Othello and Iago’s Manipulation

“The way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses.” (Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power”) Iago makes this observation about his superior Othello,”He hath a person and a smooth dispose to be suspected—framed to make women false. 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 the nose as asses are.” I conclude binarily 1.) That Othello has a mindset framed at accusing women of being unfaithful; and 2.) that he takes mens’ honesty for granted. Now the most striking thing is that Desdemona is as true and loyal as a heart pure, and Iago is as treacherous as they come, but because Iago preys to Othello’s simple-minded perspective, he’s able to manipulate him for his own gain. The first thing in Iago’s equation for treachery is familiarizing himself with the weaknesses of Othello, and he carries out his machinations with a nefarious dexterity all his own. When interacting with Othello in Act 3 Scene 3, Iago acts superlatively reluctant to tell Othello his maliciously construed fabrications about how Cassio is in love with Desdemona; when in reality he would love to have him listen to his lies, but here again Iago is playing to Othello’s weakness of “thinking men honest that but seem to be so.” A good liar usually tells their lie with some sense of confidence and fortitude, but a great liar incorporates other characteristics into to their fabrication, such as reluctance: “Good my lord, pardon me; though I am bound to every act of duty, I am not bound to that [which] all slaves are free to—utter my thoughts? Why, say they are vile and false? As where’s that palace whereinto foul things sometimes intrude not? Who has a breast so pure but some uncleanly apprehensions keep leets [a high court] and law-days in session sit with meditations lawful?” This confident reluctance in Iago’s words and delivery, appear to translate into true honesty to Othello, yet Iago knows the Moor to have an infirmity distinguishing between seeming honesty and true honesty, and he uses this infirmity of Othello’s to cruel proportions; about as cruel as anywhere in the Shakespeare Canon; the suffocation of an innocent and pure and loving wife; the gentle Desdemona.

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10 thoughts on “Othello and Iago’s Manipulation

  1. Pingback: Friday Two Cents: The Play’s The Thing | Paul Gauchi

  2. Interesting to read, thank you!

    There are a number of words, though, I find confusing, as they seem related (via sound or some idea) to what I believe is your meaning, but are not quite apt. A few examples are ‘fore-granted’ (instead of ‘for granted’), ‘preys to’ (‘preys on’) and ‘short-sided’ (‘short-sighted’). Other words I’d suggest looking up are ‘superlative’ and ‘fortitude’ – or did you mean courage rather than strength, with the latter?

    Re. the interpretation, I think the first line of your first Shakespeare quote (He hath a person…) refers to Michael Cassio, not Othello. Iago is saying that Cassio is the kind of chap that makes other men jealous, being attractive to women (to the point of luring them into being false). Then he goes on to mention ‘the Moor’, as Cassio’s attractiveness combined with Othello’s gullibility/naivety feeds into his plans.

    Thanks for stimulating my little grey cells!

    • i appreciate your insight, but i reread the post and it makes sense. Iago is trying to make Othello believe that Cassio and Desdemona are secretly in love with each other. On another note trifling grammatical variations are unimportant to me.

      • Lol – talking actual meaning of words, not grammar (but seeing that does mean knowing the meaning of the word ‘grammar’). Also, how does “he has the body and smooth talk that makes people suspicious of him – built to seduce women (make women adulterous)” come to be about Othello? If it said ‘to suspect’ rather than ‘to be suspected’, it might mean, he, Othello, has a personality and smooth disposition (why ‘smooth’?) that makes him think women false, but this is a twisting of older words to modern meaning and makes no sense of ‘to be suspected’. If you can put the actual words into your words, specifically, though, perhaps I would be able to see your perspective. I always love to see Shakespeare’s work in a new light, so I am genuinely interested, not ‘flaming’ or some such thing.

      • it means Othello is jealous and self-conscious (probably from the stigma of the time) of black men being considered unhandsome, and he has probably been wronged before by other women, since Iago mentions that in the text. He simply does NOT trust women.

  3. Laughing at self now – grammatically, I should have written ‘make’ not ‘makes’, re. body and smooth talk. But then, Shakey himself was way before Victorian strictures on spelling and grammar. Meaning of words, though, is important, but can be played about with, of course – to the enrichment of our language. Now, I should probably go rest, given it’s 2.40am for me!

  4. That meaning makes great psychological sense, but what I am asking is: what did Shakespeare actually write?

    Your thoughts about what is going on make a lot of sense, but they are based on other parts of the text and not specific to that particular sentence. The understanding we have comes from the text, so returning to it is very important. You say you reread the post, but did you reread the original text? He has been talking about Cassio and considering how to make use of him and of his being a handsome man. The person he speaks of is clearly ‘to be suspected’. He then goes on to mention ‘the Moor’ – the new subject. Really, though, if you can make the actual words fit what you are meaning, I’d be very interested and open-minded about that. At the moment, it seems you are taking an understanding of the characters and situation – which you do have – but putting a loose interpretation on the actual words.

    As an actor, I know exactly how important the specific meaning of the words, sentences, thoughts, text really is, but probably we are approaching the script with different emphases.

    Anyway, good night for now!

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