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Othello

An Analysis of Iago’s Manipulation of Virtues

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Question: With reference to Acts 1 to 3, how far do you agree that Iago’s main technique is to use people’s virtues against them?

I largely agree that Iago’s main technique is to use people’s virtues against them, as examples of him employing this technique is evident in Acts 1 to 3 through the ways in which he manipulates Cassio, Othello and Desdemona. However, he also makes use of the weaknesses of certain characters as well, such as Roderigo, Cassio and Othello.

Firstly, Iago takes advantage of Cassio’s virtues of courtesy and integrity. In Act 1, Iago states that Cassio “hath a person and a smooth dispose / To be suspected, framed to make women false”, which is what spurs him to “gyve” the latter “in [his] own courtship” in Act 2. Through exaggerating and creating false reports of Cassio’s displays of courtesy towards Desdemona to Roderigo and Othello, Iago begins his attempts to prove Cassio to be a flirtatious man engaged in an adulterous relationship with Desdemona, therefore paving the way for Cassio’s demotion.

Also, Iago poses as sincere, trustworthy companion to Cassio by advising him to “Confess [himself] freely to [Desdemona]” and “importune her help to put [him] in [his] place again” after the drunken brawl which resulted in him being stripped of his rank. By mourning for his loss of reputation and displaying his feelings of self-contempt, Cassio shows high regard for his integrity, thus giving Iago another opportunity to further his plans and tie Cassio’s downfall in with Desdemona’s.

Similarly, Iago makes use of Othello’s love towards Desdemona and trust in Iago to provoke feelings of suspicion and doubt. As “the Moor is of a free and open nature, / That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,” based on Iago’s own observations, Othello’s trusting nature makes him susceptible to being “led by th’nose / As asses are.” As a result, Othello’s virtues are exploited, and he then falls prey to Iago’s insinuations.

This is particularly evident in Act 3 when Iago warns Othello to “Look to [his] wife; observe her well with Cassio;” and “Wear [his] eye thus, not jealous nor secure.” While Othello’s trust in Desdemona is shaken due to the suggestion of her unfaithfulness, his trust in Iago is reinforced in turn, as Iago presents himself as a friend who “would not have [Othello’s] free and noble nature, / Out of self-bounty, be abused.” This also allows Iago to continue twisting Othello’s views of Desdemona, as the Moor’s almost gullible state makes room for plenty of misconceptions and dubiousness.

Furthermore, Desdemona’s kindness and loyalty to her friends play huge roles in Iago’s scheme. Whilst consoling Cassio, Iago mentions that Desdemona “is of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition, she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested.” As Desdemona possesses a generous spirit, not only will she agree to appeal to Othello about Cassio’s situation, but would also be unsuspecting to Iago’s machinations, as her good nature drives her to help Cassio without asking for anything in return or considering whether there are ulterior motives involved.

Finally, as Iago is aware that “[Desdemona]’s framed as fruitful as the free elements, and knows she would do all that she can to push for Cassio’s reinstatement, he uses Desdemona’s compassionate and loyal qualities to his advantage. Despite this, because Iago had planted ideas of adultery in Othello’s head, Desdemona’s requests that Othello make peace with Cassio would then only fuel Othello’s suspicions and convince him even further of her infidelity.

While the ideas above show how Iago mainly uses people’s virtues against them in order to exact his revenge against Othello, another technique he utilizes is making use of a few characters’ weaknesses, namely, Roderigo’s, Cassio’s and Othello’s.

In Act 1, Roderigo presents Iago with his dilemma of being in love with Desdemona by proclaiming that “It is silliness to live, when to live is torment”. Despite the fact that Desdemona had already married Othello, Roderigo’s passions blind his sense of reason, and leave him defenseless against manipulation. Consequently, Iago urges him to “put money in [his] purse” and takes advantage of Roderigo’s foolish naivety, filling him with hope by reassuring him that Desdemona would soon tire of the Moor and yearn for a younger man to satisfy her needs. By doing so, Iago manages to secure himself a pawn who would willing aid him in his plan, which he points out by saying “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse; / For I mine own gained knowledge should profane, / If I would time expend with such a snipe, / But for my sport and profit.”

Likewise, Iago’s success in using Cassio’s virtues against him in Act 2 is by firstly taking advantage of Cassio’s lack of self-control. As Iago reveals in his soliloquy, “If [he] can fasten but one cup upon [Cassio], / With that which he hath drunk tonight already, / He’ll be as full of quarrel and offence / As [his] young mistress’ dog.” Through drinking, partaking in a brawl (which had also been set up by Iago) and subsequently getting demoted, the high value at which Cassio holds his reputation and integrity is revealed, thus giving Iago the perfect chance to continue orchestrating his plan by advising Cassio to seek Desdemona’s help, all the while maintaining the facade of an honest, trustworthy man. By exploiting Cassio’s weakness, his virtues become open for manipulation.

Lastly, both Roderigo and Cassio’s weaknesses contribute to Othello’s ultimate weakness: irrationality, which led to the tragic collapse of his relationship with Desdemona. Another of Iago’s soliloquies in Act 2 unveils his plan to “put the Moor / At least into a jealousy so strong / That judgment cannot cure”, and Othello clearly displays jealous rage in Act 3 when Iago’s words finally convince him of Desdemona’s promiscuity, as he says that “Her name that was as fresh / As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black / As mine own face.” He also makes the decision to “withdraw to furnish [himself] with some swift means of death / For the fair devil”, hereby showing how Iago’s words have successfully induced a feeling of anger so strong that he resolves to kill Desdemona himself, regardless of how the only proof he’s been given are Iago’s words alone. Hence, we are presented with how Iago provokes Othello’s irrationality through lies and deception, and uses this moment of weakness to his advantage.

To conclude, Iago’s main technique is indeed to use people’s virtues against them, as can be seen by how he manipulated Cassio, Othello and Desdemona, but he also took a step in advance by exploiting some characters’ weaknesses as well, such as Roderigo’s, Cassio’s and Othello’s.

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