Iago’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1
“Iago’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1; what does his language tell us about his character and motivation? How does it compare with his language in the rest of the act”?
Iago seems to be presented as a Machiavellian villain; he is cunning and always seems to know what’s going to happen. In Iago’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1 Scene3, he says of Roderigo “thus do I ever make my fool my purse”. This conveys Iago’s character as superior and manipulative.
Iago states that Roderigo is a “fool”; a stupid moron. He also calls him a “snipe” which is a small bird which also is used to mean unintellegent. Iago refers to Roderigo possessively, referring to him as “my fool” as if the extent of his own influence makes Roderigo his own possession (as with “my purse”; purse being an object that is owned).
By saying “I even make” Iago is implying that manipulating a “fool” for their money is a usual activity for him, as if he always does this.
Iago holds such little respect for Roderigo and feels himself so superior that he “should profane if [he] time expend with such …
But for [his] sport and profit”. He’s claiming that Roderigo is so beneath him that it is only for the money (“profit”) and the game he plays with the characters (“sport”) that he’d ever bother wasting his time with such an idiot. This seems to be revealing of Iago’s attitude toward social classes. Just because another character is richer or has higher social standing this does not mean that he has any extra respect for them. Taking into account that England in the Elizabethan era worked with strict social classes I think that Shakespeare uses Iago’s lack of respect for the system as another way of demonising him. He is the villain because he believes himself to be superior to everyone else.
Iago is Othello’s ‘ancient’. However, Iago obviously feels he is superior to his master. Iago likens Othello to a donkey; a dull, stupid animal. Iago says Othello will “be led by th’ nose. As asses are”. Asses, or donkeys, are literally led by the nose with a harness. Might the harness be the society they are both part of? This implies that Othello is not free. It implies that he is tamed, obedient, dependent and without a mind of his own. It is Iago’s intention to use this harness to lead Othello to his ruin.
In act 1 scene 1 Iago reveals his views on the roles of master and servant (in his case ancient) to Roderigo. Iago’s opinions show his perceived superiority in his character. Iago says how there are “many a duteous and knee crooking knave that…wears out his time, much like his master’s ass”. He is saying that the dutiful are “knee crooking”, meaning that they bow down, accepting their inferiority. To say that a subordinate “wears out his time much like his master’s ass” shows how he feels that they waste their lives being another’s workhorse while receiving none of the profits. In this respect Iago feels himself above Othello. By later referring to Othello as an “ass” he could be the “knee crooking knave” to the governors of Venice. This is what I feel is supposed to be conveyed by the line: “were I the Moor, I would not be Iago”.
Iago is resentful of the lack of recognition he has received from his society. I would say that Iago has motivation against his society. He misses out on promotion and Cassio takes the position. He resents Cassio for being better educated and of higher social standing. From scene 1 Iago says “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place” when telling Roderigo of being passed over for promotion.
I think that Shakespeare has Iago say this because he’s supposed to be resentful of the lack of recognition he’s received. By saying “I know my price” he is also saying that no-one else perceives his worth. Iago mentions that Cassio is “a Florentine” while disrespectfully describing him. That Shakespeare has Iago mention this means that it is relevant. Perhaps that Iago disapproves of a Florentine being promoted in a Venetian army shows he has a kind of respect for the society he’s in. If he is ambitious then he is ambitious toward the higher roles/accomplishments of his own society; Venice.
Iago may also feel he has not been duly acknowledged for the fighting he has done for the causes of Venice “at Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds Christian and Heathen”. By not being advanced he may have felt the sacrifices he made were not appreciated, as if he’d been cheated, which may explain why he cheats so much in the conventions of his society.
Iago is presented as being a very effective user of language. He seems to know exactly the right language to use in order to affect the decisions of the other characters. When bating Brabantio he uses course language about his family to infuriate him. Instead of merely informing Brabantio of his daughter’s whereabouts and who she is with Iago tells him that “your daughter and the moor are now making the beast with two backs”. “Making the beast with two backs” is a crude euphemism for having sex. “Beast” implies that the sex is ugly and savage. Iago uses the word ‘moor’ instead of his name, Othello, to bring attention to his race as opposed to his high rank and standing in Venice. Iago knows how to offend.
He immediately starts referring to Brabantio’s family in animal terms; “you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and jennets for germans”. In the Elizabethan era it was probably a taboo to have a mixed race marriage probably because people of African origins would have been considered inferior. This is a reason why Iago refers to Othello as a horse (“coursers for cousins”). As a further example of Iago’s ability to alarm through his seemingly perverted perception would be “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse”. Iago alarms him by conjuring bestial imagery. Bestiality is sacrilegious, which a few hundred years ago was more important than it is now. Perhaps this sacrilegious imagery influenced Brabantio to rationalise his daughter’s behaviour as witchcraft.
Shakespeare presents Iago as an effective liar. This must be the case as Othello refers to him in Act one as “Honest Iago”. He also describes him as “a man he is of honesty and trust”. Despite Iago keeping Roderigo’s presents to Desdemona for himself he still can convince him of his trustworthiness.
When reassuring Roderigo he says “I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness”. By claiming that he is Roderigo’s ‘professed’ friend and that he’s prepared to help him with everlasting strength he convinces of his honesty. Iago also successfully manipulates Roderigo by repeatedly suggesting (instructing really) to “put money in thy purse” so as he can take it from him. Iago repeats this six times. Iago also convinces Roderigo to do his biddings by distracting him with his philosophies; “Our bodies are our gardens, to which are wills are gardeners”.
In this speech Iago basically turns Roderigo’s loss into his own gain.
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“Iago’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1; what does his language tell us about his character and motivation? How does it compare with his language in the rest of […]