Iago S Motives Essay Topics

  • 1

    How is Othello's race a factor in the play?

    Othello ascends to the rank of the Venetian military, a city - much like Elizabethan England when the play was written - rife with racism. A general in the army, Othello holds a distinguished place in the Duke's court due to his victories in battle, but not an equal one. He suffers barbs and preconceived notions, yet Othello is esteemed and wins the love of the daughter of a nobleman. However, Brabantio is enraged by Othello's marriage to Desdemona and claims Othello used magic to compel her to run to his "sooty bosom". Race is a factor in the tragedy both in those who seek to destroy Othello, and the victims of the schemes - Othello and Desdemona. Perhaps the most pernicious form of race as an instrument of division is Othello's own view of himself as an outsider, which makes him more susceptible to Iago's plan.

  • 2

    How does Shakespeare's use of language reveal character?

    Often Shakespeare uses verse lines written in iambic pentameter to illustrate nobility. It is illustrative of Iago's duplicitous nature that he tends to speak in verse when he is with Othello and in prose for his soliloquies. One way in which Iago is a master in manipulation is his tendency to use Othello's own words to disguise his active role of instigator and make it seem that any dark thought came not from him but Othello's own mind. Othello's speech is very sophisticated at the beginning of the play, and in his soliloquy at the close of Act V, but when he is consumed with jealous rage, his eloquence falters. Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey the innerworkings of his characters.

  • 3

    Othello is often called a tragic hero. Discuss his heroic qualities as well as his flaws which lead to his demise.

    At the beginning of the play Othello is presented as an honorable man of noble stature and high position. In the end it is his misguided attempt to maintain that honor which brings about his, and Desdemona's, demise. However, Othello is not simply the victim of a plot. Iago is able to engineer Othello's downfall in part because of Othello's own insecurities. His pride blinds him to his weaknesses, and he puts his faith in Iago over the word of his love, Desdemona. Othello is obsessed with his reputation, and ends up killing his wife to save face. Only to a flawed man would murder seem like a solution to a problem of reputation. Othello is spurred on by lies and misrepresentations, but he brings about his own undoing.

  • 4

    What motives, stated and implied does Iago have for taking revenge on Othello?

    Iago's stated reason for taking revenge on Othello is that he has been passed over for Cassio's post. But is this enough for him to "hate the Moor"? It is clear that he is jealous of Othello's ascension in the court and successful wooing of Desdemona. Othello's race and status as an outsider also seems to fuel this rage, as well as the rumor that Othello has slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. None of these motivations, however, seem to add up to inspire the violence that unfolds. Iago remains one of the most purely evil of Shakespeare's villains.

  • 5

    Discuss how loyalty is presented as a positive and a negative quality throughout the play.

    Othello's lack of loyalty is what incites Iago's plan for revenge. Iago's ability to fool Othello that he is loyal while secretly plotting his demise is what makes his revenge effective. It is Othello's belief in Desdemona's lack of loyalty that seals their fates. In these ways loyalty, when misconstrued, can be dangerous. However Desdemona's loyalty to Othello even in her death and Othello's loyalty to her once his mistake is revealed are seen as ennobling aspects of their characters.

  • 6

    Compare and contrast the jealousy of Othello to that of Iago.

    One major theme in Othello is revenge - Iago's revenge on Othello and Othello's revenge on Desdemona. They both believe death will bring justice. Iago's revenge is cooler, plotted out over time where Othello's is an act of heartbroken passion. Iago wears his lack of morals as a badge of honor where it is Othello's moral code that leads to his tragic end.

  • 7

    Although Othello is the title character in what way is Iago the main character?

    Often in Shakespeare's plays such as Hamlet or King Lear, the title character is the main character and protagonist. In Othello this is not the case. Iago has almost 20% more lines than Othello, and has more asides with the audience. While it is Othello's decisions and actions that provide the dramatic structure for the play, it is Iago who sets in motion those decisions and spurs him to action. Othello is the tragic figure of the play, along with Desdemona, and it his characteristics that lend itself to most of the themes - jealousy, race, trust. However, Iago is the character who drives the plot.

  • 8

    How does Desdemona's dying assertion that she killed herself effect how you see her character?

    From a modern feminist viewpoint Desdemona may be judged harshly for answering Emilia, when she asked who has mortally attacked her, "nobody; I myself. Farewell." Furthermore, she seemed resigned to her fate at the hands of her husband. While contemporary audiences may interpret these actions as unfathomable, they highlight the goodness of her character. Desdemona is described by others in the play with words that symbolize goodness - light, white, fair, delicate, alabaster. By the end of the play, Desdemona begins to symbolize goodness itself, so her reaction to her murder becomes another element in Othello's tragic end. Desdemona still loves Othello, though he is mistaken, and she goes to her death professing her husband's reputation. A modern audience may wish for a response that is less melodramatic, but that is not the world that Shakespeare has created in this play.

  • 9

    In what ways do Othello's suicide strengthen or undermine his heroism?

    Though suicide is not usually the chosen end for a heroic figure, it is Othello's only escape from the crimes he has committed. Though the victim of Iago's trickery, Othello is still the author of his own demise. For Desdemona's death to be answered by anything less than his own would have felt false.

  • 10

    Describe how Othello's pride leads to his fall.

    At the beginning of the play Othello is proud of himself and his achievements, but when Iago looks to punish Othello for his perceived slight, it is his pride that he preys upon. The belief that Desdemona has tainted his honor ignites Othello's rage, but it is his pride that blinds him to the fact that the evidence of her acts are lies invented not by a loyal friend but an enemy bent on his destruction.

  • Index

    1. Introduction

    2. The temptation scene – Iago`s techniques of infiltration

    3. “Honest“ in Othello
    3.1 “Honest Iago” – his simulation of virtues as a part of his deception
    3.2 Iago – the bluff soldier

    4. Conclusion

    5. Bibliography

    1. Introduction

    There has been a long critical debate about the figure of Iago in Shakespeare`s

    Othello and especially about his motivation.

    Most complex of all for actors and critics is the Iago problem. This villain is much more dangerous than Cinthio`s. He not only betrays the Moor and the Captain (Cassio); he injures everyone in his vicinity. How can so evil a man be plausible? How can he win the confidence of so apparently noble a man as Othello? And more important, what is his motivation? Why should any man hurt others so much? Is he simply a dramatic mechanism? A symbol of the devil? The devil himself? Or is he in fact a good man who has been provoked to revenge by wrongs done him? Was he unfairly denied promotion by Othello? Cuckolded by him? By Cassio? Finally, how can a character who does so much wrong involve audiences so deeply in his fate?[1]

    The controversy has produced many different views and, rereading them, one could get the impression that Iago has become a real person with real traits of character and that he is responsible for what he has “done”, and some critics withdraw more and more from the original text. Therefore any consideration of Iago`s or any other character refers to his “character” as a stage personage in Shakespeare`s Othello.

    After seeing the bulk of literature written on the character of Iago, one tends to agree with Adamson :

    So many critics over the years have made so much sense (not to mention nonsense) of Iago that one naturally hesitates to dig over the plot again.[2]

    Criticism on Othello is very diverse. Following are a few examples of the manifold interpretations of Iago`s character.

    It was Samuel Coleridge who coined a famous phrase (“motiveless malignity”) when talking of Iago`s soliloquy at the end of Act I:

    The last speech, [...] shows the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity – how awful! [...] He is a being next to the devil, only not quite devil [...][3]

    Is he perhaps simply the embodiment of absolute evil and hence needs no motives? Or, put another way, are the motives he gives mere rationalizations for the evil impulse within him? Is he in love with his own artistry, taking immense delight in his own ability to manipulate others, something that is sufficient satisfaction in itself?

    Or is he a descendant of the Vice of the morality plays[4], not to mention Iago as Machiavel, who is lacking ethical or spiritual values?[5]

    Or, as Babcock puts it, is he compensating the constant feeling of social inferiority by manipulating his superiors? Is he tired of being patronized by persons like Cassio, who is socially superior to him but “never set a squadron in the field”? (1.1.21)[6]

    There has even been an argument about Iago being latent homosexual, which is summarized by Hyman (1970).

    Rosenberg refutes all of those “proposed solutions of Iago`s character”. He develops the image of an “inner” Iago and an “outer” Iago, his inner life as revealed by his soliloquies.[7]

    In this paper the interactions between Iago and Othello and between Iago and Desdemona shall be considered thoroughly focusing mainly on Othello in the seduction scene and Desdemona chiefly in scene 2.1.

    First, attention will be drawn to the temptation scene in which Iago participates actively. His manifold techniques of infiltration will be revealed and analyzed.

    Furthermore, not only his tactics of deception contribute to his success, but also his “attaching the issue of honesty to himself”.[8] He creates an ‘outer’ Iago for the other characters to see, concealing both his malevolence and his virtuosity in deception. Nobody is to know how shrewd he really is, for he adds the dimension of the ‘blunt soldier’ to his outer character, which will be discussed in part 3.2.


    [1] Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Othello: The Search for the Identity of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona by Three Centuries of Actors and Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1961, p.7. Rosenberg offers a convenient summary of some of the main views of Iago´s motivation and function as a character in Othello. (p.166-7) For a more comprehensive overview see Hyman, Stanley E.: Iago: Some Approaches to the Illusion of His Motivation. New York: Atheneum. 1970

    [2] Adamson, Jane. “Othello” as Tragedy: Some Problems of Judgment and Feeling. Cambridge. 1980, p. 64

    [3] Coleridge, S.T. “Marginalia on Othello”. In: Wain, John (ed.). Shakespeare: Othello. A Casebook. London & Basingstoke. 1971, p. 51-2

    [4] cf. Watson, Thomas L. “The Detractor-Backbiter: Iago and the Tradition”. Texas Studies in Literature & Language. 5:546-554. Austin, TX. 1964

    cf. Scragg, Leah. “Iago-Vice or Devil?”. Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study & Production. 21: 53-65. Oxford.1968

    [5] cf. Hyman, 1970, ch. 5

    [6] cf. Babcock, W. “Iago – An Extraordinary Honest Man”. Shakespeare Quarterly, 16:297-301. Washington, D.C. 1965

    [7] cf. Rosenberg, 1961, p. 172

    [8] Heilman, Robert B. M agic in the Web: Action and Language in Othello. Originally published in 1956, Lexington. Reprinted in Westport.1977, p.46

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