“Honest Iago “–just think of the numerous times his honesty is referred to in the play–tries whenever possible to tell the truth, so much so that sometimes when he does tell a lie he will actually admit it. For example, after he deftly manipulates the “truth” by using a conditional interrogative to provoke Othello’s jealousy, “What if I had said I had seen him do you wrong?”, Iago creates chaos because Othello’s imagination and assumptions lead him to believe Cassio has actually admitted an affair with Desdemona–even when Iago admits he is only asking “what if” and really doesn’t know the truth”. (Ancona, 2005)
Examples such as these illustrate that Iago does not blatantly hate his master Othello. A liberal interpretation of the play could even lead to the conclusion that Iago does no more than caution his master on reasonable suspicions and that much of Othello’s misery and tragedy is of his own making.
The famous English poet T. E. Coleridge made a remarkable observation when he talked of Iago’s apparent “motiveless malignity”. While this assessment is true to an extent, a sounder understanding of Iago’s underlying motives for his conspiratorial acts can be attained by scrutinizing his interactions with individual characters in the play (Bloom, 1987). Among his dialogues in the play, the ones with Desdemona is of special significance. The passage in the play in question is the interlude in which Desdemona entices the time-period before Othello’s arrival at Cyprus by asking Iago how he would praise different kinds of women. As Karl Zender points out, “Often in Shakespeare the inconsequentiality of an episode relative to a play’s plot alerts us to its significance in other terms. There is no plot reason, why Othello’s ship need not arrive later than Desdemona’s for any plot reason (it in fact left Venice earlier); so Shakespeare must have had other reasons for including the delay–perhaps to allow time to develop nuances of character, theme, and motive that he could not conveniently develop elsewhere”. (Karl F. Zender)
Another passage of interest is the exclamation is when Iago shouts “Divinity of Hell”. This phrase has a parallel to Desdemona’s framed beauty that despite its goodness can be quite evil and Iago’s course of action. Iago continues with “When devils will the blackest sins put on/ They do suggest at first with heavenly shows/ As I do now.” Zender adds, that “this assertion is as much a comment on what he intends to do as it is a comment on Desdemona. The way Iago sees it, Desdemona’s heavenly show can be a frame that contains the most devilish of black sins. And look at how successful that frame has been! Her beautiful frame has completely “enfettered” as great a warrior as Othello. Succinctly, what Iago is confessing here is that he’s learned how to be evil from Desdemona.” (Karl F. Zender)
Hence, in conclusion, one can see how the question ‘Why does Iago hate Othello?’ is open ended and full of possibilities. The scholarly inputs enumerated in this essay is an attempt to delineate the more plausible and probable reasons for Iago’s behavior toward Othello, while still leaving space for further scholarly inquiry in this area.
Ancona, F. A. (2005). “Honest” Iago and the Evil Nature of Words. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 26(1-2), 44+.
Bloom, H. (Ed.). (1987). William Shakespeare”s Othello. New York: Chelsea House.
Evans, R. C. (2001). Flattery in Shakespeare’s Othello: The Relevance of Plutarch and Sir Thomas Elyot. Comparative Drama, 35(1), 1+.
Grady, H. (1995). Iago and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Reason, Will and Desire in ‘Othello.’. Criticism, 37(4), 537+.
Hall, J. L. (1999). Othello A Guide to the Play. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Hunt, M. (2003). Shakespeare’s Venetian Paradigm: Stereotyping and Sadism in the Merchant of Venice and Othello. Papers on Language & Literature, 39(2), 162.
Rosenberg, M. (1961). The Masks of Othello The Search for the Identity of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona by Three Centuries of Actors and Critics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Zender, K. F. (1994). The Humiliation of Iago. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 34(2), 323+.