One of the most interesting and exotic characters in the tragic play “Othello,” by William Shakespeare, is “Honest” Iago. At first glance, Iago seems to be the essence of “motiveless malignity. ” However, despite Iago’s unquestionable malignancy, the motivation behind his actions lie more in Iago’s quest for personal gain, as opposed to just being evil for evil’s sake. Iago’s rapacity can be validated by examining his manipulation of Roderigo, Cassio and, most importantly, Othello.
Iago’s main interest is the destruction of Othello. The reason being that Othello has chosen another man, Cassio, as his second-in-command, preferring him to Iago. This resentment, accompanied by Iago’s fabricated accusations of adultery and his blatant racism, cause Iago to despise the kindly moor, and shortly thereafter, begin to conspire against him. Because Iago is much too smart to immediately kill Othello, he proceeds with the arduous process of dismantling him emotionally.
Iago also knows that he must distance himself from any of the harrowing occurrences that transpire, so he cleverly gets other people to do his dirty work. The first to fall victim to Iago’s illiberal manipulation, is the half-witted Roderigo. Iago knows Roderigo is consumed by lust for Desdemona, and would do anything to make her his own. Iago tells Roderigo that the only way to win Desdemona’s love, is to make money to procure gifts for her. “… put money in thy purse.. ” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 339).
However, Iago is just taking those gifts intended for Desdemona and keeping them for himself, and in doing so, making a substantial profit. “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 376). Roderigo eventually starts to question Iago’s honesty. When faced with this accusation, Iago simply offers that killing Cassio will aid his cause and the asinine Roderigo falls for it. “I have no great devotion to the deed / And yet he has given me satisfying reason,” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 8).
In doing this, Iago keeps Roderigo in the dark and continues to profit from him monetarily. Roderigo is also used as a device in both Cassio and Othello’s downfall. Iago’s actions demonstrate his monetary and puissance based motivations, invalidating the claim that Iago is evil for evil’s sake. Cassio, like Roderigo, follows Iago blindly, thinking the whole time that Iago is trying to aid him, when in-fact, Iago, motivated by his lust for power, is attempting to depose Cassio of his position as lieutenant.
By enlisting the help of Roderigo, Iago is able to reduce Cassio to a wreck, causing him to forfeit his position as Othello’s second-in-command, thus securing the position for Iago. Cassio also serves as the “middle man” in Iago’s mendacity. He is the main contrivance used to rouse “the green-eyed monster” within Othello. In Iago’s exploitation of Cassio, it is clear to see that, although evil in his deeds, Iago is strictly motivated by his hunger for power, not because he is the devil incarnate.
As aforementioned, Iago’s main intention’s lie in the degradation of Othello. Iago feels that he was best suited to hold the position of lieutenant, as opposed to Othello’s choice; Michael Cassio. Iago claims that Cassio is ” Mere prattle without practice”(Act, 1, Scene 1, Line 26), indicating that, although Cassio understands the theory of warfare, he does not know how to apply it. From this malice, Iago manufactures accusations of cuckoldry, claiming that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. “.. wixt my sheets/ He’s done my office. ” (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 380).
These accusations are merely excuses to validate his own brackishness and rapicidty, and should be seen as nothing more. Again, it is plain to see that, in Iago’s deception of Othello, he is motivated by his jealousy and subsequent bitterness, not because he is the epitome of evil. In conclusion, it is evident that Iago is evil for greed’s sake, as opposed to evil for evil’s sake. His voracity can be seen in his clever manipulation of Roderigo, Cassio and Othello.
He uses Roderigo for his own financial benefit, as well as to support his master plan; the destruction of Othello. Cassio was unfortunate enough to be chosen ahead of Iago as Othello’s second in command, and was reduced to a deteriorated state by Iago because of it. Lastly, driven by his acerbity towards Othello for choosing Cassio over him, Iago takes it upon himself to ensure Othello’s demise. Iago is an extremely complex character, and far from ordinary. His complexity and uniqueness, make him one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains and this play’s finest character.