Othello Theme of Manipulation
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Othello's villain, Iago, may be literature's most impressive master of deception. Iago plots with consummate sophistication, carefully manipulating Othello (without any real proof) into believing that Desdemona has been unfaithful. His understanding of the human psyche is phenomenal, as is his ability to orchestrate a complicated interweaving of pre-planned scenarios. Iago's deception is potent because of his patience, his cleverness, and what seems to be his intrinsic love of elegant manipulation.
Questions About Manipulation
- Why does Iago want to manipulate Othello into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful?
- How is it that Iago is so successful at manipulating everyone around him?
- How does Iago's openness with the audience contrast with his treatment of other characters? Are we ever manipulated by Iago's lies?
- Is Iago's masterful manipulation of the characters in Othello plausible? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
In Othello, Iago orchestrates Othello's downfall like a skillful playwright.
Iago's ultimate deception is not of Othello, Cassio, or Roderigo: it is of the audience. By refusing to tell Othello his motivations in Act 5, he is also refusing to tell us. We are strung along through Othello in the belief that all will be revealed, but it seems that the joke is on us.
In Othello, Iago is extremely manipulative. Iago is a master at manipulation. Through his mere words, he plants seeds of doubt in Othello. Truly, Iago is subtle in his accusation as he merely suggests that Cassio may be having an affair with Desdemona. No doubt, Iago manipulates the situation to convince Othello that his wife is unfaithful with Cassio. When Cassio and Desdemona are merely talking, Iago leads Othello to the scene. As Othello views the scene, Iago plants seeds of doubt and jealousy in Othello. He uses hesitation as he speaks. This causes Othello to question what Iago is really saying. With Othello's insistence, Iago gives in and expresses his dislike of Cassio and Desdemona talking to one another:
Ha! I don’t like that.
When Othello questions Iago in saying, "What did you say?" Iago begins scheming. Iago pretends to be hesitant in his accusations:
Nothing, my lord.
Artfully and cleverly, Iago is causing Othello to think that Cassio and his wife should not be talking.
When Cassio realizes that Othello is coming, he quickly leaves the scene. Iago uses this moment to make Othello think that Cassio is stealing away because he is guilty of having an intimate talk with Othello's wife. Iago comments about Cassio quickly fleeing from the scene:
I cannot believe
That he would steal away so guiltily,
Seeing you coming.
Later on, Iago uses Cassio's genuine support of Othello to tempt Cassio to become intoxicated, thus causing him to brawl with Roderigo. Of course, Iago is a master manipulator:
Come, lieutenant, I have
a bottle of wine; and here outside are a number of
Cyprus gents that would happily drink a round to the
health of black Othello.
Although Cassio initially refuses to drink, Iago uses his gift of scheming and talks Cassio into getting drunk.
After setting the scene, Iago moves on to further his evil plot. After Cassio and Roderigo fight, Othello releases Cassio from his position as lieutenant. Iago furthers his devious plan by manipulating Desdemona. Using Desdemona's prime weakness, naivety, Iago puts Cassio up to seeking Desdemona's help in getting his position as lieutenant back.
With the scene set, Othello begins to believe his beautiful Desdemona has been unfaithful with Cassio. Iago realizes Othello's insecurities and benefits by them. Othello is too trusting of Iago. Iago ever so subtly points out that Desdemona is capable of lying:
She deceived her father by marrying you;
Iago is a crafty manipulator. He definitely causes Othello to question Desdemona's integrity. At the same time, Iago assures Othello that he has only discredited Desdemona because of his love for Othello:
I hope you will consider that what I have spoken
Comes from my love;
Iago craftily apologizes for loving Othello too much:
I humbly beg your pardon
Because I was loving you too much.
Convinced of Iago's love, Othello states that he is forever indebted to Iago:
I am bound to you forever.
No doubt, Iago is a master at deceit. Iago is an excellent actor. He is convincing in his false sincerity. Because of Iago's expert manipulation, Othello smothers his beautiful wife.