How does Iago manipulate Othello in Act 3?
- Pages: 8
- Word count: 1780
- Category: Othello
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The timing of events is very important in Act III. Iago anticipates and manipulates the other characters so skilfully that they seem to be acting simultaneously of their own free will and as Iago’s puppets. For example, it takes only the slightest prompting on Iago’s part to put Othello into the proper frame of mind to be consumed by jealousy. Iago exploits Cassio’s discomfort upon seeing Othello by interpreting it as a sign of guilt:
“Cassio, my lord? No, sure I cannot think it That he would steal away so guilty-like, Seeing you coming.”
Iago’s interpretation of Cassio’s exit, combined with Desdemona’s vigorous support on Cassio’s behalf, creates suspicion in Othello’s mind even before Iago prompts him. Othello manifests his confusion about his wife by telling her that he wishes to be left alone, and by rejecting her offer of help when he tells her that he feels unwell:
“Your napkin is too little. Let it alone.”
When Desdemona advocates on Cassio’s behalf, she initiates the first real conversation she has had with her husband throughout the play. She also displays her strong, generous, and independent personality. In addition to his burgeoning suspicion, Othello’s moodiness may also result from his dislike of Desdemona herself. Only once Desdemona has left does Othello recover somewhat: “Excellent wretch!” he says affectionately. “Perdition catch my soul, But I do love thee, and when I love thee not, Chaos is come again”.
Othello seems far more comfortable expressing his love for Desdemona when she is absent. Perhaps this is because her presence makes him conscious of her claim upon him and of his obligation to honour her requests, or perhaps this is because he is more in love with some idea or image of Desdemona than he is with Desdemona herself. The lines just quoted indicate how much his image of her means to him: if he stops loving her, the entire universe stops making sense for him, and the world is reduced to “chaos.”
Given how much is at stake for Othello in his idea of Desdemona, it is remarkable how he becomes completely consumed by jealousy in such a short time. Moreover, it takes very little evidence to convince him of her unfaithfulness. All Iago has to do to Othello is make him doubt Desdemona, and jealousy spreads like a virus until he rejects her absolutely. Notably, Iago, too, has no evidence that Othello has slept with Emilia, but the suspicion or doubt seems to have been sufficient to make him spurn Emilia and persecute Othello. As Othello says, “To be once in doubt, Is once to be resolved”. Othello soon learns, however, that to be once in doubt is to be never resolved. He leaves briefly after the incident in which he rejects Desdemona’s handkerchief, at which point he seems resolved that his wife no longer loves him. Later, he returns, and all he can think about is garnering proof of her infidelity.
The paradox in Othello’s situation is that there are few things – the nature of friends, enemies, and wives included – that a human being could know with certainty. Most relationships must be accepted based on faith or trust, a quality that Othello is unwilling to extend to his own wife. All Iago really has to do to provoke Othello is to remind him that he doesn’t know for certain what his wife is doing or feeling. Iago’s advice that Othello “look to his wife. Observe her well….” appears harmless at first, until one considers how out of the ordinary it is for a husband to “observe” his wife as if she were a specimen under a microscope. For a man to treat his wife as a problem to be solved or a thing to be known, rather than as a person with a claim upon him is simply incompatible with the day-to-day business of being married. Othello’s rejection of his wife’s offering of physical solace (via the handkerchief), and his termination of the exchange in which Desdemona argues for Cassio, thereby asserting a marital right, clearly demonstrate this incompatibility.
Ironically, Iago doesn’t have to prove his own fidelity to Othello for Othello to take everything Iago suggests on faith. On the contrary, Othello actually infers that Iago holds back more damning knowledge of Desdemona’s offences out of his great love for Othello. Again and again, Iago insists that he speaks out only because of this love. His claim, “My lord, you know I love you” even echoes Peter’s insistent words to Christ, “Lord, thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:15-17).
Othello’s rejection of Desdemona’s offer of her handkerchief is an emphatic rejection of Desdemona herself. He tells her he has a pain “upon” his forehead and dismisses her handkerchief as “too little” to bind his head with, implying that invisible horns are growing out of his head. Horns are the traditional symbol of the cuckold, a husband whose wife is unfaithful to him. Othello’s indirect allusion to these horns suggests that the thought of being a cuckold causes him pain but that he is not willing to confront his wife directly with his suspicions.
The end of Act III, scene iii, is the climax of Othello. Convinced of his wife’s corruption, Othello makes a sacred oath never to change his mind about her or to soften his feelings toward her until he enacts a violent revenge. At this point, Othello is fixed in his course, and the disastrous ending of the play is unavoidable. Othello engages Iago in a perverse marriage ceremony, in which each kneels and solemnly pledges to the other to take vengeance on Desdemona and Cassio. Just as the play replaces the security of peace with the anxiety of domestic strife, Othello replaces the security of his marriage with the hateful paranoia of an alliance with Iago. Iago’s final words in this scene chillingly mock the language of love and marriage: “I am your own forever”. It is within this scene where Iago begins to establish his manipulation of Othello.
Iago takes the opportunity to strengthen Othello’s views of honesty and trust towards him by saying ironically:
“Men should be what they seem;
Or those that be not, would they might seem none!”
This ingenuity by Iago works upon one of the tragic flaws of Othello. Othello has a tendency to take everything he sees and everything he is told at face value without questioning the circumstances, which therefore leads Iago to take advantage of this.
Othello in this state commits his first act of violence against Desdemona by hitting her. This as a result of Desdemona’s mention of Cassio. This shows Othello’s other tragic flaw. He made himself susceptible to Iago and the jealousy within him begins to lead to the demise of others. By his actions Othello has isolated himself from everyone except Iago. This gives Iago the perfect opportunity to complete his course of action. Iago does not tolerate any interference in his plans, and he first murders Roderigo before he can dispel the evil that Iago represents. Finally, Othello, so full of the lies told to him by Iago murders his wife.
Desdemona, representative of goodness and heaven as a whole blames her death on herself and not Othello. Iago’s wife, Emilia, becomes the ultimate undoing of Iago. After revealing Iago’s plot to Othello, Iago kills her. This is yet another vicious act to show the true evil Iago represents. Othello finally realizes after being fooled into murder:
“I look down towards his feet — but that’s a fable
If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.”
Iago says “I bleed, sir, but not killed”, this is the final statement by Iago himself that truly shows his belief in evil and that he truly thinks he is the devil. That is the destruction of all that is good. Hell over heaven and black over white.
Iago is cunning, untrustworthy, selfish, and plotting. He uses these traits to his advantage by slowly planning his own triumph while watching the demise of others. It is this that is Iago’s motivation, the ultimate defeat of good by the wrath of evil. Not only is it in his own nature of evil that he succeeds but also in the weaknesses of the other characters. Iago uses the weaknesses of Othello, specifically jealousy and his devotion to things as they seem, to conquer his opposite in Desdemona. From the start of the play, Iago’s scheming ability is shown when he convinces Roderigo to tell about Othello and Desdemona’s elopement to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio.
Confidentially Iago continues his plot successfully, making fools of others, and himself being rewarded. Apart from Roderigo, no one is aware of Iago’s plans. This is because Iago pretends to be an honest man loyal to his superiors. The fact that Othello himself views Iago as trustworthy and honest gives the evil within Iago a perfect unsuspecting victim for his schemes.
The opportunity to get to Desdemona through Othello is one temptation that Iago cannot refuse. He creates the impression that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio in order to stir the jealousy within Othello. It is this mad jealousy and the ignorance of Othello that lead to the downfall of Desdemona; the one truly good-natured character in the play.
Iago, as a representation of evil, has one major motivational factor that leads him to lie, cheat, and commit crimes on other characters. This motivation is the destruction of all that is good and the rise of evil. This contrast is represented between Iago and Desdemona. Other characters as describe Desdemona frequently as “divine, the grace of heaven” (Act II, Scene I), while Iago in contrast is described as hellish after his plot is uncovered. Iago uses the other characters in the play to work specifically towards his goal.
In this way, he can maintain his supposed unknowingness about the events going on and still work his scheming ways. Iago’s schemes however at times seem to work unrealistically well which may or may not be a case of witchcraft or magic.
Iago’s major mistake, ironically, is that he trusted his wife Emilia and found that she was not as trustworthy as he thought. Although not completely victorious at the conclusion of the play, Iago does successfully eliminate the one character representative of heaven, innocence, and honesty. Yet “remains the censure of this hellish villain” (Act V, Scene II).
Finally, everything Iago pretended to be led to his ruin: Honesty, innocence, and love.