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Shakespeare’s Othello – The Character of Iago

One of the most intriguing characters in the tragic play “Othello,” by William Shakespeare, is Othello’s “friend” Iago. At first glance, Iago seems to have no motive for the destruction he is causing. However, despite Iago’s unquestionable malignancy, the motivation behind his actions lie more in Iago’s quest for personal gain, as opposed to just being evil for evil’s sake. In order to achieve his personal gain Iago manipulates Rodrigo, Cassio and, most importantly, Othello.

Iago’s main interest is the destruction of Othello. The reason being that Othello has chosen another man, Cassio, as his second-in-command, preferring him to Iago. This resentment, accompanied by Iago’s fabricated accusations of adultery and his blatant racism, cause Iago to despise Othello, and shortly thereafter, begin to conspire against him. Instead of just killing Othello, Iago proceeds to attack him emotionally. Iago begins to manipulate the people around him in order to hurt Othello and make him think that his wife, Desdimona, and Cassio are having an affair.

The first to fall victim to Iago’s manipulation, is Rodrigo. Iago knows Rodrigo has feelings Desdemona, and would do anything to make her his own. Iago tells Rodrigo that the only way to win Desdemona’s love, is to make money to procure gifts for her. “…put money in thy purse..” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 339). However, Iago is just taking those gifts intended for Desdemona and keeping them for himself, and in doing so, making a substantial profit. “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 376).

Rodrigo eventually starts to question Iago’s honesty. When faced with this accusation, Iago simply offers that killing Cassio will aid his cause and the gullible Rodrigo falls for it. “I have no great devotion to the deed and yet he has given me satisfying reason,” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 8). In doing this, Iago keeps Rodrigo in the dark and continues to profit from him monetarily.

Cassio, like Rodrigo, follows Iago blindly, thinking the whole time that Iago is trying to aid him, when in-fact, Iago, motivated by his lust for power, is attempting to depose Cassio of his position as lieutenant. Iago does this by getting Cassio drunk and causing him to get in a fight and disturb Othello, Othello then demotes Cassio of his rank as second-in-command thus securing the position for Iago. Cassio also serves as the “middle man” in Iago’s plan. Not only does Iago get Cassio demoted but he makes him the main focus of Othello’s rage by making it look like he is having an affair with Desdimona.

When Othello begins to believe that Cassio and Desdimona are having an affair he is so consumed with grief that he sends Iago to kill Cassio and he himself kills Desdimona. Instead of Iago Killing Cassio he sends Rodrigo to do his dirty work. This is where Iago’s plan begins to fade. Desdimonia gets murdered by Othello, however Cassio never dies. Othello then confronts Iago, finds out what really happened. Othello is then so consumed with guilt that he killed his wife he does himself in.

Othello, Desdimona, Cassio, and Rodrigo, are all innocent victims that die because of the selfishness of one man. It becomes clear at the end of the play what is was that Iago wanted. He wanted the promotion that Cassio got and he wanted to hurt Othello not only for giving the promotion to Cassio but also because Othello is a black man of high rank. Iago was not evil for the sake of being evil. His evil was driven from jealousy and greed that he couldn’t control.

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