Iago strategically arouses Othello’s jealousy by allowing Othello to come to the conclusion that Desdemona is carrying on an illicit affair with Cassio. Iago states in a barely audible voice, as though he didn’t really mean to say anything, “Ha! I like not that” (3. 3. 35). Othello asks him what he said, and Iago brushes him off and replies that it was nothing. After Othello inquires whether it was Cassio they had just seen, Iago replies, “Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, / That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing you coming” (3.
In these statements, Iago is already laying the groundwork for his scheme. He has pretended to be reluctant to discuss Cassio with Othello, and he has not explicitly accused Cassio of anything, but he has depicted Cassio in a manner that would cause Othello to be suspicious. While Desdemona is speaking to Othello, Iago remains silent. However, when Desdemona leaves, Iago asks Othello if Cassio knew of Othello’s affection for Desdemona during their courtship.
Othello answers that yes, and then wants to know why Iago asked. Iago replies, “But for a satisfaction of my thought; / No further harm” (3.
3. 97-98). Iago’s use of the words “further harm” reassures Othello that he was merely wondering, but does so in such a way that shows he has already had harmful thoughts. Iago’s feigned reluctance to discuss the topic makes him seem more credible as he is not outright attacking or doubting Desdemona’s character or loyalty. His seemingly harmless comments were made to incite Othello’s suspicion. Throughout the act, Iago’s continued reluctance only makes Othello more curios and paranoid. Iago seems credible because he pretends to have Othello’s best interests at heart.
He even warns Othello against jealously. Because Iago is an old friend, Othello believes him to be honest and trusts him. In order to convince Othello of Desdemona’s disloyalty, Iago concocts a story about a dream. After claiming the only reason he is telling Othello is because he loves him, Iago says that when he was sleeping with Cassio, Cassio said in his sleep, “Sweet Desdemona, / Let us be wary, let us hide our loves” (3. 3. 419-420). When Othello doubts Iago’s tale, Iago once again disarms Othello by pretending to share the same doubts.
Iago finally convinces Othello by telling him that Cassio wiped his beard with Desdemona’s handkerchief. Iago’s statement convinced Othello because it was not a direct accusation. Iago did not directly attack Desdemona or Cassio. He merely lied and stated that he saw Cassio wipe his beard with Desdemona’s handkerchief. Iago planted seeds of doubt with regards to the loyalties of Desdemona and Cassio by asking Othello seemingly innocent questions and pretending to be reluctant to discuss the matter. In reality, Iago’s comments and questions prayed on Othello’s insecurities and aroused his emotions to jealousy.
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