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Othello essay – “To what extent is Iago responsible for the tragedy?

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The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello” is possibly Shakespeare’s darkest character, not because he kills other characters but for his almost supernatural ability to manipulate the other figures of the play. He manipulates the other characters into following their own agendas and all the while coming closer to his goal of bringing Othello to his downfall. However, Iago needs an ally if he is going to destroy Othello, this comes in the form of Othello’s own inner demons. Othello foolishly places far too much trust in “honest Iago”, which Iago then uses against him. Soliloquies are the major technique Shakespeare uses in order to show the audience the character’s thoughts and motives. Iago’s manipulations set the stage for Othello’s demise however, it is ultimately Othello’s inner demons that bring about his tragic end.

Iago’s soliloquies give the reader an amazing insight into his mind. His first in Act 1 sc. 3. details his hatred for the Moor “I hate the Moor.” As well as his continued control over Roderigo “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” He suspects Othello of sleeping with his wife Emilia ” ‘twixt my sheets H’as done my office.” Even though he is not completely sure, he will assume it because he hates Othello so much. He speaks of how Othello completely trusts him and how he will use this to his advantage. ” He holds me well, ” Iago’s decides that he will “abuse Othello’s ears” and tell him that his wife Desdemona is sleeping with his lieutenant Cassio. He knows that Othello is far too trusting and will be “tenderly led by the nose.” This soliloquy is a fantastic technique that Shakespeare uses to show the audience Iago’s motivations. These dark motivations are emphasized by the repetition of the line: ” I hate the Moor.”

Act 2 sc. 3 is a major turning point in the play. Iago persuades Roderigo to pick a fight with Cassio in the knowledge that Othello will dismiss Cassio should this happen. Roderigo and Cassio do brawl and Cassio is stripped of his rank and reputation. He confides in Iago and Iago comforts him “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition.”

Iago’s plan is working perfectly and his 2nd soliloquy reveals his next moves in his quest to bring down Othello. He repeats the fact that Othello is completely in love with Desdemona ” His soul is so enfetter’d to her love.” He describes how he has put Cassio on a course ” directly to his good.” His thoughts then turn sinister as he uses devilish imagery to describe how he must first appear to be helping Cassio in order to destroy him. ” When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now.” He finishes the soliloquy by detailing his intent to discredit Desdemona in the eyes of Othello and use her own good nature to “make the net That shall enmesh them all.”

As Iago continues to poison Othello’s mind with the idea that Desdemona is being unfaithful, Othello begins to believe him. Othello sees Iago as his closest friend, as “honest Iago.” In act 3. sc. 3 Othello’s soliloquy shows the audience that he is strongly debating Desdemona’s faithfulness. He begins by emphasizing his trust and respect for “Honest Iago.” His inner demons are shown when he says: ” Haply for I am black, and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have.” In this line he is questioning his own ability and whether or not he is capable of keeping her interested in him. He then uses imagery to compare marriage to a “forked plague.”

Later on in this scene, Iago takes Desdemona’s handkerchief off Emilia, claiming that he has “use for it.” This is the final piece Iago needs to drive Othello into a madness that will be tragic for all involved. He describes how he will plant the handkerchief on Cassio and “let him find it.” Iago knows that should Othello see Cassio with the handkerchief, then he will be beyond doubt as to Desdemona’s promiscuity. Up until this point, Iago has been almost completely responsible for the actions of the play but if his plan is to succeed then he will need Othello’s inner demons to take control. He has set the trap, he now needs Othello to stumble his way into the middle of it.

By the beginning of Act 5 sc 2, Othello’s inner demons have taken control and he is sure that Desdemona has been unfaithful. He comes into her bedroom where she is asleep and prepares to kill her. Before he kills her, he details his reasons for what he is about to do. “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.” He has convinced himself that it is his duty to slay her. He uses garden imagery to show that only once she is dead then he will love her again. “When I have plucked the rose, I cannot give it vital growth again; It needs must wither. I’ll smell thee on the tree.” He then kisses her and then prepares to complete his “duty.” This last soliloquy shows that Othello’s inner fears and doubts have driven him over the edge to complete madness. He then kills Desdemona’s and in the ensuing scenes discovers, through Emilia, Iago’s wicked plot. He then stabs Iago but doesn’t kill him. The tragedy of Othello is complete when he takes his own life on the bed next to Desdemona.

Othello’s downfall is engineered by the manipulative actions of Iago. Iago uses cunning tactics in order to use the other characters to “enmesh” Othello in a tragic web of murder and suicide. Shakespeare effectively uses soliloquies to show the audience what the motivations of the characters are at the time. Iago’s soliloquies detail his plan to exact revenge on Othello because he was overlooked for promotion. However, Iago can only set the trap, Othello must walk into it. Had Othello been a little less trusting and somewhat more astute then the whole tragedy may have been avoided. However, this was not the case, Othello put too much trust in “Honest Iago” who used this trust against him. Ultimately Othello’s inner doubts and fears were the causes of his tragic demise.

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