Iago’s uses his sexual jealousy of Othello to fuel his desire for revenge. He uses his jealousy to get evened with Othello – ‘wife for wife’.
Cuckoldry was a prevalent male fear at the time since it implied that a man could not control his wife which is exactly what Iago fears and is so consumed by the idea, even a rumour is good enough proof for him “But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/Will do as if for surety” , Emilia professes her innocence in Act IV “Some such squire he was that/Turned your wit the seamy side without/And made you to suspect me with the Moor”, which not only hints at a past of marital discord but also displays Emilia’s contempt for such meddling characters.
Throughout the play Iago enjoys plotting revenge against Othello, Desdemona and Cassio. In his first soliloquy Iago relishes the opportunity to inflict misery against other characters, thinking initially of his desire to supplant the new lieutenant: “To get his place, and to plump up my will/In double knavery. How? How? ” In this soliloquy Iago admits that he would be pleased if he could humiliate Othello. He relishes the challenge of destroying Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. The repetition of “How? How?
” indicates his initial formation of the plan to wreck Othello’s life. Harold Bloom supports this image of Iago as “an inventor… an experimenter”. Iago’s constant changing and scheming of his vengeful plan grows throughout the play. Iago’s revenge grows throughout the play; it begins with trying to destroy Cassio “With such a little web as this/I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio,” but eventually leads to trying to “enmesh them all” in a plot that relies on exploiting virtue – Othello’s “free and open nature”, Cassio’s “daily beauty” and Desdemona’s “goodness”.
Formed carefully, Iago’s plan reveals a Machiavellian intellect, making good use of overheard threats from Brabantio – “Look to her Moor, if thou hast eyes to see, /She has deceived her father, and may thee;” and comments from Othello’s own mouth about his “blood” beginning his “safer guides to rule”. However, other critics believed that Iago does not have any motives for destroying Othello’s life and as suggested by Coleridge the “motive-hunting of motiveless malignity” is Iago’s mainspring for revenge.
“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know/From this time I never will speak any word. ” Critics such as F. R. Leavis suggested that Iago is a “necessary piece of dramatic mechanism” designed to wreak havoc. Here, since Iago has been found out and his plan is in ruins, he has no more dishonesty to spread and is therefore dramatically irrelevant for the rest of the play.
Since Iago’s main function is to spread lies, his usefulness has run out since there are no more lies to spread. In this way Iago is similar to Aaron in “Titus Andronicus” in that they spread havoc for no real purpose, desiring an Old Testament style revenge of equal suffering. Iago is not the only character in “Othello” to desire revenge. In Act III Othello is manipulated by Iago into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.
Shakespeare, William: Othello – Heinemann Advanced Shakespeare, Heinemann 2000
Bloom, Harold: Shakespeare; “The Invention of the Human”, Fourth Estate Ltd. 1999
Coleridge S.T.: “Marginalia on Othello” and “Report of a Lecture at Bristol (November 1813)’
Eliot, T.S.: “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca” in Selected Essays, Faber and Faber Ltd. 1932
Leavis F.R. “Diabolic Intellect and the Noble Hero” in “The Common Pursuit” , Chatto & Windus, 1952