The Motives Of Iago And Othello In Shakespeare’s Play

The true motives of the characters and their contribution to the tragic plotline are one of the most controversial and widely discussed ideas in Shakespeare’s play Othello. Iago is driven by his motive rooted in revenge rather than self preservation. And while I do agree to some extent that Othello’s is driven by loyalty and justice in the beginning of the play, as he is manipulated and tested by Iago his deeply self-centred and ignorant nature rises to the surface and ultimately undermines his motives and changes the course of the play.

Throughout the play, Othello’s value and appreciation of loyalty and justice has been portrayed various times in his interactions with others. In the beginning of the play in Act 1 Scene 3, when Othello is accused of bewitching Desdemona into falling in love at the chambers he responds with ‘If you do find me foul in her report, the trust, the office I do hold of you, not only take me away, but let your sentence even fall upon my life.’ The dramatic pauses throughout this quote signifies the heavy weight that these words carry, yet Othello speaks of them calmly from a place of Justice, Honour and loyalty to his wife Desdemona, defending her in her absence. Similarly, Iago has also made his motives known in the form of deeply rooted revenge. While there has been debate over the basis of his notions, it is clear that he intends to destroy Othello in the name of revenge. The key scene in Act 1 Scene 3 consisting of Iago and his soliloquy brings to light his true feelings and intentions. When Iago says, ‘If I would time expend with such a snipe. But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor, and it is thought abroad, that twixt my sheets. He has done my office’ The use of high modality in this personal and eye-opening soliloquy highlights Iago’s hatred for Othello and how he admits to making these plans for the sake of chaos of destruction, sport and profit in his words. Due to believing that Othello has slept with his wife as seen in this quote, as well as not promoting him to Lieutenant, Iago is seeking to destroy Othello and his marriage to Desdemona as a source of Revenge.

However, Othello and his weak sense of self had been easily manipulated by Iago which is what contributed to the tragedy and deaths at the end of the play. Iago, driven by revenge and destroying Othello in particular has led to Othello being targeted by most of his tactics as well as being the centre of his plan. This had made significant psychological and behavioural impacts in Othello and provides a test on character which I will discuss later. A clear example of Othello being manipulated by Iago is when he states, 'This fellow's of exceeding honesty, And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit of human dealings.' The dramatic irony used here emphasises how misdirected Othello’s analysis of Iago’s character is, and how Iago has begun to twist Othello’s perception which only gets worse as the plot progresses. Act 3 Scene 3 is a turning point in the play where Othello begins to doubt his relationship to Desdemona and shifts more trust to Iago when Iago states ‘I see this hath a little dashed your spirits’ to which Othello responds with ‘Not a jot, not a jot’ The repetition in Othello’s response in conjunction of Iago’s metaphor of dashing Othello’s spirits summarizes Iago’s manipulative tactics to which he plants the seed of doubt inside Othello, who claims to be unaffected but has begun to change his language in the play.

Ultimately, as Othello is tested by Iago throughout the play he resorts to self-dramatization and romantic idealism rather than his motives of loyalty and justice, particularly in his treatment of Desdemona. In Othello’s soliloquy where he believes that Desdemona is romantically involved with Cassio he states, ‘I am abused, and my relief must be to loathe her…I had rather be a toad, and live upon the vapour of a dungeon, than keep a corner in the thing I love, for other’s uses.’ The repetition of I, as well as the hyperbolic reference of becoming a toad shows Othello’s outlook on his relationship with Desdemona being overshadowed by personal dramatization and egocentric behaviour rather than trying to communicate with Desdemona and understanding where her loyalty lies. During the final act of scene 2, we see the key scene of Othello in his final hours who says ‘Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely, but too well; of one not easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme.’ The juxtaposing sentences showcases Othello’s heightened sense of self and conscious nobility, just moments after killing Desdemona and learning of his wrongdoings. Even in a time of grief and confusion, Othello has taken charge and silently demands the attention of others which is unjust to Desdemona who was innocent. FR Leavis and his critical review of the play titled Diabolic Intellect and The Noble Hero: A Note on Othello has encapsulated this side of Othello and further expands on how Othello is inherently obsessed with self-dramatization and idealism surrounding his relationship with Desdemona rather than Desdemona herself. He describes Othello’s relationship and view of Desdemona as ‘a matter of self-centred and self-regarding satisfactions- pride, sensual possessiveness, appetite, love of loving’ He adds that Othello seems to only be in love with the idea of Desdemona and romance he has created and this is shown by the way he treats and regards her amongst the presence of others. Ultimately Othello in the play has ignored Desdemona and denied her of the very virtues he is driven by, which is loyalty and seeking justice, thus undermining his motives in the play.

In conclusion, after assessing the play and its key scenes as well as a critics response, I strongly believe that Iago’s true motive was in fact revenge, and Othello whilst showing a driven passion towards loyalty and justice, was overcome by his own self-dramatization and romantic idealism which clouded his motives and sense of self, resulting in his manipulated state and the tragic outcome we associate with Othello today.  

16 December 2021
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