Who is Iago? Iago poisons people's thoughts, creating ideas in their heads without implicating himself. His first victim is Roderigo. Roderigo remarks, 'That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse as if the strings were thine.' [Act I, Scene I, Line 2] Throughout the play, Iago leads Roderigo, professing that '... I do hate [the Moor] as I do Hell pains.' [Act I, Scene I, Line 152] He tells Roderigo to 'Put money in thy purse' [Act I, Scene III, Line 328] so that he can win Desdemona with gifts. Iago keeps for himself those gifts that Roderigo intends for Desdemona. Iago is smart.
He is an excellent judge of people and their characters. He knows Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and would do anything to have her as his own. Iago says about Roderigo, 'Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.' [Act I, Scene III, Line 359] By playing on Roderigo's hopes, Iago is able to swindle money and jewels from him, thus making himself a profit, while using Roderigo to forward his other goals. He observes of Othello 'The Moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so' [Act I, Scene III, Line 375] How does Iago see others? He sees the world and other people as animalist ic and ruled by their basest desires. Perhaps Iago knows this because he knows himself so well.
Iago warns Brabanzio that 'even now an old black ram is t upping your white ewe... you " ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you " ll have your nephews neigh to you, you " ll have coursers for cousins, and jennets for germans' [Act 1, Scene 1, Line 88 and 110] Iago describes Othello as a man '... will tenderly be led by the nose as asses are.' [Act I, Scene III, Line 377] Iago tells Roderigo 'I never found a man that know how to love himself... Virtue! A fig! Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are gardens, to which our wills are gardeners... If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions.' [Act I, Scene III, Line 308] Iago's intelligence and knowledge of human nature (others' and his own) allow him to control the other characters with ease.
How does Iago see himself? 'Others there are who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty, keep yet their hearts attending on themselves, and throwing but shows of service on their lords do well thrive by them, and when they have lined their coats do themselves homage. These fellows have some soul, and such a one do I profess myself.' [Act I, Scene I, Line 49] Ironically, Iago says of himself 'yet do I hold it very stuff o' the conscience to do no contrived murder. I lack iniquity sometimes to do me service.' [Act I, Scene II, Line 2] Iago's character abounds with amorality, extreme self-love, and cynicism. He does not value loyalty, love, honesty, or nobility. He declares to Roderigo: 'I am not what I am' (I-1-71), demonstrating that he is completely void of integrity, acting instead in a duplicitous manner. Iago changes his personality entirely depending on whom he is interacting with - with Othello, Iago is valorous and noble; with Roderigo, he is harsh and brusque.
His frequent use of superficial actions is exemplified by his comment, also to Roderigo: 'I must show out a sign and flag of love... .' (I-1-173). Iago possesses remarkable intelligence and skillfully weaves the lethal web of destruction among his victims. His ability to change face at will is undoubtedly an indispensable part of his skill, and Iago easily fools his victims by appearing to support someone while he is actually opposing him. Iago lusts for power, but his sense of power is attained by manipulating and annihilating others in a cruel and unusual way. Iago undeniably has an unquenchable thirst for power and domination.
Critics such as M. R. Ridley believe that the ability to hurt is the most convincing display of one's power (Ridley lxi). Iago has a deep, inbred desire to cause and view intolerable suffering.
The power of Iago is exercised when he prepares and then implements an evil plan designed to inflict man with the most extreme amounts of anguish possible. Iago controls the play, he brilliantly determines how each character shall act and react. He is a pressing advocate of evil, a pernicious escort, steering good people toward their own vulgar destruction. Iago must first make careful preparations in order to make certain his fire of human destruction will burn with fury and rage. He douses his victims with a false sense of honesty and goodness.
And, as do most skillful pyromaniacs, Iago first prepares his most important target, Othello: Though in the trade of war I have slain men, Yet do I hold it very stuff o'th' conscience To do no contrived murder. I lack the iniquity... I had thought t'have yer ked him under the ribs... he prated And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms Against your Honor (I, ii 1-10). These sentences are obvious lies (to the reader), but they are crucial to the saboteur because they present Iago to Othello as a brave, loyal, and moral person. Iago indirectly and cleverly portrays himself as a man ready to fight and brave enough to kill; yet, he also wants Othello to believe that he would not kill without just reason.
Iago pretends to be so loyal as to be tempted to kill any slanderer of Othello. It is evident that Othello has complete faith in Iago's claims as he states 'thou " rt full of love and honesty' and 'O brave Iago, honest and just' (III, iii 136 IV, i 34). Iago douses more dishonesty onto other characters such as Cassio who trusts Iago: 'You advise me well... Goodnight, honest Iago,' and Desdemona who calls Iago 'an honest fellow' (II, iii 3463555).
Iago's deceitfulness is best epitomized by his ability to continually dupe Roderigo into serving his own insidious desires. Iago, always the careful pyromaniac, successfully pours his fuel of deceptiveness onto the victims before he lights his match. Once his victims are cloaked in misconception and dripping with innocence, Iago can ignite his scrupulously prepared fire. His evil creation is ready to burst into flames, 'it is engendered. Hell and night... bring this monstrous birth to the world's light' (I, iii 446-447).
Iago is the ultimate opportunist, he knows exactly where and when to strike. He is fully aware that he can most malignantly destroy Cassio through dishonor, Othello through jealousy, Roderigo through naivet'e, and Desdemona through purity. Iago is smart. He is an expert judge of people and their characters and uses this to his advantage. For example, he knows Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and figures that he would do anything to have her as his own. Iago says about Roderigo, 'Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.' [Act I, Scene III, Line 355] By playing on his hopes, Iago is able to swindle money and jewels from Roderigo, making himself a substantial profit, while using Roderigo to forward his other goals.
He possesses an uncanny ability to tell people what it is they want to hear, and the truthfulness of his statements is never questioned. The varying demeanor's he assumes with each of the different characters against whom he is scheming paint a picture of Iago as an enigmatic man whose own personality is never portrayed. Iago is one of Shakespeare's most intriguing and credible villains. Iago can be perceived as either evil or brilliant in his plans to be deemed lieutenant. As the villain in "Othello", Iago has two main actions: to plot and to deceive. Iago is mad that Cassio was chosen to be lieutenant instead of himself.
From this anger comes the main conflict of the play. Iago plans to ruin Othello and Cassio by carrying out a plan based on lies and deceit. This plan will make Iago the only person that Othello believes he can trust, and Iago will use this trust to manipulate Othello. Foremost, Iago first plan to ruin Othello is to use Roderigo's weakness to help him remove Cassio from his lieutenant position, which will in turn lead to both Othello's and Cassio's demise.
Iago tells Roderigo to 'put money in thy purse' (Shakespeare 53). Iago urges Roderigo to earn money now so that he can win Desdemona's heart. Iago tells Roderigo what he wants to hear in order to enlist his help. Iago states that he would never associate with someone like Roderigo except to gain his own ends. "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse -- / For I mine own gained knowledge should profane/ If I would time expand with such a snipe/ But for my sport and profit" (Shakespeare 55).
Iago feels that Roderigo is a foolish man who exists only for his use. He manipulates Roderigo to his fullest extent then says he does so for his own "sport and profit.".