"Othello," one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, is about the gradual downfall of Othello, a famous general and moor (meaning black person of African or Arab descent, often Muslim), by way of Iago, an evil counsellor who poisons Othello against his wife Desdemona. Iago is one of the most well-known characters in Shakespeare's body of work, and his use of skilful manipulation is one of his most significant characteristics.
Early in the play, we learn that Iago despises Othello because Othello passed over Iago in a promotion, instead choosing Cassio. Iago thinks he was more qualified. Iago is made Othello's ensign, a lower position than Cassio's. Iago tells Roderigo, who also hates Othello, that he will only appear to serve Othello, but in "following him, I follow but myself." Early in the play, Iago makes it clear that his goal is to create Othello's downfall while also making Cassio suffer. Despite his hatred, Iago is still considered a trustworthy person by most of the characters in the play, and this is why he is able to manipulate them.
Maniuplation of Roderigo
Roderigo loves Desdemona, the woman with whom Othello elopes early in the play, and hates Othello for "stealing" her from him. Iago uses this knowledge to manipulate Roderigo. He tells him Desdemona loves not only Othello, but also Cassio, and that even if she leaves Othello, Cassio will be an even more difficult rival. Iago instructs Roderigo to make Cassio start a fight and lose his army position. Later, Iago and Roderigo plot to kill Cassio. While Roderigo believes that Iago is working to help him, Iago uses Roderigo's money and willingness to serve his own ends.
Manipulation of Cassio
Iago also manipulates Cassio. While pretending to befriend Cassio, he suggests that Cassio go to Desdemona to get her to help convince Othello to reinstate him to his previous military position. Unbeknown to Cassio, Iago has told both Roderigo and Othello that Cassio has a sexual interest in Desdemona. When Cassio convinces her to appeal to Othello, Othello is suspicious of her intentions, leading to the actions that eventually unseat him from power.
Manipulation of Othello
Iago's manipulation of Othello is the most subtle of his manipulations in the play. Iago does this by suggestion; he rarely makes direct statements or tries to convince Othello of anything. Iago uses Othello's belief that he is "honest" (meaning down-to-earth and unsophisticated) to make what seem like straightforward observations that imply others' guilt. Iago's suggestion that Desdemona is not as pure as she appears to be stokes Othello's jealousy and creates the circumstances that lead to Othello murdering Desdemona and his own death.
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