The Poison of Iago’s Influence in Othello
Bright personality of Iago in Othello is a reflection of exaggerated fiendish nature of a person and of all the evilness and dishonesty a man can be capable of. His constant hatred to his general and unquenchable thirst for intrigues make him devise intricate plans and harm everybody around him for the sake of his own benefits. Iago’s methods of poisoning Othello’s mind are cunning, well thought-through speeches and ruses aimed at simple and trustful nature of Moor’s character and his instant decisions.
From the beginning of the play, Iago does not conceal his hatred towards the general. The misunderstanding of how his general could assign another person to be his Lieutenant while his loyal and honest servant Iago fought along with him for a long time arises in Iago in Act I Scene I, where he confesses to Rodorigo how he hates Othello and condemns the justice of Cassio’s assignment to lieutenancy. Iago craves for revenge. He plots against Othello not only for the possibility to get a higher rank, but also because of strong negative feelings he has accumulated. Iago shows his negative and inhuman attitude in comparing Othello to animals: “an old black ram”, “a Barbary horse”. In Act II Scene I Iago voices another reason for hatred to Othello, which is a strong suspicion of Othello seducing his wife Emilia.
Having sufficient motives, Iago starts to plot an intricate plan on revenge. He uses all the possibilities to humiliate the general behind his back. At first, he tries to quarrel Othello with Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, to strain the attitude towards the Moor. Iago tells Othello about Brabartio’s negative attitude, and the general takes it for exceeding honesty, calling him “honest Iago”. This name will be fastened to Iago during the whole play, and not only Othello, but Cassio, Desdemona, and others will call him so without any doubts. The other scene is represented in Act IV, where Iago, following the temptation to defile his general’s reputation, slanders Othello by telling Lodovico about the inadequacy of Othello’s behavior.
Iago’s weapons are not only his cunning and ruses, but people he uses to implement his plan. He first exercises his art of intriguing on Rodorigo, thus displaying his own duplicity (Coleridge, “Othello Essay”). Using Rodorigo as a source of money, swindling him out of it and lying that it is for jewels for Desdemona, is not Iago’s main purpose. Rodorigo serves as a turning gear, the necessary detail in implementing plots. Another person Iago uses is his wife Emilia. She is supposed to be the closest to her husband, but, in fact, she does not know him at all. While Iago uses Emilia to get the main evidence of fictitious Desdemona’s cheat, the handkerchief, naive Emilia, not aware of committing the greatest crime, obeys him as a faithful wife.
The duplicity of Iago is shown in the course of the whole play in his soliloquies, where he shares his thoughts and plans with readers, and when he caustically speaks aside. First Iago’s monologue appears at the end of Act I. It shows his cunning in making a profit from intrigues and plots. He acknowledges using Rodorigo as a source of money and devises plan on double knavery: overthrowing Othello by making him believe in his wife’s unfaithfulness and taking Cassio’s place. He relies on playing with Othello’s openness. Othello’s mind is simple, he is not observant, and it is very easy to deceive him for those who are close to him. He is a warrior. He is not introspective or easily succumbed to emotions, and he is instant and decisive in his actions. If Othello trusts a person, his trust is absolute, that is why it is so easy for cunning Iago to play the role of an honest servant (Bradley, “Shakespearean Tragedy”).
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According to Iago’s plan, Desdemona and Cassio will appear lovers, and Othello, being outraged, will ruin both his family and his and Cassio’s carriers. In Scene III Iago finds out about how easy Cassio becomes drunk in just several cups of wine. He decides to use it in order to implement his crafty plan. Iago speaks ill of Cassio to Montano. He is trying to clutch any chance to slander Cassio, but at the same time, he pretends to be lieutenant’s good friend. Iago succeeds with his plan to depict Cassio in an unfavorable light. He uses the opportunity to tell Othello his version of reasons of the fight between Montano and Cassio, which, in fact, was provoked by Iago himself. Again, in the eyes of Othello, Iago shows his honesty and love, while Cassio loses his reputation.
Success in persuading Cassio to entrust Desdemona his fate and decision on his reassignment shows how Iago pulls the strings of all the people included in this plan.
Iago elaborately complicates and confuses Othello’s thoughts about simple things: Cassio’s leaving Desdemona right before their coming, lieutenant’s attitude to Desdemona before the general’s marriage. He warns Othello to beware of jealousy. However, Othello speaks out reasonably and shows full trust for his wife. Iago reminds of how Desdemona deceived her father in marrying the Moor. This example made her not that pure in the eyes of Othello, though he did not logically assume that the attitude of a daughter to a father and to a man who she loves and wants to be her husband is not the same thing. Iago sows some doubts into Othello’s mind, adding his assumptions on how strange it is for such a girl to love the one so differing from her kind.
More and more worries arouse in Othello. The doubts slowly poison his mind, making him think a lot about Iago’s words. These doubts make Othello outrageous, and he demands Iago show evidence of his wife’s infidelity. Even the imagined Cassio’s dream on kissing Desdemona strengthens the feeling of being cheated in the Moor. This represents another example of fallacy in Othello’s logic as he presumes the possibility of the dream to expose the real deceit. Iago makes Othello believe that Cassio got the handkerchief as a gift from Desdemona. Iago has prepared grounds before sowing false assumptions in Othello. The general’s thoughtless and blind belief in Iago’s words show his absolute trust to his servant.
In Act III Scene IV, Othello demands Desdemona bring the handkerchief. He is ready to believe in his wife’s deceit, but this is the last proof he needs. Othello deliriously repeats about the handkerchief, not listening Desdemona’s speeches about Cassio and his reassignment. The absence of the napkin outrages Othello and makes him believe in Desdemona’s infidelity.
In Act IV Scene I Iago sets up conversation with Cassio in order Othello could watch Cassio’s reactions to Desdemona and their relations. However, Othello does not hear the full conversation, he relies on Iago’s honesty again without even presuming the possibility they could speak about someone else. Othello vividly imagines the scenes of cheating with his mind completely poisoned by Iago’s slander. Finally, seeing Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s hands, Othello is given another proof of Iago’s words. Othello tells Iago: “I’ll not / expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty / unprovide my mind again” (Shakespeare). He shows his decisiveness and advance disbelief in Desdemona’s purity and any justifications. Othello wants to poison Desdemona and asks Iago to bring the poison. However, cunning Iago, not wishing to deal with the crime, suggests strangling her: “Do it not with poison, strangle her in her bed, even / the bed she hath contaminated” (Shakespeare).
The action gradually rises. Emilia vouches for Desdemona’s faithfulness to Othello, but it is useless as he is already persuaded by her husband and too blind to see the truth. Perhaps, the word of a woman meant less than of a man in those times, that is why Othello fell on deaf ears.
In Act V Iago persuades and forwards Rodorigo to murder Cassio. However, it is Cassio who kills Rodorigo, and again we see meanness of Iago and his inability to act directly and show himself when he strikes Cassio’s leg badly from the back.
After the culmination moment of Othello’s killing Desdemona, Emilia comes into the room and understands who has mislead Othello’s mind and poisoned it in defaming pure honest Desdemona. Although, it is difficult for her to believe in her husband’s dishonesty, she tries to appeal to Othello. However, he does not believe her again, such strong is Iago’s influence. When he finally finds out the truth, he calls Iago “precious villain”. Othello quickly sorts the details of Iago’s plan out, and he probably could go mad of grief, but he kills himself after the soliloquy where he acknowledges his mistakes.
Undoubtedly, Iago’s personality, being an exaggerated image of meanness, shows the most evil sins concentrated in one person in this play: dishonesty, duplicity, plotting, intriguing, and ungrounded hatred. It is impossible to imagine having such a person living in this world. Iago’s intricate methods to poison Othello’s mind were ruined only due to a little slip in his plan and humane honesty of his wife. The essence of Shakespeare’s play Othello is to show the negative nature of a person and teach people to disrespect it in order to eradicate all the evil inside us.