The Brilliance of Iago

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In the play Othello by William Shakespeare, Iago stands out to be a character full of brilliance and wit. He has been crucial in building the plot of the essay. He has left the longest lasting, strongest and the sharpest impression in the play, compared even to Othello himself. He is, of course, the most exciting and memorable character of the story. In the play, Othello is less pronounced in comparison to Iago. In fact, Iago should have been the general instead of Othello.

The play talks much about Iago and the extent to which he ends bringing destruction and havoc to the other characters. He, however, does this intelligently without the others learning his intentions. We can argue that maybe the play itself could have been called Iago’s Brilliance, or perhaps the Apocalypse of Iago. However, Shakespeare uses the title “Othello”, so as not to make it too obvious. Othello is the military commander, and thus, the hero, according to his position, as the story unfolds, Iago comes out to be the hero, and the most spectacular character. However, what perception would the audience have when it was named so? They would start guessing how it would unfold. Shakespeare uses the title to make the play more creative, and so that it can have a lot of suspense.

In fact, “Othello” does not reveal the real characters and intentions of Iago. What seals his fate is more of his genius, rather than his emotions. One would not understand him well without going beyond the mere scenes in the play. His focus is not on committing evil, but his great brilliance is what leads to the death of all the people and himself. It is also clear that he can rise in ranks due to his level of cleverness. No literature work has been able to assert that Iago was after revenge as most of his actions leave more questions than answers. His wish to revenge cannot be the cause of all the misery he brings in the play when almost everyone finally dies.

This paper is an in-depth study of the brilliance of Iago. The paper attempts to analyze the valid reasons for his actions. It depicts Iago as an overly bright person who is even able to change the art of war from the traditional to modern warfare where people fight with the brains. The paper reveals Iago as an exemplary character who has a stronger and more military speech than Othello himself. The article pinpoints the fact that the actions carried out by Iago are not out of jealousy or the desire to revenge, as in most cases his motives leave the audience in confusion.

The Background of the Character of Iago

As the play begins, Iago works under Othello. He is a general in the Venetian republic’s army. Cassio is made the lieutenant. The wife of Othello is Desdemona, while Iago is married to Emilia. Cassio is not married, but there are speculations that he has a mistress. Roderigo positions himself as a nobleman in Venetia. He is in love with Desdemona. When Othello appoints Cassio in a higher rank and leaves Iago, he makes a plan. He makes Othello become jealous of Cassio. He involves Roderigo tangentially. He succeeds in confusing and manipulating the characters making Othello aggressive. Othello makes an order to him that he must kill Cassio. It ends that Roderigo is the one who dies when he carries out the order. Cassio only succumbs to a wound. Othello kills his wife because of the accusations leveled against her.

To bring to understanding the fact that Iago is essentially a bright person, but not after wealth, power, or revenge, there is a need to understand the intentions behind his actions. It is true that in most cases, he is the cause of some evil, but then why does he cause it? What is his plan? Perhaps his actions are the most fascinating thing about Iago, whose intentions cannot be easily identified by the other characters. Most of the characters trust him and think he is working for their good. The audience of the play would somewhat be left wondering his intentions. Which force propels him towards the actions? He does not portray any obvious and robust rationale that the audience can use in judging him. Such character is acting without a clear motive, but manages to unify people for what destroys them later only appears in soap operas. Even if it is, one leads to point out his purpose in the single actions, one by one, it is not possible for one to quickly mention his general motive as a whole. This reveals a completely brilliant character, who, by all means, you can never quite understand and comprehend his thoughts and line of actions - they are only a subject to series of speculations.

It can be quickly ruled out that the act of Emilia deceiving Iago with Othello as the overriding motive, as Iago behaves differently towards her until it reaches a point when she says she will make a revelation of his intentions. Iago’s killing of Emilia does not indicate jealousy. It can also not be concluded that Iago hated Emilia for cheating on him because there is a misunderstanding why he related it to Othello. Iago makes an open declaration that he admires Goya, but does not attend her exhibition leaving a lot of doubt. Naturally, as Goya’s admirer, he should have attended her show, but he did not. He does not explain why this happened. The audience is left wondering as to whether he has hate because he prefers one over the other, but again, it does not make any sense why he has to bring Desdemona in the picture, and also to suffer. We are left wondering why he had to cause misery even to Cassio. The audience does not also understand why Iago had to make a persuasion to Cassio to take the life of Roderigo and not Othello, if he had a revenge mission on Othello at all. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, and his only interest was she, so it leaves us wondering why Cassio also had to succumb. The motive of Iago is also in question when he shows no sympathy for Desdemona after she dies innocently, when he is the cause.

One may try to speculate Iago’s intentions. However, it may be difficult to comprehend all the actions of Iago in the play. Perhaps Iago does not intend to do what he does, but finds himself doing it. It is, therefore, quite clear from the apparent lack of motive in the actions of Iago that he was not driven by the desire to commit a crime, but a great brilliance that made it easy to manipulate others. It is funny that in all these circumstances, none of the characters realized him intending to do any ill and gave him trust. At any given point, the each of the other characters is of the idea that he wants to help them, thus making it easy for him to destroy them using his wit.

Iago’s Control over Othello

Othello views Iago with much receptivity due to his great brilliance. Though Othello is in a higher position than Iago, he is in an extreme fear of him. He considers him a poison. He is also absorbed by the trusts he gives Iago, as he considers him a good advisor. He trusts Iago just as much as he loves Desdemona. Iago fully understands his weaknesses, and thus, wages brain warfare against him. He makes a change in the traditional warfare and uses his great brilliance to rule over the mind of Othello, though Othello is his master. He, in fact, becomes the master of Othello. The good name of Othello is nothing to him. According to the play, his speeches were more eloquent than that of Cassio who was Othello’s choice, and more military embodied than Othello’s (Jacobsen 510). However, he is a problem himself, but Othello does not detect anything. Othello’s quickly succumbs to the whispers from Iago, and Iago takes control of his thinking. Of course, Iago appears in a very honest way that Othello can in no way doubt his intentions. The presence of Iago makes Othello keel over as the time goes by, and he does this again and again. Othello is now dependent on Iago, yet Iago becomes independent. In fact, Othello goes to an extent of letting Cassio to woo Desdemona on his behalf. His marriage to Desdemona looks just like a social relationship, but not an institution of love. There is, in fact, no much intimacy in their relationship. Indeed Iago is of a great brilliance in the way he subdues Othello who is a man of a higher authority. He is also the one who leads him to his downfall.

Iago’s Deceptive Nature as a Show of Brilliance

In the play “Othello” by William Shakespeare, Iago uses his great brilliance to constantly deceive and manipulate the other characters. Bradley, after noticing his series of lies warns that one should not believe in a single syllable from Iago. In any given situation, Iago gets away with the lie and causes mayhem to the subject. He knows exactly where the weaknesses of the others lie and uses it to fool them. The most significant victims of his deception are Roderigo and Othello. He speaks in an honest way, and thus, has the trust of most of the people. It gives him a chance to easily lie to them because of that trust.

Othello has great trust in Iago. He, therefore, uses the trust to make Othello think that Desdemona is not faithful to him (Vickers 80). He accurately judges the weaknesses of Othello before devising the plan to trap him. Othello does not suspect Iago’s motive, as he considers him an adviser and this leads to his downfall. He ends up killing his wife because of jealousy that Iago fills him with. The fact that Othello gets fully convinced is a true picture of Iago’s level of intelligence.

Throughout the play, Roderigo is a victim of Iago’s deceptive nature. Iago takes advantage of his love with Desdemona to dupe him. He is desperate in having Desdemona back. He is ready to sacrifice anything to get her back. Because of this weakness, Iago uses him to bring Othello down. Iago’s actions reveal that he has no conscious for Roderigo. When he is faced with the accusation that he has not been honest in helping Roderigo, he advises him that if he kills Cassio, he will win in getting Desdemona back. In the end, the “honest Iago” causes his death. It is hard to understand the significance of Iago’s deception to Roderigo. We cannot claim that it is his extreme greed for wealth that is driving him, as he takes gifts intended for Desdemona, because he has shown no features of avarice.

Cassio also falls a victim by having so much trust in Iago. He thinks that Iago has a plan of helping him. Iago tries to persuade Cassio to get drunk, so that he can take advantage of him, and thus, bring forth his death. He knows that Cassio has a weakness in protecting his reputation and pride. Roderigo goes to strike Cassio as advised by Iago, making Cassio look like a fool and an irresponsible person. He ends being demoted from the lieutenant position. Cassio is also used by Iago to fill jealousy in Othello of cheating with Desdemona (Saunders 162). He advises Cassio to talk to Desdemona to help in having the job back, as Iago tells him that Desdemona is a dutiful woman who does more than the request given to her. He falls for laying hid trust in Iago. Iago’s wit against him indicates how high Iago’s level of intellectual capacity is.

The Confession by Iago

Iago constantly confesses that he is not who he is. The statement leaves the other characters with much confusion. Trying to interpret this statement would lead to much misery and complications. What does he mean when he says he is not who he seems to be. Shakespeare tries to bring in the aspect of reality versus what the illusion. The difficulty in interpretation of what Iago means indicates that his intelligence is much higher than that of the other characters. Only when it could be possible to understand his actions in all the situations, could it be possible to interpret his statements.

The Fall of Iago

The brilliance of Iago finally leads to his fall. The fascinating thing about him is that he does not apologize for what he has done, but instead takes his life. His action leaves even more questions. If he had a revenge mission, why would he take his life? All the time he professed that he stands for himself, as he believes that he is extremely smart and does not need the input of others for survival. His fall is nothing similar to the cases of the other people as he causes it. He acts as a philosopher. He shows a strength of a character in a wicked way. He can be described as an unnatural monster.

Due to Iago’s belief in intelligence, he ends being exposed by Emilia, his wife. Emilia does this to protect the reputation of the others. He also perishes as she tries to do a customary thing of trying not to let the other’s reputation be destroyed. When she perishes, the spectators are left with no explanation of the true intentions of Iago. She tries confronting Iago, however he again, brings forth her death.


Iago is an extremely brilliant character who easily deceives the others for his interests. His motives are not detected by the subjects. They act with ignorance thinking that Iago is trying to offer them help. It can be evidently proven that, because the motives of Iago are still in the dark, as even speculations can lead nowhere that his driving force is more of brilliance than the desire to take revenge. There is also a limited information in the play that can make one conclude that he was led by avarice in his actions. Neither, can we say that he feels offended by Othello for passing him over, because in that case he would have decided to ascend into power after the collapse of Othello.

He has been able to manipulate most of the characters in the play. He comes out to be more than what meets the eye. He is perceived to be an honest person, but in reality, he is a deceiver. He comes out as a hypocrite.

There is a need to give credit to William Shakespeare for his great ability in bringing out such a great character who presents a great philosopher, who does not need others to make his decision, but can easily manipulate them through the trust they have accorded to him. The theme of appearance verses reality comes out clearer through Iago.


Jacobsen, K. (2009). Iago’s Art of War: The “Machiavellian Moment” in Othello. Modern

Philology (Serial Online), 106 (3), 497-529. Retrieved from

Raatzsch, R. (2009).  The Apologetics of Evil: The Case of Iago. Princeton Monographs in

            Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 115 ISBN: 978–0–691–13733–9.

Saunders, B. (2004). Iago’s Clyster: Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process. Shakespeare

            Quarterly, 55(2), 148-176. Retrieved from

Vickers, B. (1979). Shakespeare’s Hypocrites. Hypocrisy, Illusion, and Evasion, 108(3). 45-83.

            Retrieved from's%20Hypocrites.pdf

August 01, 2023



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