By Andrew Stedman
Michael Scott, an Irish writer once said, “villains often more the story along while the heros react to the villains, so the villain becomes the engine of the story.” This quote almost perfectly describes Iago, the villain and manipulative character in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. Throughout the play, Iago tricks and manipulates many characters such as Othello and Roderigo into believing his elaborate plan: to get revenge on Othello and Cassio. Iago’s use of manipulation allows him to exploit the weaknesses of many gullible characters.
Iago is able to manipulate Othello and Roderigo through their weaknesses. Iago first targets Roderigo, who is deeply in love with Desdemona. Since Roderigo is unaware of his surroundings because his love for Desdemona is so strong, Iago “who hast had [Roderigo’s] purse” (I.i.2) takes lots of money. Also, Iago convinces Roderigo to keep funding him and to give him as much money as possible. This exploitation expresses how gullible Roderigo is because of his unawareness; therefore, Iago manipulates him through his weakness, which then results in him gaining money. Similarly to Roderigo, Othello, who is also in love with Desdemona, is manipulated by Iago. Iago easily manipulates and exploits Othello’s very obvious weakness: jealousy. First off, Iago slowly hints that Desdemona has cheated on Othello with Cassio. This causes Othello to be very concerned about the situation on hand and if the rumor is true or not. Although before he jumps to any conclusions, Othello has to “see before he [doubts], prove, / And on the proof there is no more but this: / Away at once with love or jealousy!” (III.iii.195-197). This quote means Othello has to see hard evidence of them cheating, and then he will stop loving Desdemona. By slowly dropping these hints of Desdemona cheating, Iago is able to control and persuade Othello with anything he says and does. At the same time Iago also makes Othello jealous with these hints. It is eventually revealed that Othello found hard evidence, a handkerchief, that was planted by Iago, and thus Othello stopped loving Desdemona. Iago also attacked Othello’s self-esteem to make him even more jealous and sad. He calls Othello derogatory turns like “the Moor” (I.iii.336) to lower his self-esteem. Iago also says that there is a chance that Desdemona had an affair because she denied “many proposèd matches / Of her own clime, complexion, and degree” (III.iii.235-236). This quote shows that Desdemona denied to marry people of her same race and social class. Therefore it reveals that Desdemona possibly could have had an affair because Othello is a different race and in a lower social class. In turn, this would then hurt his self-esteem and make him even more jealous of Cassio, the man who supposedly slept with Desdemona. Through his many acts of manipulation on Othello, Iago further develops the plot because the whole novel is based on what he does. Iago easily took advantage of Othello and Roderigo, and had almost full control of their outcomes.
Over time Iago uses many different tactics of manipulation to control other characters so that he can reach the success of getting revenge on Othello and Cassio. These characters never fully see Iago’s intentions until the end of the play. Although Iago was the villain, it was his actions that further progressed and developed the plot.