Perfect people do not exist in this world of temptations, failures, and suffering. In fact, every person has weaknesses, and there is always a possibility that someone will use those feeble points against that man. Shakespeare’s play Othello shows an example of how one can control others exploiting their weaknesses and the consequences of such actions. The character of Iago, the antagonist in the tragedy Othello, instigates chaos, deception, and gross manipulation. He is the center of all the evil events in the play. He manages to completely deceive everyone by displaying an honest facade. Thus he is able to instill trust in all those around him. Since no one sees him for the evil and deceiving man that he really is, he manages to manipulate everyone. He exerts control and power over others in order to fulfill his goals of destroying Cassio and completely demeaning Othello and ruining his reputation.
Roderigo’s passion to Desdemona, his foolishness, and trusting nature help Iago to succeed in his evil plan. Another object of manipulation is Cassio whose love for women and wine as well as his concerns of reputation makes him a victim of Iago’s brutal intentions. The Moor, the cause of Iago’s revenge, is described as someone who heavily relies on the advice of others which becomes used against him by his friend. Also he becomes caught in Iago’s web because of his disability to cope with jealousy put in his ear. Othello jumps quickly into conclusions and finally kills Desdemona and himself that satisfies Iago’s desire of revenge. Therefore, Iago is able to manipulate Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello by exploding their weaknesses.
Being a blind fool and maintaining hopeless love for Desdemona, a woman of his dream, Roderigo is hurt by Iago who uses his weak spots to fulfill the revenge. Iago knows of Roderigo’s weakness of being totally devoted to Desdemona and of his obsession of winning her back, so he exploits it well. With promises of reunification with Desdemona, Iago twists Roderigo’s weakness to his advantage since he needs money and wants his hands to be clean. Iago is the one who manipulates his feelings toward Desdemona and motivates his actions. First Iago, in the moment of Roderigo’s despair, convinces him that Desdemona’s infatuation will end as soon as she’ll get bored sexually with Othello, so there will be a new way to get closer to her. Later he makes Roderigo believe that she has an affair with Cassio that provides Roderigo with incentive to bring down and then kill Michael.
Iago also puts in his head that Othello and Desdemona are going to Mauritania and he will not be able to win her back, but if Cassio dies then they will have to stay in Cyprus. Roderigo, being a naïve trusting fool, believes every Iago’s word. In his turn Iago despises Roderigo, referring to him as to a faithful to his master dog by saying that he is “poor trash of Venice, whom I leash for his quick hunting”. Roderigo’s disability to use his brain is showed in his foolishness of not understanding that Iago uses himas a source of money. However, even when he gets to suspect Iago in cheating on him, the master of evil finds the way out and Roderigo is left in fools again. Roderigo’s trusting nature and self-pitying does not allow him to take control over things by himself, so he sets his hopes on Iago who manipulates him playing on his weaknesses in order to fulfill his desire of revenge.
Cassio with his good reputation, love for women and wine being his real weakness is another character that is exploited by Iago. Iago hates Michael since he was chosen over Iago to become a lieutenant even though Cassio is, according to Iago, an inferior soldier. Since Iago is aware of Michael’s “very poor and unhappy brains for drinking”. On the first step of destroying him Iago gets Cassiol to drink too much of wine, one of his main weaknesses, while on duty, challenging his loyalty to Othello and causes him to brawl with Roderigo. When Othello discovers the drunken Cassio, he dismisses him. This is exactly what Iago had envisioned. The humiliation of Michael due to his dismissal and loss of rank is the fulfillment of one of Iago’s major goals. On the next step “honest man”, as he is called by Cassio, maintains the facade of fake sincerity and loyalty to Michael while at the same time deceiving and plotting his destruction.
Ironically, Cassio seeks Iago’s advice on how to regain Othello’s trust and favor while Iago is actually the source of his problem with Othello, Iago gives Michael advice for his own evil purposes. He advises Cassio to talk to Desdemona about influencing Othello. Unfortunately, this advice is a form of manipulating, since Iago perfectly knows that Michael is “a fellow almost damned in a fair wife”. Also by begging, or bowing down to a woman, which was not to be done in those times, Cassio shows more of a weakness. Although Michael is seeing Desdemona to talk about his position and reputation, Iago hints his suspicious of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair to Othello creating an interest in him. Also Iago becomes a great friend of Michael who even doesn’t allow to himself to get to know more about the handkerchief given by Iago to him. His trusting nature is completely under the power of Iago who provides a support for him. Therefore, Iago takes control over Cassio and his weaknesses, but Michael, blinded by Iago’s outside friendly nature, does not realize that.
Iago’s poison pours on to Othello’s mind and makes him to be manipulated by the enemy. Iago, when makes his plan says:
The Moor is of a free and open-nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th’nose
As asses are (act 1, scene 3)
Othello heavily relies on the opinions of others, as he did when choosing the lieutenant to be Cassio, not Iago. Also the Moor puts all his trust in Iago during times of war and during Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. This wasn’t very bright of Othello. His trusting nature makes him vulnerable. His involvement with Desdemona translates into a deeper trust with heart. Being older than she is, Othello has fears that she will find a younger man who is more attractive than Othello. This makes him open to Iago’s plan. As a result when Iago creates rumors of Desdemona’s involvement with Cassio, Othello’, being already insecure with himself falls deep into Iago’s trap. Besides the fact that he is older than his wife, Othello also has insecurities about his race. He is a black man living among white men who are sometimes make judgments about his race and how it affects his work. In addition, to his fears, Othello has passionate nature does not allow him to think over what he hears or if it is true, but let his jealousy take over his actions. Othello’s emotions begin to grow from jealously to anger.
He has never been heart broken before and now all his emotions of melancholy are running through his mind. “How shall I murder him, Iago?” Already Othello had sunken in everything Iago had said. Not thinking straight and letting his emotions run untamed, he can only think of death as a way to resolve everything. He jumps very fast into conclusions that lead to a downfall. Iago poisons Othello’s mind with lies about love, Desdemona, and his trusted lieutenant, Cassio and causes him to destroy them both. Iago realizes that by causing Othello to destroy both Desdemona and Cassio Othello will at the same time destroy himself and his reputation. Being under pressure of Iago who controls him exploiting his weaknesses Othello ruins himself and people around him.
Exploiting the major weaknesses of Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello, Iago is able to control and hurt them. He moves his friends as if they were chessmen. He uses their individual aspirations and passions to motivate them to whatever devious plan he desires. However, in each case Iago doesn’t have to push very hard because his suggested actions either seem harmless resolutions to each character’s woes or take advantage of character flaws. Because he does not have to push very hard, he is able to maintain an air of apathy while promoting his ultimate malevolent goals: “I am not what I am”. In Roderigo’s case Iago successfully manipulates him using his weak personality and passionate love to Desdemona for his own purposes. Cassio’s love for women and his weakness to wine is what helps Iago in controlling him. Othello also is caught by Iago in his web of lie since his trusting and passionate nature, insecurity in him makes him vulnerable to Iago. Shakespeare shows the consequences of being trustful and naïve. A person should think of what is right and wrong, but not rely on the advices of others as Roderigo, Cassio, and Othello did. One must have his own head on the shoulders, and should live using his mind and consciousness in order to avoid the situation of being under somebody’s control.
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.