Iago is the main driving force in “Othello,” pushing several characterstowards their tragic end. Iago is not a traditional villain for he plays a unique and complexrole. Unlike most villains in tragic plays, evidence of Iago’s deceptionis not clearly visible. Iago is smart and an excellent judge of peopleand their characters. He uses this keen sense of knowledge to hisadvantage. For example, Iago knows that Roderigo has feelings forDesdemona and assumes he would do anything to have her as his own.
Iagoattempts to manipulate Roderigo by saying:It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor-put money in thy purse- nor he his to her: It is a violent commencement,and thou shalt see and answerable sequestration; put but money in thypurse. Act I, Scene III. By playing on Roderigo’s hopes, Iago swindles money and jewels fromRoderigo, making himself a substantial profit. Iago also says, “Thus do Iever make my fool my purse” Act I, Scene III once Roderigo has left.
“Honest” Iago cleverly disguises his own goals as Roderigo blindlyfollows him. Iago continually operates with alterier motives in “Othello. ” Iago takesadvantage of his friendships with Cassio as well as Roderigo. Cassioblindly follows Iago, thinking the entire time that Iago is trying tohelp him.
During this whole time, Iago plans the demise of Cassio, hissupposed friend. In order to obtain Cassio’s position as lieutenant, Iagoconvinces Cassio to take another drink, knowing very well that it willmake him drunk and disgrace him. Iago obviously tries to tarnish Cassio’scharacter when he says, “What, man! ‘Tis a night of revels: the gallantsdesire it” Act II, Scene III. Iago is able to make Cassio defy his ownreasoning and reluctantly take another drink.
As a result of his deviousscheming, Iago’s achieves his goal and Othello terminates Cassio as hislieutenant. Iago successfully manipulates the people around him bybuilding a trust, a trust in which all of Iago’s victims believe to be anhonest trust. The friendship and honesty Iago falsely imposes upon Othello makes iteasy for Othello to never imagine the possibility that Iago has evilmotives. Othello holds Iago as his close friend and advisor. He believesIago to be a person, “of exceeding honesty, who knows all qualities,with a learned spirit” Act III, Scene III.
Iago uses the trust Othellohas in him to turn Othello into a jealous man. The cleverness of Iago isthat he works upon one of the tragic flaws of Othello. Othello has thetendency to take everything he is told at face value without questioningthe circumstances. Othello has no reason to doubt these accusations forthe “honest” Iago has to be telling him the truth. Iago is successful atturning Othello against his own wife. Towards the end of Act IV, Iago’sinfluence can be seen in the conversation between Othello and his wife,Desdemona.
Othello sets a trap for his wife when he asks, “Lend me thyhandkerchief” Act IV, Scene III. Iago creates the impression thatDesdemona is having an affair with Cassio in order to stir the jealousywithin Othello. Iago’s influence upon Othello causes him to transformfrom a flawless, military leader to a man driven to murder. In Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Iago carefully and masterfully entraps theother characters satisfying his appetite for revenge. Through deception,Iago creates the appearance of good, which ultimately fools the peoplearound him into thinking he is loyal and honest.
While simultaneouslyimplanting images into the head of Othello, through suggestions to bothCassio and Roderigo, Iago causes the downfall of them all. As anoutsider, the audience views Iago’s declarations to one character inwhich he deceives another character. The basis of Iago’s success comesfrom the carefully built trust with individual characters. It is a trustfrom “honest” Iago that his so-called friends do not dare doubt.