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Iagos Motives in Othello

Othello is one of William Shakespeares most famous and widely recognised plays. A
well respected soldier and newly married man, Othello appears to be in an enviable
position. Yet when supposed friend Iago puts his hidden agenda into action he plants
a seed of doubt in Othellos mind over his wifes fidelity until he is ultimately
consumed by his jealousy and suspicion. The intense love between Othello and
Desdemona descends until innocence is corrupted and trust is eroded as the
relationship is sent into a downward spiral. The character of Iago can be viewed as
the true villain of the play because despite Othello being the one to smother his wife
to death, he reached that point of toxic jealousy due to Iagos plan to delude the once
admirable soldier. Iago has several motives driving him such as missing out on the
promotion from Othello, jealousy over Desdemona and Othellos love, offence taken
to being under a man like Othello and also poses the question that maybe he had no
motives to begin with and he is merely a character made of pure evil. It is these
motives that are pushing his character to weave such malevolent schemes with the
intention of corrupting many of the plays characters until by the last act when we
witness them all ultimately meet their downfall. Iagos true side is revealed to the
audience as we watch him poison the relationship of Othello and Desdemona,
cascading into a tangled web of jealousy, suspicion and self doubt.
The most obvious motive of Iagos is made clear to us at in the very first act of the
play. Cassio was given a promotion over Iago by Othello. Not only does this give
insight into his characters true motives and scheming ways planning to get back at
Othello by exposing his clandestine relationship with Desdemona, but it also shows
his insecurities. He feels that Othello went for the educated Cassio over himself when
he has more experience, as Cassio has never set a squadron in the field. This
highlights to the audience the insecurity that Iagos character holds over his
academic abilities having been shunned because of them. We also gain a sense of
Iagos xenophobia when he criticises One Michael Cassio, a Florentine as he
himself is a loyal Venetian. We can see that Iago is parochial as he makes criticism
over Cassio being from Florence, which at the time this play was written during the
era of Elizabethan England, Florence although a part of Italy was an independent
state. Because of missing out on the promotion Iago is angry with Othello and
resents Cassio causing some of his own jealousy to brew to the surface, which ends
up being the weapon he uses to destroy Othello and get his revenge. Yet it is
revealed to the audience that Iago has suspected Othello of having done [his] office.
[He] know not if it be true. Because of this previously underlying suspicion that Iago
has surrounding Othellos character committing adultery with his wife Emilia, it may
be that now after not receiving the promotion he actually has a valid reason to base
his revenge off he can act on his yearning to destroy Othello.
We also see another aspect of jealousy through Iagos character, being his envy of
Desdemona and Othellos love. He is insulted that a man like Othello from Northern
Africa could have the ability to woo a beautiful girl like Desdemona who is pure and
innocent despite there being a large age gap between the two. We also receive
criticism from Iago about their relationship suggesting that they should not be
together because of such a large age gap and it cannot be that Desdemona should
long continue her love to the Moorshe must change for youth. Iago possibly has a
secret passion for Othellos new bride and this is reinforced to us later on in the play
when we see just how sour his relationship with wife Emilia can be. There is quite
often a power struggle between the two and she feels that Uds pity, who would not
make her husband a cuckold, to make him a monarch enforcing to the audience that
the only way for a woman to hold power over her husband is to cheat on him as it
makes him look like a fool. However this newly exposed motive of Iagos could also

add some explanation to divulging Othello and Desdemonas elopement in act one of
the play and it wasnt just for his jealousy over the promotion but jealousy over the
though of an old black ram is tupping [a] white ewe revealing to the audience the
hidden zeal Iago holds for sought-after Desdemona.
Iago also has an element of racism to his character in the play Othello. He feels
offended at the fact that he, a loyal and well respected Venetian, must be under the
rule and orders of a northern African leader. During the period of Elizabethan
England the only role that black men would have in society would be as slaves. Iago
uses racist terms throughout the play referring to Othello as thick lips and even the
moor of Venice which is used numerous times by many characters is a common
term from the middle ages used to refer to the black people who came over to
Europe from Morocco. Shakespeare has used the word moor as synonym for the
word African throughout Othello. Iago feels that it is almost shameful to be under a
character like Othellos and is has even more jealousy seep into him when seeing
that a black man like Othello could woo a young beauty like Desdemona. This
offence Iago has taken to Othello grows even more after he doesnt pick him to be
his lieutenant and it eventually leads his grudge to drive him to become so deceitful
and toxic that he drives Othello into the ground until he is a man left with noting just
like Iago thinks he should have been in the first place.
It can however be argued that these motives of Iagos are just what the audience
have read into and that the only true answer to his intoxicating pollution of Othello in
the play is due to him being blatantly made of evil. As critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge
states Iagos character contains motiveless malignancy and this can be reinforced
when Iago talks about be conjunctive against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou
dost thyself a pleasure me a sport and also him benefiting from him corrupting
Othello. It is as if Iago finds that driving Othello into the ground to be like a twisted
mind game especially because he plays on Othellos thoughts and suspicions using
his jealousy and anger. It makes the audience consider that if the tables had turned
and Iago received the promotion over Cassio and had no suspicions or jealous
feelings, would he somehow create another motive in his mind for going after Othello
in his machiavellian like way. Iago can be described as being the gardener of the
play. He plants the seed and lets it bloom then poisons it, bringing everything
surrounding down along with it. To be able to drive a man to smother his own wife
and then kill himself without any regret or guilt along the way makes it hard for the
audience to settle on another reason other than Iagos character being a concoction
of evil created by Shakespeare.
William Shakespeares Othello creates a character out of Iago that can spark much
debate on his true motives behind Othellos downfall. While there are a number of
reasons that could have driven him to commit such an act there is always that feeling
the audiences gains that a crime to the extent of Iagos can have no excuse or
motivation behind it apart from being created out of a purely evil mind and thoughts.
It can be argued that the delight Iago takes from his mind games makes him
comparable to Satan and how he so easily creates Othellos honour, loyalty, worship,
and fidelity into commodities to be gambled with while stirring his thoughts around in
jealous suspicions. While many may see corrupted and green-eyed Othello as being
the villain of the play, smothering his sweet and caring wife, the brain behind it all
was Iago. Shakespeares other plays such as Macbeth contains a protagonist that
drives themselves into the ground due to been overwhelmed by their fatal flaw.
However in Othello it is Iago how enforces Othellos fatal flaw onto him until he is
consumed by it to the point of no return. As William Robertson Turnbull says of Iagos
character in Othello being an unbeliever in, and denier of, all things spiritual, who
only acknowledges god, like Satan, to defy him.