How does Shakespeare present Iago’s manipulation of Othello?

By September 16, 2018 Psychology

Shakespeare uses a number of techniques to express the manipulaton of Iago in this scene. He lies to Othello in a barefaced manner, as we know from earlier context, in which we see Iago slandering Othello to his friend Roderigo, in the first scene of the book, showing that from the outset Iago has been against Othello, and this facade of trying to “help him out” immediately tells us he is not to be trusted.

From what we have already learnt it is apparent that Iago is a classic Machiavellian stereotype; he goes out of his way to upset others, seemingly for little reason other than his own entertainment, and we know that he is set to destroy Othello, hence why he is planting doubt in his mind that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him with Michael Cassio.

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He asks Othello the question, “Did Michael Cassio, when you wooed my lady, know of your love?” Othello replies “He did from first to last. Why dost thou ask?” And Iago rather cunningly responds with “But for a satisfaction of my thought – no further harm” which translates as “I was just curious, no reason”. This is clear reverse psychology which is a key symbol of manipulation. He basically wants to innocently plant the idea in Othello’s mind, that he should be concerned about it. This has clearly worked as Othello responds with a question “why of thy thought?”

This scene includes chaining conversation, but instead of the traditional question and answer format, it is question after question, which is representative of the confusion in Othello’s mind, planted by Iago, it could symbolize his thoughts as they occur, like a subliminal narration. There is a repetition of the word “honest”, which is a stark contrast, representing the opposite of Iago but yet he is talking about it as if he understands. It is ironic how he speaks of how he thinks Michael Cassio is not honest, as we know it is the other way round, and that Iago is the liar in this situation. It is in this Scene we see the first “warning signs” of Othello’s impending delusion. Up until this point the act has consisted mainly of chaining of simple conversation, however upon having these terrible thoughts planted in his mind, Othello enters an extended dialogue, accusing Iago of hiding something from him, which is foreshadowing as we know he thinks the same of Desdemona further along in the play. Iago replies of “My lord, you know I love you”.

This could easily be compared to the earlier statement from Iago “I do hate the moor”. There is a great contrast between these two quotes as they portray completely different messages, one truthful and one a lie. In the first he refers to Othello as “The Moor”. In the second he refers to him as “My lord”. The use of the word “The”, signifies that Iago doesn’t see Othello as a real person, more an object, and the word “moor” is highly derogatory, as it is labelling him purely on his ethnicity. This is perfect to compare with “My lord” as the use of “my” represents a false closeness between Othello and Iago, it is much more personal, and implies Iago holds Othello close to his heart. And the title “Lord” signifies how Iago is making out that Othello is his superior; he addresses him with a title instead of simply with a trait. In conclusion. This goes to show that Iago is a cunning character, as he is planting ideas in Othello’s, and manipulating him with something he cares deeply about, which speaks volumes about his personality. It is almost as if the characters are chess pieces and Iago is “the player”, the way he controls and plots them against each other, which ultimately leads to their demises.


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