Iago, the Master Manipulator in Othello
The story of a soldier who devises and carries out an elaborate plan that will become his general’s undoing is one possible way of summarizing William Shakespeare’s “Othello”. Throughout the play, Iago moves the characters as though they were chess pieces – he utilizes their individual goals, and interests as a means of getting them to carry out his plan. For each situation, Iago does not need to push his pawns too hard simply because his proposed lines of action appear to be easy ways to fix their character flaws. However, beneath the superficial appearance, it is a means of exploiting character flaws. Much like a puppet master, Iago respectively controls Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Othello in a manner that aids him in attaining his ultimate goal, ergo, Iago is a master manipulator.
Iago exploits both Cassio’s longing for his old position as lieutenant, and Desdemona’s amiable nature to make it seem like Desdemona is being unfaithful to Othello. Cassio loses his lieutenancy due to his drunkenness and fights with Roderigo and Montano: “I love thee, but nevermore be officer of mine” (1.3.264-265). Upon hearing this from Othello, Cassio – who has now become downtrodden – goes to Iago, a self-proclaimed, “fair man” (2.3.285), who happens to be close by. Iago manages to get Cassio into a melancholic state; a state wherein he will be easily suggestible because he is desperate. Iago consoles Cassio stating that “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving.” (2.3.287-9), which is amusing since Iago has a reputation for being honest even though he is a liar. Cassio, on the other hand, is currently viewed as a wild drunkard when in actuality he has Othello’s best interest in mind. Iago expresses that, “Our general’s wife I now the general…” (2.3.333-4), and that with Desdemona begging on his behalf, his relationship with Othello “will become stronger than it previously was.” (2.3.344-5). In this scene, Iago essentially takes advantage of Cassio’s low alcohol tolerance to plant the idea of using Desdemona as an intermediary in Cassio’s head. A simple mind game was all it took for Iago to nudge Cassio in the desired direction.
Cassio is instrumental in Iago’s control of Desdemona. Iago capitalizes on Desdemona’s natural inclination to help others; he “turn[s] her virtue into pitch, and out of her own goodness make[s] the net that shall enmesh them all.” (2.3.380). Iago is a sinister figure who seeks to distort what is unadulterated and great. Following his proposal to Cassio, Iago is sure that Cassio will implore Desdemona to appeal to Othello concerning his reinstatement as lieutenant of the Venetian army. Cassio beseeches Desdemona for her help, and as expected she responds, “Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.” (3.3.1-2), hence Iago’s plan succeeds. Furthermore, Iago utilizes their interaction to further broaden his underhanded plot, and like a miniature devil on one’s shoulder, Iago whispers suggestions to Othello. “If I have any grace or power to move you, his present reconciliation take…” (3.3.51-5). Each time Desdemona asks Othello to consider giving Cassio his back his position, Iago believes the suggestions he gave will echo in the back of Othello’s mind, causing him to see it as supplications for her lover. This is the manner with which Iago contorts Desdemona’s kind-heartedness into pleas that fall as confirmations of disloyalty on Othello’s ear.
Iago takes advantage of the marital devotion that Emilia (his wife) shows him. Fully aware of her love for him, Iago asks her (on multiple occasions) to steal the handkerchief that Othello gifted to Desdemona. Iago’s control of his better half is sad; she observes his “wayward” (3.3.336) nature, however, she stays devoted and lets Iago have the handkerchief knowing it is her mistress’s “first remembrance of the Moor” (3.3.335). As he did with Desdemona’s amicableness, Iago abuses Emilia’s dedication as fuel for his vindictive objectives. Iago purposely “lose[s] this napkin’ in Cassio’s lodging” (3.3.369), thus when Othello finds it, it will serve as a confirmation of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness.
Roderigo is feeble-minded, and desperately in love with Desdemona. As a result, it was easy for Iago to manipulate him. By exploiting Roderigo’s moronic nature, Iago can obtain any monetary-based resources he desires; “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” (1.3.426). Roderigo’s mental capacity is additionally hindered by his affection for Desdemona. Though his love for her is strong, it is also his weakness: “I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but is it not in my virtue to amend it?” (1.3.359-60). And with the guarantee (though false) that Desdemona will be inclined to divorce Othello and marry Roderigo, Iago gets whatever funds he wishes. Roderigo’s desperate desire for Desdemona blinds him from the fact that no amount of money can help his cause. Iago takes advantage of Roderigo’s failure to realize that fault in logic, and gradually drains Roderigo’s pockets. By just expressing to Roderigo that, “[Desdemona’s] eye must be fed” (2.1.246), and that “Desdemona is directly in love with [Cassio]” (2.1.240), he persuades his naive moron. Hence, Roderigo acknowledges Iago’s far-fetched hypothesis, given Desdemona’s exceedingly modest nature, without a smidgen of confirmation. Iago is a puppeteer that realizes exactly how to play on Roderigo’s shortcomings to achieve the desired effect. Iago’s statement, “… my sick fool Roderigo, whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out”, coupled with his (Roderigo’s) continuous failure secure Desdemona’s love negatively compliments his feeble-mindedness. With desperation clouding his judgment, Roderigo acknowledges Iago’s recommendation that he slaughter Cassio: “I have no extraordinary dedication to the deed; but then he hath given me fulfilling reasons” (5.1.9-10). The puppet master effectively pulls Roderigo’s strings simply with a series of unproven hypotheses.
Lastly, Iago’s manipulation of Othello is arguably the most cynical of them all, as it is heavily influenced by the hate Iago harbors for Othello. One of the main reason Iago despises “the moor” (as he often refers to Othello) is because he feels he should have been promoted to Lieutenant rather than Cassio. Othello’s frailties about his race are what Iago exploits to an end. In the opening scene Iago cries out beneath Brabantio’s window, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.88–9)”. Othello and Desdemona eloped, and upon discovery, the Duke was furious (as Iago had hoped). Be that as it may, Othello was able to convince him that his love for his daughter is pure. However, before the end of the play, Iago has so blackened Othello’s soul that he is persuaded that, “[Desdemona] must die, else she’ll betray more men” (5.2.6). The drastic change occurred because Iago slowly and carefully goaded Othello. First, Iago utilizes Othello’s ‘blackness’ to plague his mind with doubt: “Whereto we see in all things nature tends. Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural” (3.3.271-273). Iago adds wood to an already burning fire by capitalizing on Othello’s estrangement from Venice. Iago claims that for the ladies of Venice, “their best conscience is not to leave undone, but keep unknown.” – meaning that it is not uncommon for them (women) to cheat and hide it. Iago knows that Othello’s insecurities will further support his argument. For example, Desdemona’s very picking of Othello suggests that there is something off about her. Realizing these frailties live in Othello’s mind, Iago starts dropping inconspicuous hints that he knows will plague Othello’s mind. For example, “I like not that” (3.3.37), and as if to do some damage control he says, “I cannot think it that he would steal away so guiltylike” (3.3.41-42), nevertheless planting another seed of uncertainty in Othello’s mind. As this seed flourishes in Othello’s mind, Iago needs just supply “trifles light as air”, which Othello requests from Iago: “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore” (3.3.411). Iago, at that point, supplies him with the “ocular proof” that he requests, “I know not that: but such a handkerchief, — I am sure it was your wife’s, –did I today see Cassio wipe his beard with.” (3.3.496-8). That sole sliver of evidence was the final straw; “O, blood, blood, blood!” (3.3.512). Consequently, because Iago can misuse Othello’s insecurities about being a black man in Venice, he can without much of a stretch control him using only frail insights and intangible evidence.
All things considered, Iago taps into individual character blemishes and circumstances all through the play to fulfill his very own wicked need. Iago is a sinister character whose manipulation regularly include distorting what is great and good into a desolately debased pile – a theme that is recurring throughout the play. The play starts with things in order, and by the end, everything is thrown into disarray. All because of one evil-scheming man. Thusly, the events that take place in Shakespeare’s Othello shed light on the repercussions of acting without a moral compass.
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