Iago is a character in Shakespeare’s play, Othello. He is a senior officer in the Venetian army under the command of its general, Othello.

Iago is very popular among the characters in the play. He is valued for his loyalty and there is a consensus that he is very honest and straightforward and, in fact, he is repeatedly greeted as ‘honest Iago,’ and spoken of with the same language. All the main characters turn to him for help and advice with their problems.

Kenneth Brannagh looking at the camera in brown tunic as Othello

Kenneth Brannagh as Iago in Oliver Parker’s 1995 Othello

He is charming and clever and funny, and great company, and right at the centre of the military community on Cyprus, where the army has been sent to deter the Turks from an attack on Venice. He lends a sympathetic ear to everyone as they pour out their problems to him and solicit his help.

What they don’t know is that he is actually the cause of their problems and that the more information they give him the more ammunition they are supplying him with to be used against them.

The character qualities listed above are all fake. He is, in fact, hypocritical, manipulative, cruel, unsympathetic, vicious and, in fact, murderous.

Iago is a very modern character in that he has been diagnosed by critics as a psychopath or a sociopath, or an extreme narcissist. Remarkably, Shakespeare created that character some four hundred years before psychologists began to describe the characteristics of psychopaths and sociopaths. Iago’s behaviour is very much like a case history of what we would recognise as a psychopath.

Iago’s symptoms, if one can talk about his character in that way, are that he is devoid of any conscience and any antipathy. He sees other human beings only as objects that can be manoeuvred, moved around according to where he wants to place them. And whatever their suffering is as a result of his manipulations, he feels no remorse.

Iago sets out to destroy Othello. The question that we can’t help asking is, why? It is not only Othello who is destroyed but several other characters too, although Othello is his main target.

The answer is that it’s not clear. What is clear is that he enjoys the suffering of others, even though he may not want to get anything out of it apart from pleasure. On two occasions his soliloquies offer some insight but only confuse his motives further. At one point he suggests that Othello has slept with his wife, Emelia, although that’s easily dismissible. At another point he reveals some bitterness that he has been overlooked for promotion when Michael Cassio is made second in command instead. It is better not to search for reasons but simply to accept that he just wants to destroy the happiness of others.

The action centres on his plot against Othello. As it advances the other characters are drawn in. Othello, a black man, has gained the love of Desdemona, daughter of a wealthy citizen. They marry in secret and although that is frowned upon by the city authorities Othello is a military hero and Venice is in deep trouble. Othello is the only man who can stop an invasion by the Turks so they let his behaviour pass and even give permission for Desdemona to accompany the troops to Cyprus.

Iago decides that the way to destroy Othello is by convincing him that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him. He will kill two birds with one stone and make Othello believe that the man she is being unfaithful with is Michael Cassio.

Knowing that Cassio’s weak point is that he reacts badly to alcohol, Iago makes him drunk in a pub and Cassio becomes aggressive and violent. Othello intervenes and demotes Cassio. Cassio appeals to Desdemona to ask Othello to reinstate him. Iago pretends to be Cassio’s friend and advisor in that. Cassio in Othello’s mind. He works hard on that and manufactures ‘evidence’ of the affair.

Othello reveals his weak point, which his jealousy. Her goes mad with jealousy and, encouraged by Iago, finally strangles Desdemona. When he is made to see that it is Iago’s villainy that has brought this tragedy about and that Desdemona was innocent, he kills himself.

Iago is arrested and taken back to Venice where he is to be imprisoned and tortured for what he has done.

Common Questions About Iago

Is Iago in love with Desdemona?

Iago is not in love with Desdemona. He tries to understand why he wants to destroy Othello beyond an irrational hatred of him. He suggests that Othello has slept with his wife at one point. At another point, he bemoans the fact that he has been overlooked for promotion, and he briefly considers that he may be in love with Desdemona but dismisses that very quickly.

Is Iago in love with Othello?

There is no suggestion whatsoever in the play that Iago might be in love with Othello

Why was Iago jealous?

Iago is not jealous of anyone. He has a personality problem in that he takes delight in making people suffer and watching that suffering. All his efforts are directed towards that.

Why does Iago kill his wife?

At the climax of the play, it is Iago’s wife, Emilia who exposes him. After Othello has strangled Desdemona and the Venetian councillors are trying to understand what has happened Emilia accuses Iago. He tells her to be quiet and go home but she becomes even more vociferous. Iago takes out his sword and kills her.

Does Iago die, and who kills Iago?

Iago does not die in the play. While his main victims die he survives. He is taken back to Venice and imprisoned.

Top Iago Quotes

For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart (act 1, scene 1)

In complement extern ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at I am not what I am.
(act 1, scene 1)

Put money in thy purse. (act 1, scene 3)

Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. (act 1, scene 3)

I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
‘Has done my office. I know not if ‘t be true,
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. (act 1, scene 3)

When devils will the blackest sins put on
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows
(act 2, scene 3)

And what’s he then that says I play the villain? (act 2, scene 3)

Read more about Shakespeare’s Othello play


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