How does Iago Manipulate in ‘Othello’ ?

The power of persuasion is a dominant and influential tool which can easily be misused for personal benefit. Lies and deceits are becoming more common in society, with individuals masking their true intentions. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the character Iago is no different from those cunning human beings. He preys on and triggers other characters’ doubts and insecurities by putting on a façade that makes him appear reliable, trustworthy, and righteous. Iago’s drive for manipulation stems from his own hatred and jealousy, which ultimately fuels his desire to create a plan to destroy the lives of those who have wronged him. He is an eloquent speaker with the capability to turn a few meaningless words into a phrase containing subtle and in-dept meaning upon further analysis. Iago manipulates characters throughout the play by using Aristotle’s methods of persuasion.

To begin, Iago manipulates Roderigo by imposing pathos in order to affirm Othello as an opponent they must eliminate. Iago elaborates on how Othello gives Cassio a promotion, a man who has “never set a squadron in the field” (Shakespeare 1.1.23), meanwhile viewing himself as more qualified. Amidst their conversation, Iago makes comments like, “I follow [Othello] to serve my turn upon him” (1.1.45) and “In following him, I follow but myself” (1.1.64). Iago says he plans to take his revenge on Othello and encourages Roderigo to assist him. By voicing his hatred towards Othello, Iago becomes more relatable to Roderigo. Also, Iago’s constant repetition of the pronoun “I”, shows his own hatred for the Moor is parallel with Roderigo’s personal resentment towards Othello. As a matter of fact, appealing to Roderigo’s emotions gives him more reason to dislike Othello, as not only did he marry the woman Roderigo loves, he also does not promote Iago, his close friend, though he has more experience than Cassio. Additionally, Iago continues to use Roderigo’s emotions towards Desdemona to take advantage of him for personal gain. He goes on to reassure Roderigo that his chances of winning Desdemona’s affection will increase if he “[puts] money in thy purse” (1.3.386). Roderigo is blinded by love to the point where Iago effortlessly convinces him that money can buy Desdemona’s heart. Ultimately, Iago uses Roderigo’s immense desire for Desdemona against him by encouraging Roderigo to entrust his money with him, which Iago eventually keeps for himself. Therefore, Iago is able to manipulate Roderigo by portraying Othello as a common rival while making use of Roderigo’s wealth desire for Desdemona by appealing to his emotions – in other words, through pathos.

In addition, Iago makes full use of Cassio through pathos combined with reasoning. He does this in order use the victorious night as a justifiable exception for Cassio to have another glass of wine. Iago notices Cassio’s utmost loyalty and appreciation of Othello, as he is the general, and uses it to his advantage by considering Cassio’s position by suggesting they “have a measure to the health of black Othello” (2.3.32-33). Iago encourages Cassio to join a toast in honour of Othello, in front of their comrades, which makes it harder for Cassio to object. If Cassio turns down the toast, it would be seen as ill-mannered and impolite from a professional and personal viewpoint. Furthermore, it would depict Cassio as a man who does not respect Othello if he were to decline celebrating his lieutenant’s great victory. Moreover, Iago uses an extension of pathos to convince Cassio to drink by appealing to his humor when he breaks into song: “And let me the cannikin clink, clink” (2.3.60). Iago uses his newfound knowledge of Cassio’s low tolerance for alcohol and humors Cassio into drinking, which results in Cassio’s lack of self-control. The humorous song about drinking renders Cassio more at ease which leads to a lack of self-awareness thus, making him more inclined to overdrink. The playful song is more appealing to Cassio as it is a reason to let loose and enjoy the night, as compared to keeping watch of the unchanging landscape. The repetition of the words “clink, clink” also plays a vital role as it echoes the sound of a toasting glass, while relating to the victory and emphasizes the joyous occasion. It also appeals to Cassio’s humorous side which makes it much easier for Iago to convince him to drink as opposed to when he is more serious and focused to doing his job. As Cassio is more relaxed and joins Iago in the song, he starts to forget about his responsibilities and is more open to the idea of having another glass. Of course, this ultimately leads to a series of bad decisions and makes it easier for Iago to make use of Cassio’s drunken state. Iago brilliantly exploits Cassio’s emotions and appeals to his humor to the point where Cassio is intoxicated, allowing Iago to easily manipulate him.

Furthermore, Iago uses logos to make Othello question Desdemona’s loyalty and relationship with him. Iago points out that Desdemona has lied before when “she deceived her father by marrying [Othello]” (3.3.238). By stating this fact, Iago plants the idea that Desdemona can repeat her actions. Iago reasons that if Desdemona can betray her father, the one whom she loves and has shown respect for her entire life, she could definitely do it to a man with whom she has been married for a short period of time. It also makes Othello doubt Desdemona’s integrity society views women as property of men who must have their marriage approved, if not arranged, by their fathers. As a result of Desdemona’s secret marriage, she now has a reputation as someone who is able to sneakily do things behind people’s backs, which causes Othello to believe that this kind of behavior can also extend into their marriage. Furthermore, Iago also uses repetition when he repeats Othello’s words saying, “Honest, my lord” (3.3.116) and “Think, my lord” (3.3.120). This, of course, entertains and fuels Othello’s suspicion of Cassio as Iago creates the impression he is still unsure of Cassio’s honesty. The repetition of Othello’s words forces Othello to further think about the topic and explain his thoughts and emotions. Upon his additional explanation, Othello reveals his raw self and emotions which gives Iago the perfect chance to manipulate Othello in his most vulnerable state. With Iago’s excellent use of logos and repetition, Iago now has strong control over Othello.

Iago also proceeds to manipulate Brabantio, a Venetian senator, a well-known citizen, and Desdemona’s father. Like many Venetian men of the time period, Brabantio’s reputation is the upholder of his honor. In a conversation with Brabantio, Iago mentions that “even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.89-90). Iago uses this metaphor to emphasize sexual and visual images of Brabantio’s daughter. By comparing Othello to a black ram and Desdemona to a white ewe, Iago points out the difference in their skin color and relates it to purity. Othello, being a man of colored skin, is portrayed as a beast on top of the pure and innocent Desdemona. By referring to Othello as a “black ram,” Iago demotes his position from a human to an animal, indicating he is less than human. Furthermore, Iago uses logos not to refer to his own credibility, but rather Brabantio’s. By reminding him “[he] is a senator” (1.1.118), Iago highlights how Othello and Desdemona’s marriage would affect Brabantio’s honor and pride as his daughter is a reflection of him, being his property. Traditionally, it is the father’s duty to pass their daughter to a proper man of the same race and social class however, the defiance on Desdemona’s part negatively affects her father’s untarnished honor as it appears he has lost control. This makes Brabantio think about how society would view this. If Brabantio cannot control his own daughter, people will start to question how credible and capable he is of making decisions concerning the state. Iago also incorporates the technique of pathos when he tells Brabantio, “Your heart is burst” (1.1.96). Iago refers to Brabantio’s heart as a symbol full of love and emotion. To say that it has burst, speaks to Brabantio’s feelings, telling him that his beloved Desdemona has been taken from him. The phrase not only confronts Brabantio’s love but also develops hate for Othello. In this state, it is easier for Brabantio to hate the Moor more effortlessly, as he calls to “get weapons” to “apprehend [Desdemona] and the Moor” (1.1.200), and believe Iago’s insults without thinking twice. Iago’s use of persuasion enables him to use Brabantio’s love for Desdemona and twist it to make the respected war-hero, Othello, look like the enemy.

In conclusion, Iago uses a variety of persuasion methods to manipulate multiple characters throughout the play. He creatively relates to Roderigo’s hate for Othello before exploiting Roderigo’s love for Desdemona to attain a financial benefit. Subsequently, Iago learns of Cassio’s inability to hold his liquor and his juvenile sense of humor and uses these traits in order to disable Cassio’s better judgment. Furthermore, Iago emphasizes Desdemona’s prior actions and uses repetition as a tool in order to make Othello question his wife’s integrity, which ultimately gives him the opportunity to manipulate Othello’s raw emotions. Finally, Iago uses a metaphor and pathos to elaborate on how society would view his political capability and turn the beloved hero, Othello, into a thief. Overall, Iago resembles a spider, constantly twisting his prey deeper into his web of lies before pulling the strings so that his plan plays out perfectly.

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