Othello Iago Motivation Essay

Iago's Motivation Essay

Iago's Motivation

Iago is a 'moral pyromaniac.' Harold C. Goddard writes that Iago

consciously and unconsciously seeks to destroy the lives of others, especially

others with high moral standards (Goddard 76). However, Iago is more than

just a 'moral pyromaniac,' he is a moral pyromaniac whose fire is fueled by

pure hatred. He is a hungry powermonger whose appetite for destruction can

only be satisfied after he has chewed up and spat out the lives of others. Iago

lusts for power, but his sense of power is attained by manipulating and

annihilating others in a cruel and unusual way. Iago prepares and ignites his

victims and then watches, with an excitable evil in his eye, as his human

pyres go up in flames.

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 yerked 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'...

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Othello (by William Shakespeare) is a tragic story, the play is based on the theory that love is meaningless unless the physical attraction is partnered with trust. It also questions some factors of human nature; the inconsistency of judging intentions plays a crucial part in the downfall of the lead character with whom the title of the play is shared.

Iago is the proprietor of the carnage, he oversees the destruction of five characters (Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Emelia and Rodrigo) and controls their views on each other. He deems the lives of the aforementioned characters as insignificant, and treats them like pawns to meet his own ends. Throughout the play his motives remain shadowy, some of his reasons seem preposterous, classed as excuses for his actions.


Iago’s motives are of great number, they appear in an erratic fashion (most frequently in his soliloquies ). Iago’s first major soliloquy gives us our first major insight into the reason for his heinous scheme.

Iago starts off by telling the audience how he finds additional funds. He has used his charm to ensnare Rodrigo into believing that Desdimona will fall out of love with Othello (Rodrigo is infatuated with her). He then goes on to say that he would not spend time with Rodrigo if it wasn’t for his own ‘sport and profit’. Iago shows his ability of finding insecurities in a person’s character, Roderigo is easily persuaded. Roderigo plays a major part in the fruition of Iago’s major plot- as Iago again clouds Roderigo’s mind with an unrealistic reward (leading to Roderigo’s death).

Iago then channels his attention towards Othello, ‘the Moor’ (a derogatory term used for blacks). He has heard a rumour that Othello had sexual intercourse with his wife, it is just a rumour but through his nature Iago would rather believe it was true. From this, the audience gets the first glimpse of Iago’s inner-workings and his insecurities.

Iago sees himself to be a surrogate of a man. Through his corrupt insight into what goes on around him, Iago believes that Cassio (whom he also later claims had sex with his wife) and Othello attract attention from the opposite sex which he himself does not receive. Cassio is of a type which easily woo woman and is good looking, whilst Othello’s power and reputation make him seem attractive. Iago’s jealousy leads him to lose his sense of trust. This trait leads him to believe that certain innocent actions of other characters are in a way mocking him. He thought that in this way Cassio and Othello were trying to signify that he was impotent.

He then decides to take revenge on Cassio by using the appeal Cassio receives from woman against him. Othello is insecure as he is a foreigner in the country, of a different race and was born with a different religion. Iago using his wit, picks up on this and decides to insinuate the idea that Cassio being young, Venetian and handsome is the perfect partner for Desdemona (which is also the belief of Brabantio, her father).

Iago has no sense trust due to the constitution of his character, in the last part of his soliloquy he conspires to use Othello’s trust to accelerate his demise, ‘led by th’nose as asses are’. Iago seems to resent the trust between Desdemona and Othello- there is no trust in Iago’s relationship with Emilia so there is no love. This is another point of jealousy for Iago, he feels they are mocking him with their affections leading him to proclaim, ‘daily beauty makes me ugly’.

He ends the soliloquy with a metaphor of his plan being a ‘monstrous birth’. Association can be made with Iago’s talk about hell and his use of words in the last couplet with his speech near the ending of the play, ‘You know what you know, from this time forth I will not speak a word’.

He is then asked by Lodovico, ‘what not to pray?’. This shows a certain evilness in him, as Christianity was widely practised in the time Othello was set. The whispers he corrupted Othello’s mind with and the way he manipulated the deeds of others to cause death attribute him with characteristics of Satan. This leads to the point that there may have been no motive for Iago’s actions, he revelled in destroying the lives of others, and believed himself to be of a higher intelligence with a quicker wit than anyone else.


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