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Shakespeare’s Othello – Iago and Othello

Iago and Othello

In Shakespeare’s Othello, the character Iago, Othello’s lieutenant, is the cause of all the tragedy which comes to pass as the play progresses. Iago is the antagonist of the play, but rather than being the direct opponent to the tragic hero, Iago is a manipulator, opposing Othello not directly but through other characters whom he tricks into acting for him. In the first scene of the play, Iago gives the audience warning that he is not all that he seems when he says, “I am not what I am.” (I,i,65) He is first seen in this scene appearing to help Roderigo, a suitor to Desdemona, who has run off with Othello, the Moorish general of the Venician army. Iago hates Othello for another reason. Instead of choosing him to be his lieutenant, Othello chose Cassio, another foreigner, and relegated Iago to the position of his ancient. When Roderigo asks why Iago continues to serve Othello, in spite of how the general has treated him, Iago replies, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.” (I,i,42) He goes on to give an example of how he intends to serve him, by acting like the perfect servant, while secretly enriching himself, and later says, “In following him, I follow but myself.” (I,i,58) From this, one might think that he is still fairly straightforward in his plans, that he merely intends to betray Othello at some later date. However, in the third scene, he shows the audience his ability to manipulate people, when he convinces Roderigo to follow him to Cyprus and to bring all of his money, presumably to win back Desdemona. After Roderigo has left to do what Iago has suggested, Iago says, “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” (I,iii,37 y9) Later, in Act IV, we find that Roderigo has been giving jewels to Iago to give to Desdemona, which Iago, it is implied, has sold for his own uses. Thus, it is seen that Iago is merely using Roderigo to further his own ends, just as he said he was only serving Othello to serve himself. Also at the end of the third scene, Iago sets forth his plan to take Cassio’s position, by telling Othello that his lieutenant “. . . is too familiar with his wife.” (I,iii,402) It also comes out in this speech that he suspects Othello of committing adultery with his wife.

Cassio, the Lieutenant, in Othello

Cassio, the Lieutenant, in Othello

Michael Cassio, the lieutenant who supposedly stole away Iago’s coveted promotion in Shakespeare’s Othello, is a strange sort of character. He shows great appreciation of other people; he is radiant with truth and honor; and yet he patronizes a prostitute, Bianca. This essay will delve into the character of Cassio.

Blanche Coles in Shakespeare’s Four Giants comments on the character of Cassio:

In a casual reading of Othello, it may seem that the character of Cassio is not sufficiently well drawn, because, for reasons connected with his portrayal of Iago, Shakespeare delays the full characterization of Cassio until almost the end of the play. However, we have a number of brief revelations of his personality that mark him distinctly – in his genuine anxiety for Othello’s safety, in his abstaining from taking part in the bold and suggestive comments of Iago to the two women as they wait for Othello’s ship and, a little later, in his sincere regret about the loss of his reputation after he has partaken of the wine which Iago has forced upon him. (85-86)

Cassio makes his first appearance in the play in Act 1 Scene 2, when he is conducting the official business of the duke of Venice, namely the request of the “haste-post-haste appearance / Even on the instant” of the general because of the Ottoman threat on Cyprus. Brabantio’s mob briefly delays matters, and then Cassio disappears from the stage until Act 2. He disembarks in Cyprus and graciously announces: “Thanks, you the valiant of this warlike isle, / That so approve the Moor!” After chatting with Montano and other gentlemen of the isle, he welcomes Desdemona, “our great captain’s captain,” ashore: “The ric…

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…s corpse produces a letter which “imports the death of Cassio to be undertook / By Roderigo” – another emotional revelation for Michael Cassio. Finally, the ultimate emotional blow to the ex-officer comes when Othello stabs himself and dies: “This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart.”

As “lord governor” of the island of Cyprus now, Michael Cassio has charge of the “censure of this hellish villain, / The time, the place, the torture.” Lodovico appeals to Cassio to let his justice, not his mercy prevail: “O, enforce it!”

WORKS CITED

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.

Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare’s Four Giants. Rindge, New Hampshire: Richard Smith Publisher, 1957.

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