Honesty is one of the most important factors in Othello. And although there is very little honesty actually present in the play the term is most commonly applied to Iago, who also happens to be the most dishonest character in Othello. Due partly to the other characters naivet'e, Iago is capable of manipulating, brainwashing, and molding the other characters to satisfy his need for revenge against Othello. Iago would most commonly be referred to as dishonest, however beyond that he is also downright amoral and uses other's weaknesses to manipulate them into doing what he pleases. From the very beginning we see how Iago manipulates Roderigo by pretending he is looking out for his best interests in the matter of Othello's elopement with Desdemona. He makes Barbantio angry with Othello and Desdemona by telling him about their elopement then lying about the consummation of their relationship.
He then leaves Roderigo to take responsibility for his (Iago's) actions. In the meantime he goes off to inform Othello that Roderigo is accountable for telling Barbantio about the relationship and saying horrible things about Othello. Iago later brings Roderigo back into his quest for revenge when he tries to get Cassio fired from the position that Iago originally wished to obtain. Although Cassio knows it is against his better judgement to drink, Iago manipulates him into getting drunk then stages a fight between Roderigo and Cassio. He even goes as far as to try to make Cassio look bad by telling Montano that he gets drunk regularly. Upon Iago's explanation of the situation Othello promptly fires Cassio from his position and Iago becomes more respected in Othello's eyes.
Roderigo is a prime example of how Iago uses people to fulfil his desires. Iago convinces Roderigo that he could win Desdemona's love away from Othello and the only man that stands in the way is Cassio. In this way when he plans to humiliate Cassio it seems as if he is doing it to help out Roderigo when, in actuality, he is seeking revenge on Cassio for taking his position. One of the main reasons Iago is so successful at manipulating others is because they are too guileless to realize that he is taking advantage of them.
Cassio still comes to Iago for advice after Iago rats him out and gets him fired. He still trusts him enough to ask for advice on how to get his job back, the very job that Iago is responsible for making him lose. When Iago gives him this advice he is grateful and confident in Iago's honesty. 'You advise me well'; (2. 3, line 320) Iago is so sneaky he even manages to manipulate his wife into dishonesty. He incorporates Emily's participation into his plan to make Othello suspicious of Cassio and Desdemona's relationship.
He also continuously tries to convince Emily to steal the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona. And when Desdemona drops the handkerchief Emily gives it to Iago without pursuing what he was going to use it for. Iago is very clearly deceitful and sneaky. He talks about people behind their backs on more than one occasion and sometimes talks about them to their faces.
When Cassio first comes to tell Othello that Barbantio and several soldiers are looking for him Othello goes into the house leaving Iago and Cassio outside together. Iago immediately seizes this opportunity and tells Cassio that Othello is sleeping with Desdemona. Although Iago gives Othello the impression that he is on his side when Barbantio, Roderigo, and the guards find Othello Iago says, 'Roderigo! ... I am for you'; (1. 2, line 59). Later when Roderigo looks to Iago for advice Iago comes off as a caring friend and as soon as he leaves he begins insulting him and commenting on his stupidity.
However, the characters do not seem to notice Iago's dishonesty. On the contrary, they praise him for being so honest. Iago pushes the idea of him being an honest man to the point where he brainwashes others into believing he is honest then uses it to his advantage. When plotting to break up a happy marriage or seeking revenge on others he uses phrases such as, 'As honest as I am'; , 'As I am an honest man'; , and 'in the sincerity of love and honest kindness'; .
None of these phrases portray the true feelings of Iago. In fact in Act I scene I he tells Roderigo of how only a fool acts honest and he suggests putting oneself before honesty, which is exactly what he does. Others begin to view Iago as an honest man, especially Othello. He is described by Othello as 'a fellow of exceeding honesty'; , Cassio claims to never have met a Florentine so kind and honest. Desdemona tells Emily that Iago is an honest man and Othello feels that his honesty and love 'doth mince'; the matter of Cassio's being fired. In fact, Othello tells the governor that Iago is a man of honesty and trust and even puts his wife in Iago's hands while he is away.
Iago uses this trust to his advantage. 'He holds me well, the better shall my purpose work on him'; (1. 3, lines 391-392) Iago uses Othello's trust to exact revenge upon him for not giving him the job he wanted and sleeping with his wife, which was actually an unlikely rumor that hadn't been proved. Other characters in the play are not completely honest. Desdemona does not tell her father about her elopement with Othello, and Roderigo is always trying to steal Desdemona away from Othello. However, no one is as dishonest, amoral, and downright corrupt as Iago.
Yet, oddly enough, Iago is praised for his honesty far more than any other character. Which shows the naivet'e of the characters and the irony of the play.