago was able to create a delusion inside of Othello’s head without any evidence. When Othello sees Cassio with the handkerchief, that is the only evidence he needs. After Othello learns that he was manipulated, Iago is still demonstrating his evil tendencies by not answering any of Othello’s questions or speaking about his reasoning for any of the deceitful lies. Iago declares, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word” (5.2.311-312). Iago is still attempting to gain revenge and cause Othello misery by making him suffer, and this leads Othello to commit suicide.
Additionally, Iago manipulates Roderigo into thinking that he really does care about him, but Iago is willing to do anything to prevent being caught in his lies and deception. Because Roderigo is very naïve and will do anything for Iago’s help with Desdemona, Iago manipulates Roderigo into doing all of his dirty work. Iago only wants to deal with Emilia and Roderigo when he needs them for his own benefit. Iago uses Roderigo for his own selfish desires, and he pressures Roderigo into taking the blame for all of his lies. Nicola Borrelli describes, “Iago’s perfect plan sees Othello kill Desdemona, Roderigo kill Cassio and himself kill Roderigo” (641). Roderigo idolizes Iago, but he is doomed from the beginning. He is the only character that knows about Iago’s mischief and lies, and Roderigo keeps threatening Iago with leaving. Iago admits to the audience that Roderigo is nothing but a fool, and he only uses him because he is so gullible. Iago already knows how Roderigo’s fate ends because he refuses to leave any loose ends. When Iago kills Roderigo, he has no remorse, and he stands over Roderigo calling him trash and a slave for attacking their common enemy, Cassio. Iago stabs Roderigo and declares, “O murderous slave! O villain!” (5.1.63). Iago does not possess affection for anyone, and he will kill anybody that gets in the way of his revenge.
Iago’s hatred for Cassio stems from jealousy because Cassio was appointed as Lieutenant instead of Iago. At the end of the play, Cassio is appointed to another position that Iago wants. Iago’s motive for hating Cassio is pure jealousy and rage from not being selected for jobs instead of Cassio. George L. Geckle says, “Iago is angry that his ambition, which derives from pride, has been frustrated: again, Cassio got the job that the proud Iago wanted, and Iago is envious and angry” (67). Despite the fact that Iago tries to control the fate of Cassio, Cassio still manages to be appointed to Governor of Cyprus and defeats Iago once again. Iago’s purpose is to bring about Cassio’s demise and failure because of his jealousy and rage towards him.
In conclusion, Iago’s power is his ability to use language by twisting words and phrases to fit his desired purpose. Iago’s jealousy and skill of manipulation resulted in the deaths of Desdemona, Othello, Roderigo, and Emilia in this tragic drama. Iago was able to develop an obsession inside of Othello without any evidence; this proves that Iago is a master of manipulation. He is able to control characters’ thoughts and actions by first controlling their minds. Iago truly doesn’t feel affection or loyalty toward any of the other characters, and they were all just a means to an unfortunate end.