Having looked at a variety of critical studies, and having weighed the evidence, what do you consider to be the most important motives behind Iago's actions in Shakespeare's 'Othello'?

Essay by SteftacularA-, February 2003

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One of the most interesting and complex characters in 'Othello' is "Honest" Iago. His manipulative language, deceptive nature and the ambiguity surrounding his motives and actions engage the audience from the beginning. Although the importance of Othello's tragic flaw is undeniable, Iago's coolly manipulative nature plays a definitive part in Othello's downfall. He predicts and largely controls other characters' actions and is the driving force behind the play's action. Iago manipulates Othello's insecurity provoked by the racist Venetian society and it has been argued by critics that Iago's machinations provoke Othello's tragedy.

Iago's character is established immediately through language; he adopts his talk to suit his purposes. When conversing with Roderigo, he uses blunt prose; "I follow him to serve my turn upon him", conveying his wily nature. His vicious tongue indicates the intensity of his hatred, when referring to Othello as "the Devil". However, it is possible that he simply manipulates Roderigo through language into becoming his ally.

Coupled with Shakespeare's deliberate use of 'in media res', the ambiguity surrounding Iago's true nature created by "Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago" and "I am not what I am" arrests the audience's attention. Ironically, other characters commonly refer to "honest" Iago and he even describes himself as such, again indicating his manipulative nature and the doubt surrounding him.

That Iago hates Othello is implied immediately, "Despise me if I do not". However, in our journalistic age, we demand precise answers; we search for reasons for his hatred, such as jealousy.

N. Stephens declares, "Iago is a man with a tremendous ego who knows, sometimes overestimates, his worth... whose self-esteem and professional career have been torn apart". A.C. Bradley claims, "Othello's eminence, goodness, and [Iago's] dependence on Othello must have been a perpetual annoyance to him". Both...