Back to: Othello by William Shakespeare
The play Othello begins with a scene of Iago. From the very outset, it is obvious that he has a formidable skill of communication. His language is sharply controlled by his deep psychological understanding of every other character he speaks with.
It is Iago whose manipulating capacity reveals the vulnerability of human beings. Singlehandedly, he manipulates Roderigo, Iago, Cassio, Desdemona and Emilia. Even his minor confrontations with characters like Brabantio and others bear the effects of his manipulative tendencies.
Unlike Shakespeare’s other villains, Iago is outrightly and self-consciously evil. His manipulation begins with Roderigo who is hopelessly in love with Desdemona.
Iago has an expert double face. To Roderigo, he looks like someone who mutually shares a hatred for Othello and wants revenge where in reality, he has been using Roderigo as a pawn along with his money and gifts in the name of Desdemona and he also stabs him in the end. Roderigo calls him an “inhuman dog.”
Iago ably manipulates others because he has a deep understanding of their personal insecurities and complexes. When he begins manipulating Othello, he never directly utters his intention, he rather suggests.
In a very subtle way, he empathises with Othello. He understands his cultural and visual isolation and the kind of complexities and self-doubts which may result from it.
He doesn’t spare a single chance in the name of humanity when he starts breaking him from inside. As a part of his very elaborate and intricately detailed plan, he traps Cassio by using Roderigo. He does so by using their weakness and misfortune. Cassio’s weakness in alcohol is exploited very quickly.
Iago also exploits Emilia, his wife’s simple-minded devotion towards him to get the handkerchief which becomes his final weapon for corrupting Othello’s doubt towards Desdemona beyond repair.
He makes utterly angelic Desdemona’s humanity which she shows for Cassio coincide with Othello’s doubt in her fidelity. Whenever he shows his humanity on the face, it means he is getting closer in his plan. He says, “in following him, I follow but myself.”
The play shows how excellent acting is crucial to manipulation. Iago’s craft stems from his capacity to convince others of his sincerity. After severing Othello’s faith in Desdemona, he tells him, “I humbly beg your pardon because I was loving you too much.”
Othello ends up saying, “I am bound to you forever.” The height of manipulation shown in this play is when the very characters who are cheated by Iago into their fall, call him as “honest.”