Manipulation is a very powerful word. People use this tactic everyday to get what they want in life. By deceiving people or tricking them into seeing a certain point of view, people gain power. To skillfully use the power of manipulation a person must use another person’s weaknesses. By using a person’s emotions against them, they can be manipulated with ease. In Shakespeare’s Othello, the character of Iago uses these tactics almost to perfection to achieve his goals.
The first scene of Act I illustrates Iago’s use of manipulation. Iago knows that Roderigo is upset about losing Desdemona to Othello. Iago himself is angry at Othello for being passed over for promotion to lieutenant for Michael Cassio. Realizing that by playing on Roderigo’s jealousy he can gain an ally to work against Othello. Iago does this in a subtle manner. He explains to Roderigo that he was passed up for promotion by Othello. While doing this he makes Othello look inferior by reinforcing the fact that he is a Moor. By pointing out that Othello is a Moor Iago causes Roderigo to become even more jealous, because of the fact that he lost Desdemona to someone who he feels is of a lesser race. It even seems that Iago is toying with Roderigo when he reveals that he is a fraud when he says, “I am not what I am.” (I.i.62) By using these tactics, Iago has almost gained total control of Roderigo.
Iago uses a different tactic to manipulate Brabantio. He changes Brabantio’s way of looking at the marriage of his daughter Desdemona to Othello. He awakes Brabantio by saying “Awake! What, ho, Brabantio! Thieves! Thieves! Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags! Thieves! Thieves!” (I.i.76-78) By saying this, Iago shows a new perspective to Brabantio by insinuating that Othello has stolen his daughter. Iago reinforces this when he say’s,
Zounds, sir, y’are robbed! For shame. Put on your gown!
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make you a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say! (I.i.83-89)
After hearing Iago speak, Brabantio has had his eyes open to a new perspective of the situation. Iago then begins to uses a new manipulative strategy, he starts using bestiality to describe Othello. Iago calls Othello a “Barbary horse” and then says, Brabantio’s grandsons will neigh to him and his relatives will be coursers (I.i.108-10). This angers Brabantio, he now sees Othello as an animal who has stolen his daughter, not an a great warrior who has married Desdemona.
Another example of Iago’s manipulation for personal gain is at the end of the first act when Roderigo is threatening suicide because he believes that all is lost in his quest for Desdemona’s love. Iago recognizes this as a key opportunity to manipulate Roderigo. He first tells him to “Put money in thy purse.” (I.iii.335) Iago then goes on to say “It cannot be long that Desdemona should continue her love to the Moor.” (I.iii.348-9)This gives Roderigo a glimmer of hope that he still has a chance with Desdemona. This use of manipulation accomplished two goals, he kept Roderigo as an ally and he also gained financial support. Iago then plots to use Othello’s jealousy to turn him against Cassio when he says,
Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now:
To get his place, and to plume up my will
In double knavery. How? How? Let’s see
After some time, to abuse Othello’s ears
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected-framed to make women false.
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led th’nose
As asses are.
I have’t! It is engendered! Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.
By making Othello believe that Cassio is having an affair with his wife, Iago will then have two of his adversaries angry with each other, similar to the tactic of dividing and conquering. This shows how cunning and deceitful Iago is.
Iago’s masterpiece is his manipulation of Othello. Iago’s tactics are indirect but still very effective. He doesn’t actually tell Othello that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona, but he subtly implies it with statements like, “Cassio my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it/ That he would steal away so guilty-like,/ Seeing your coming.” (III.iii.38-9) This statement is like a seed that Iago has planted in Othello’s head. With each implication of an affair between Cassio and Desdemona the seed grows. To insure that the Othello is taking the bait Iago makes Othello think that he is a trustful friend that he can confide in. This gives Iago more control over Othello making it easier for him to implicate Cassio. Iago eventually causes Othello to become enraged with jealousy after he says,
There is a kind of men so loose of soul
That in there sleeps will mutter their affairs.
One of this kind is Cassio.
In sleep I heard him say, “Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves!”
And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand,
Cry “O sweet creature!” Then kiss me hard,
As if he plucked up kisses by the roots
That grew upon my lips; laid his leg o’er my thigh,
And sigh, and kiss, and then cry, “Cursed fate
That gave the to the Moor!” (III.iii.413-22)
After hearing Iago say this Othello vows revenge. Iago does the same as a gesture of loyalty, resulting in Othello naming him as his new lieutenant. Thus Iago has achieved one of his goals by manipulation.
Iago is hungry for power, and he will do anything to get it. He realizes that by using peoples emotions such as anger and jealousy, he can control them. The people he controls are like pawns in a chess game. This led to his rise in power but caused the deaths of Othello, Desdemona, and Roderigo, eventually leading to his downfall. In conclusion, Iago wanted power, and he used manipulation to get it.