How does Iago manipulate Othello?

Categories: Othello

Perfect people do not exist in this world of temptations, failures, and suffering. In fact, every person has weaknesses, and there is always a possibility that someone will use those feeble points against that man. Shakespeare’s play Othello shows an example of how one can control others exploiting their weaknesses and the consequences of such actions. The character of Iago, the antagonist in the tragedy Othello, instigates chaos, deception, and gross manipulation. He is the center of all the evil events in the play.

He manages to completely deceive everyone by displaying an honest facade. Thus he is able to instill trust in all those around him. Since no one sees him for the evil and deceiving man that he really is, he manages to manipulate everyone. He exerts control and power over others in order to fulfill his goals of destroying Cassio and completely demeaning Othello and ruining his reputation.

Roderigo’s passion to Desdemona, his foolishness, and trusting nature help Iago to succeed in his evil plan.

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Another object of manipulation is Cassio whose love for women and wine as well as his concerns of reputation makes him a victim of Iago’s brutal intentions. The Moor, the cause of Iago’s revenge, is described as someone who heavily relies on the advice of others which becomes used against him by his friend. Also he becomes caught in Iago’s web because of his disability to cope with jealousy put in his ear. Othello jumps quickly into conclusions and finally kills Desdemona and himself that satisfies Iago’s desire of revenge.

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Therefore, Iago is able to manipulate Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello by exploding their weaknesses.

Being a blind fool and maintaining hopeless love for Desdemona, a woman of his dream, Roderigo is hurt by Iago who uses his weak spots to fulfill the revenge. Iago knows of Roderigo’s weakness of being totally devoted to Desdemona and of his obsession of winning her back, so he exploits it well. With promises of reunification with Desdemona, Iago twists Roderigo’s weakness to his advantage since he needs money and wants his hands to be clean. Iago is the one who manipulates his feelings toward Desdemona and motivates his actions. First Iago, in the moment of Roderigo’s despair, convinces him that Desdemona’s infatuation will end as soon as she’ll get bored sexually with Othello, so there will be a new way to get closer to her. Later he makes Roderigo believe that she has an affair with Cassio that provides Roderigo with incentive to bring down and then kill Michael.

Iago also puts in his head that Othello and Desdemona are going to Mauritania and he will not be able to win her back, but if Cassio dies then they will have to stay in Cyprus. Roderigo, being a naïve trusting fool, believes every Iago’s word. In his turn Iago despises Roderigo, referring to him as to a faithful to his master dog by saying that he is “poor trash of Venice, whom I leash for his quick hunting”. Roderigo’s disability to use his brain is showed in his foolishness of not understanding that Iago uses himas a source of money. However, even when he gets to suspect Iago in cheating on him, the master of evil finds the way out and Roderigo is left in fools again. Roderigo’s trusting nature and self-pitying does not allow him to take control over things by himself, so he sets his hopes on Iago who manipulates him playing on his weaknesses in order to fulfill his desire of revenge.

Cassio with his good reputation, love for women and wine being his real weakness is another character that is exploited by Iago. Iago hates Michael since he was chosen over Iago to become a lieutenant even though Cassio is, according to Iago, an inferior soldier. Since Iago is aware of Michael’s “very poor and unhappy brains for drinking”. On the first step of destroying him Iago gets Cassiol to drink too much of wine, one of his main weaknesses, while on duty, challenging his loyalty to Othello and causes him to brawl with Roderigo. When Othello discovers the drunken Cassio, he dismisses him. This is exactly what Iago had envisioned. The humiliation of Michael due to his dismissal and loss of rank is the fulfillment of one of Iago’s major goals. On the next step “honest man”, as he is called by Cassio, maintains the facade of fake sincerity and loyalty to Michael while at the same time deceiving and plotting his destruction.

Ironically, Cassio seeks Iago’s advice on how to regain Othello’s trust and favor while Iago is actually the source of his problem with Othello, Iago gives Michael advice for his own evil purposes. He advises Cassio to talk to Desdemona about influencing Othello. Unfortunately, this advice is a form of manipulating, since Iago perfectly knows that Michael is “a fellow almost damned in a fair wife”. Also by begging, or bowing down to a woman, which was not to be done in those times, Cassio shows more of a weakness. Although Michael is seeing Desdemona to talk about his position and reputation, Iago hints his suspicious of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair to Othello creating an interest in him. Also Iago becomes a great friend of Michael who even doesn’t allow to himself to get to know more about the handkerchief given by Iago to him. His trusting nature is completely under the power of Iago who provides a support for him. Therefore, Iago takes control over Cassio and his weaknesses, but Michael, blinded by Iago’s outside friendly nature, does not realize that.

Iago’s poison pours on to Othello’s mind and makes him to be manipulated by the enemy. Iago, when makes his plan says:

The Moor is of a free and open-nature,

That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,

And will as tenderly be led by th’nose

As asses are (act 1, scene 3)

Othello heavily relies on the opinions of others, as he did when choosing the lieutenant to be Cassio, not Iago. Also the Moor puts all his trust in Iago during times of war and during Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. This wasn’t very bright of Othello. His trusting nature makes him vulnerable. His involvement with Desdemona translates into a deeper trust with heart. Being older than she is, Othello has fears that she will find a younger man who is more attractive than Othello. This makes him open to Iago’s plan. As a result when Iago creates rumors of Desdemona’s involvement with Cassio, Othello’, being already insecure with himself falls deep into Iago’s trap. Besides the fact that he is older than his wife, Othello also has insecurities about his race. He is a black man living among white men who are sometimes make judgments about his race and how it affects his work. In addition, to his fears, Othello has passionate nature does not allow him to think over what he hears or if it is true, but let his jealousy take over his actions. Othello’s emotions begin to grow from jealously to anger.

He has never been heart broken before and now all his emotions of melancholy are running through his mind. “How shall I murder him, Iago?” Already Othello had sunken in everything Iago had said. Not thinking straight and letting his emotions run untamed, he can only think of death as a way to resolve everything. He jumps very fast into conclusions that lead to a downfall. Iago poisons Othello’s mind with lies about love, Desdemona, and his trusted lieutenant, Cassio and causes him to destroy them both. Iago realizes that by causing Othello to destroy both Desdemona and Cassio Othello will at the same time destroy himself and his reputation. Being under pressure of Iago who controls him exploiting his weaknesses Othello ruins himself and people around him.

Exploiting the major weaknesses of Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello, Iago is able to control and hurt them. He moves his friends as if they were chessmen. He uses their individual aspirations and passions to motivate them to whatever devious plan he desires. However, in each case Iago doesn’t have to push very hard because his suggested actions either seem harmless resolutions to each character’s woes or take advantage of character flaws. Because he does not have to push very hard, he is able to maintain an air of apathy while promoting his ultimate malevolent goals: “I am not what I am”. In Roderigo’s case Iago successfully manipulates him using his weak personality and passionate love to Desdemona for his own purposes. Cassio’s love for women and his weakness to wine is what helps Iago in controlling him. Othello also is caught by Iago in his web of lie since his trusting and passionate nature, insecurity in him makes him vulnerable to Iago. Shakespeare shows the consequences of being trustful and naïve. A person should think of what is right and wrong, but not rely on the advices of others as Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello did. One must have his own head on the shoulders, and should live using his mind and consciousness in order to avoid the situation of being under somebody’s control.

Why is Iago successful in his manipulation over Othello?

Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, at first, seems to be centred around a black man in a position of power in a white European society. ‘Othello’ therefore would seem the obvious and most suitable title. He is the tragic hero; it is the change in him and the aspects of his nature which bring about the fatal consequences. However studying the play in more detail you become increasingly aware of Iago being the main focal point throughout the play. Shakespeare gives more lines to Iago than Othello, and allows us into his thoughts using soliloquies. He does not do this with any other character even the main one, Othello.

However, saying this, Othello still contributes to the overall tragic end. Othello’s character is used by Iago to make him vulnerable to his manipulative tactics. Various parts of Othello’s character are shown through the play both to the audience and Iago which then get used against him.

One characteristic that is an example of this is his attitude to having either all or nothing. He shows this when talking about Desdemona ‘When I love thee not chaos is come’ explaining that if he does not love her it would be a total disaster. He consolidates this idea later on in the scene saying, ‘Away at once with love or jealousy’ that there is only room for complete love or complete jealousy, he cannot compromise. Iago, knowing this would want to turn him to complete jealousy so as not to love Desdemona, therefore ultimately causing chaos.

Othello being a solider also contributes to Iago’s successful manipulation of him, as soldiers are used to fighting, a thing Othello is very good at, he will be a man of action and once told of his wife’s supposed adultery, will have to act on it. This also coincides with his Christian beliefs believing he is an agent of justice in killing Desdemona he is a respectable person and believes he has a duty to do it.

Othello’s good qualities are turned against him, one of these being his ability to trust and believe that honesty is important in a person. He shows this to Iago questioning Cassio’s honesty with ‘Is he not honest?’ Iago then uses this to make sure Othello believes he is honest and trustworthy so that Othello tells Iago he is ‘full of love and honesty’

Iago also uses Othello’s bad qualities including his temper. This is used to make Othello become more vulnerable and lose control of himself. Iago does this by avoiding Othello’s questions and posing more of his own, suggesting to Othello that maybe Iago is hiding something. Read how does Othello change over time

Iago also uses the differences between Othello and Desdemona to persuade him that it is possible that his wife has cheated on him. The fact that he is black and she is white, as well as the large age difference comes up when he suggests that she would go for someone ‘of her own clime, complexion and degree’ which of course Othello does not match but of which Cassio does.

As well as using Othello’s characteristics in his manipulation he also manages to use aspects of his own character to make his manipulation successful. The most obvious of these is his ability to lie to the other characters and think on his feet. An example of this is when Roderigo holds Iago at knife point, Iago manages to calm Roderigo down quickly making him believe he is still trying to help him be with Desdemona.

Another thing Iago uses a lot during the play is imagery. He uses this to create moods and influence the thoughts of others. In particular, we see in him an adolescent fascination with crudity. When he talks to Othello about his wife having cheated on her, he uses a great deal of imagery expressing ideas about Desdemona being ‘topped’ and of her with Cassio, ‘Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys’ prime and hot meaning sexually rampant and ‘as salt as wolves in pride’ in pride meaning on heat.

Iago uses animals in this imagery maybe to suggest they were acting like dirty animals themselves or, to describe to Othello how inhumane they have acted. Iago also brings up the idea of ‘monstrous’ and describes it ‘As if there were some monster in thy thought too hideous to be shown’ This will have made Othello worry and have the ideas of being evil and monstrous in his head making him more likely to believe Iago when he comes out with an idea which is both of those things.

Act 3 scene 3 shows the point where Iago is able to manipulate Othello into believing his wife has had an affair with Cassio. This makes it a very important scene in terms of how Iago was successful in manipulating Othello. As soon as Iago enters into the scene he gets the attention of Othello, calling for him ‘my noble lord’ This mode of address that Iago uses lets Othello think he is in control and has the power so as not to back off from Iago or be defensive. Othello is pulled into the conversation already and shows curiosity, which Iago obviously wants.

Iago links Desdemona and Cassio straight away ‘Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lady, Know of your love?’ Turning this reply into a question shows how he is keeping control of the conversation. When asked why he does not give a direct answer, Iago carries the conversation on, which Othello then follows, showing again how Iago leads the conversation. Throughout he manages to links Desdemona and Cassio in the same pieces of dialogue ‘He had been acquainted with her.’ After this, Iago continues to questions everything Othello says, instead of answering.

When Othello asks whether Cassio is honest, Iago simply repeats the word honest with a question mark as if he does not really believe it. He does this again when Othello asks what he thinks, he replies ‘think, my lord?’ Iago is successful here in building up Othello’s temper and making him suspicious that there is something bad in Iago’s mind. We can tell that he has been successful in winding him up and worrying him when Othello replies to him, ‘Alas, thou echoest me, As if there were some monster in thy thought’ Iago may have been echoing the words of Othello, but has managed to shift his own bad thoughts into Othello’s mind as he starts using language with imagery such as ‘Monster’.

Iago controls the conversation throughout and as it goes on Othello has less and less power at one point Othello says to Iago ‘I prithee speak to me’ almost begging him to tell him. This you would expect to be the other way round but Iago manipulates Othello so that he is at his every word. Iago also puts in many horrible words ‘vile’ ‘false’ ‘uncleanly’ and ‘foul’ these could be words that he is trying to associate with Desdemona.

Several times during the scene Iago tries to show Othello how loyal and honest he is, telling him, ‘My lord, you know I love you.’ And talking about how ‘men should be what they seem’ so to Othello Iago seems trustworthy and honest. This sheds a good light on Iago and would make it easier for Othello to trust his words. He also tells Othello he is ‘bound to every act of duty’ being a soldier, this shows Othello he is a good loyal soldier that will do anything for him. Highlighting the fact that he is a solider will remind Othello he is a hard working man and under Othello’s command.

This suggests he is trying to do what is best for Othello. Iago also apologises for telling him of this, explaining that it was only because of ‘too much loving’ for ‘you’ and furthermore promising to be ‘bound to thee for ever’. Iago uses the idea of love a great deal, perhaps to try to replace the love Othello feels for Desdemona, for the love between Iago and Othello. Expressing wild feelings of everlasting love, he may be trying to out do Desdemona and show that she must not love him, as she does not express herself as Iago has.

Later on in the scene Iago brings up the topic of jealousy, at first referring to Othello as a ‘lord of jealousy’. Even if by now Othello was not jealous, Iago has put the idea in his head that there is something to be jealous about, which would no doubt turn him towards jealousy. We can tell Othello has picked up on this idea as he himself starts to talk about it saying ‘Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy,’ this again shows how Iago has used his own thoughts to influence those of Othello. By putting the idea of jealousy into Othello’s head, Iago is aware that it will grow like cancer, quickly taking over all other thoughts. He also encourages the idea to grow after having planted the seed by providing proof to Othello in the form of Desdemona’s handkerchief.

Iago also uses Othello’s own characteristic to turn him away from love. Othello expresses how he is only capable of having all or nothing and so unsurprisingly Iago uses this trait to try and get rid of his love completely by revealing that he is not getting all of Desdemona to himself. Stating, ‘what damned minutes tells he o’er, Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet fondly loves.’ Reminding him what a hellish time the man has when he loves her but doubts her at the same time, that he will be in great pain if he does not decide between one or the other.

At the end of this scene, Iago has been successful and has managed to turn Othello from being blissfully in love with Desdemona, to devising a plan by which to kill her in this pivotal scene of the play. It is clear this manipulation has been very successful and influenced Othello throughout the remainder of the play. This is clearly shown when Othello continues to believe Iago, in spite of hearing Desdemona’s pleas of innocence. Othello still goes ahead to murder his lover.

As well as being able to manipulate Othello, there are several circumstances throughout the play where actions of the other characters, and coincidental events, aid Iago’s manipulation. He is able to exploit what would seem to be harmless and insignificant moments, adjusting them to his advantage. The most obvious of these is the handkerchief that is primarily given to Desdemona from Othello. It is taken by Emilia, when by chance it is left available, and subsequently given to Iago. The otherwise innocent object is then planted in Cassio’s room, giving Othello what he thinks is strong proof that Desdemona has slept with Cassio. Although it was a coincidence Emilia got it for her husband, Iago then went on to exploited it further.

Another incident which works in Iago’s favour happens in the play after he had already started to interfere. Iago had managed to get Cassio drunk and start a fight, which evidently got him fired, as Iago had planned. After this however Cassio does not want Othello to forget him, so he asks Desdemona to speak for him to Othello. Out of the goodness of her heart she does so with all of her energy. Cassio then exits as Othello enters, not wanting Othello to see him out of an understandable sense of shame. Othello is provoked by Iago to see this as a guilty departure and convinces him that Desdemona’s protests on Cassio’s behalf are a sign of her attraction to him.

It is very clear, especially at the end of Act 3 scene 3 that Iago has been successful manipulating Othello from completely loving his wife to complete ‘Chaos’ At the end of At 3 scene 3 Othello, a professed Christian, swears ‘by yond marble heaven’ that his ‘bloody thoughts’ will never turn back until a ‘wide revenge’ has been accomplished. Christian judgement has by this point been perverted so totally by powerful emotions, Iago has been able to work so efficiently through vulnerable emotions and an insecure character to successfully and completely manipulate Othello. This play seems to ask the question that if this can really happen, how secure is any belief or any sense of good?

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How does Iago manipulate Othello?. (2016, Jun 23). Retrieved from

How does Iago manipulate Othello?

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