Deception is commonly viewed as a partner of evil as seen in popular movies and read in numerous works of literature from all periods of time. Along with deceit feelings of jealousy often follow which in turn lead to anger and irrationality. In Shakespeare’s Othello these feelings of deceit and jealousy are prevalent throughout the entirety of the play as demonstrated by Iago and his actions taken against almost all of the characters.
The players in Othello fall victim to the actions of trickery and deception brought on by Iago. As he plays everyone from Othello to his own wife he twists and turns everyone against one another resulting in one of Shakespeare’s famous tragedies. Iago’s jealousy and anger leads him to begin his rampage of deceitfulness which was brought on by not being named for a high position in Othello’s army. Starting with Desdemona’s father Brabanzio he dives in and plays a card against Othello telling the father that his daughter plans to marry Othello. The comment of “you have lost half your soul” (Greenblatt 2102 ln 87) referring to the devil and the fact that as Othello is black and Desdemona is white, Iago is anticipating the outrage and hate Brabanzio will form against Othello. He finds out that his plan is in action once he hears Brabanzio’s replies of racism towards Othello and that he never truly thought he was a proper candidate for his daughter. This in turn confuses and upsets Othello who thought they were friends as he defends his thoughts in front of the council of Vienna. He abruptly realizes that his friendship with Brabanzio is no longer so and is still unaware of Iago’s actions.
Once he has started his pile into deception Iago moves onto a higher target and more victims. Being a highly intelligent man he is confident in his trickery not being caught and being able to continue praying on others in order to achieve his desired revenge. Iago plays Rodrigo as well by using his smarts to see that he would clearly do anything to win over Desdemona. Iago tells Rodrigo to “put money in her purse” (Greenblatt 2114 ln 333) in hopes to not only take profit from him but to earn his trust. This could later be used to hold against Rodrigo to keep him underneath himself in case he needs an ally in the future. At the end of the play we see Iago using Rodrigo again in the effort to murder Cassio when Othello is supposed to be murdering his wife; also brought on by Iago’s twisting words and plans. Rodrigo agrees upon Iago telling him that Cassio is sleeping with her which channels Rodrigo’s jealousy because he is madly in love with Desdemona. This leads him to an almost murderous act if it had not been interrupted. That deed Iago commits leads the readers to a “view of Iago as deceiver and hence strengthening our sense of technical competence as manipulator” (Heilman 557).
Furthering his plan, Iago moves onto to destroy Cassio’s reputation and self standings. Being named Othello’s right hand man in his army Cassio clearly became one of Iago’s main targets to destroy. He wants to take his place and to do so he sees the only option is to steal it from him. Using alcohol to wither Cassio down Iago starts the downfall of Cassio in Othello’s eyes by getting him drunk and into a brawl which Othello witnesses and takes his lieutenancy from him. Othello sees him with his wife and Iago turns it into something of adultery and wrong doing. Cassio’s name is slashed down by the looks of the situation when he was simply trying to get his army position back. Obviously hurt from losing his position and standing with Othello, Cassio being somewhat a man of vanity and one who longs for popularity is torn up about losing his reputation. Not connecting the base of this loss to he pleads to Iago “Reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Greenblatt 2127 ln 246). Unbeknownst to him the one whom he is seeking comfort in is the very man who is distorting everything they thought was good and right.
Othello is the main character and target in the play for Iago. Iago has learned of the love Othello has for Desdemona and realizes that a main portion of it is driven by sexual control and attraction. Also being Othello’s main confidant and one who he refers to as a man “of exceeding honesty, and knows all qualities with a learned spirit of human dealings” (Greenblatt 2137 ln 262); Iago knows that he can implant his manipulative ideas into Othello’s mind and warp his view of his wife and his friends. Continuing, Othello’s strong personality and aggressive mindset let Iago’s words enter his thoughts and skew his outlook on what would usually be simple situations. Act three scene three is where the largest part of his deception and takeover of Othello occurs. While Othello’s heart is telling him he can trust innocent and pure Desdemona, what Iago’s implanted in him causes his curiosity and growing doubt in his wife. Knowing this doubt is growing, Iago plants a trap for Othello and tricks him into seeing something that isn’t really happening. Introducing and ramming the thought of Desdemona and Cassio having an affair drives Othello off the jealousy deep end and into a pool of madness. Iago’s references to them being “as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys” (Greenblatt 2140 ln 408) furthers the notion of the affair and the suspicion burning within Othello. It continues when Iago places Othello in a position to overhear a conversation that Cassio is saying about Bianca not Desdemona. Still when Othello hears this and in the situation that Iago has so carefully positioned him, he believes that Cassio is making sexual connotations about his wife. Iago found the perfect outlet for him to use in his own advantage through illusory by “play[ing] upon Othello’s sexual suspicions” (Michalski).
In a more subtle attempt, Iago manipulates and deceives Desdemona’s innocence and naivetÃ© in order to mislead Othello into thinking the unreasonable. Knowing that she is true and loyal to Othello, he figures out that transforming people into thinking that she is having an affair, specifically Othello, will lead to his rise and her downfall. His wife, Emilia is her servant and ‘best friend’ ensuring that he knows she is true to the King. Although he knows that what he is planning on putting into Othello’s mind is anything but the truth. Knowing that he is speaking falsehoods, Iago goes forth and causes uproar of travesty and remorse. Eventually resulting in the death of Othello, Desdemona and his own wife; Iago’s trickery and deceptive actions are used for the inane reasons of jealousy and immaturity.
Concluding, lying to your wife is seen as one of the unforgivable actions by our society and Shakespeare has Iago do not only that but much more. Emilia, Iago’s wife discovers his deception at the end of play as does the rest of the cast and she doesn’t just sit and watch it happen. Outraged she speaks out against him in disgust and anger. Once the argument of seeing Cassio with Desdemona’s handkerchief, which was given to her by Othello, was brought up in the dramatic ending of this play Emilia put the pieces together about what her husband had done. The handkerchief which represented a part of the love, trust and chastity between Othello and his wife was something they both considered sacred. Emilia says “He begged of me to steal’t” (Greenblatt 2169 ln 236). Caught in the act Iago has nowhere to turn. Confronted by his wife “My husband say she was false?” (Greenblatt 2167 ln 158) Iago’s lies and deceptions can go on no more. The audience and cast in the scene all see Iago’s trickery except for Othello. Still blinded by his love, remorse and jealousy he thinks of the stealing of the handkerchief in another way. It’s not until he realizes what he has taken and in a way is driven mad by his emotions and being completely overwhelmed that Othello kills himself and is set free of the emotional binds that Iago had slowly tied him down with.
Through his deception and jealousy Iago creates a maze of confusion, death, anger and misunderstanding which is exactly his goal. Trying to get to the top he stopped at nothing and no one to get there. Although he was caught and viewed most devilishly it’s ironic to see that he wasn’t the one who died out of the numerous tragedies he caused previous. Revealed in the end and at times along the way, the tactics used by Iago to gain respect and power were found to be atrocious and infuriating on one level of achievement for himself and another of downfall for several others. Shakespeare was a master in his art of literature and in Othello he falls nowhere short of instilling the villainous exploitations of deception and jealousy seen in Iago’s brilliant but destructive character.
Works Cited Page
1. Heilman, Robert B. “The Economics of Iago and Others.” PMLA 68 (Jun 1953): pp 557. JSTOR. University of Colorado Lib., Boulder, CO. 22 February 2008
2. Iago: Deception as Catalyst for Truth. Michalski, Amanda. 22 February 2008. The University of Colorado at Boulder. 22 February 2008
3. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997.