To what extent is Iago responsible for the downfall of other characters in Othello?

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English Literature Coursework- Othello

“To what extent is Iago responsible for the downfall of other characters in Othello?”

The Shakespearean character Iago is the trusted friend and advisor of the General Othello, who plots the downfall of several characters within the play, due to a number of reasons including jealousy and a search for revenge.

        The play begins in Venice, one of the most culturally and economically developed cities of its time, although the majority of the story is set in Cyprus. It is important to realise that during the time of the plays creation, matters that are seen as unacceptable nowadays such as racism or sexism were common during this period. Venice was very much a white-male dominated society.

        In this essay I will be discussing how Iago manages to ensure the demise of a number of different characters in Othello, his possible reasons for doing so, and exactly how much of his plot is successful as a result of his scheming and how much is down to chance.

        One of the main characters Iago manipulates throughout the entire play is Roderigo, a man jealous of Othello because of his marriage to Desdemona. Iago manages to influence Roderigo mainly by his use of language, something that he does with other characters as well. Act 1 Scene 1 begins abruptly with an ongoing argument between Roderigo and Iago. This sudden start to the play is something Shakespeare often used, as it would let the Elizabethan audiences know the play had begun.

        From the opening scene, the audience become aware of Iago’s manipulative nature, mainly because of his comments to Roderigo about other characters, and his first soliloquy. His deviousness shows through when he says “ I follow [Othello] to serve my turn upon him” [I i 42], and he even goes as far to admit to us; “ I am not what I am” [I i 66]. Already, so early in the play, we can acknowledge Iago’s scheming personality, and his soliloquy, a device used by Shakespeare in order to emphasise just how deceitful his main character is, only helps to highlight this.

        Interestingly, he is the only character able to switch between prose and verse, something that he constantly uses to his advantage, particularly when he deceives Roderigo.  Traditionally, in most Shakespearean plays, prose is spoken by low status or comic characters, whereas verse is used by upper-class characters. However, Shakespeare has chosen to alter this in the case of Iago, which also helps to reflect his manipulative nature, as he is able to speak in both ways in order to use different people according to their characters. He talks in prose mainly when speaking to characters individually, which enables them to be taken into his confidence. Prose can be considered to be a more informal way of talking; therefore Iago uses this in order to guarantee that Roderigo (and others) trust him. Iago knows that once he has gained Roderigo’s trust, he will be able to control him to some extent, using him in order to make his plans work.

        Iago’s use of repetition in his language is also a key feature in his manipulation of Roderigo. During Act 1 Scene 3, when Iago is attempting to convince Roderigo that Desdemona will soon tire of Othello, he frequently uses the phrase “put money in thy purse” ( I iii 330). In total he talks about money in his short speech eight times, most likely in order to make his message quite clear. Here he has used his language to manipulate Roderigo into putting money in his purse, which, as we learn later in Iago’s soliloquy, is for his own financial benefit. He also wants to ensure that Roderigo travels to Cyprus with the Army, because Iago needs him in order to carry out his plan for Cassio and Othello’s downfall.

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        When ‘controlling’ Roderigo, Iago uses his knowledge of his weaknesses, in this case his love for Desdemona, in order to get what he wants. As he plots the downfall of many of the characters including Othello and Cassio, he lies to Roderigo telling him that Desdemona will soon tire of “the moor” and that he should go to Cyprus in order to be there when it happens. Here he has played on Roderigo’s love for Desdemona and managed to ensure that he travels to Cyprus. For Iago, Roderigo’s presence there is vital as he unknowingly becomes a puppet in Iago’s ...

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