othello essay

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In Shakespeare’s Othello, the character Iago, Othello’s lieutenant, is the cause of all the tragedy which comes to pass as the play progresses. Iago is the antagonist of the play, but rather than being the direct opponent to the tragic hero, Iago is a manipulator, opposing Othello not directly but through other characters whom he tricks into acting for him.
In thefirst scene of the play, Iago gives the audience warning that he is not all that he seems when he says, “I am not what I am.” (I,i,65) He isfirst seen in this scene appearing to help Roderigo, a suitor to Desdemona, who has run off with Othello, the Moorish general of the Venician army. Iago hates Othello for another reason. Instead of choosing him to be his lieutenant, Othello chose Cassio, another foreigner, and relegated Iago to the position of his ancient. When Roderigo asks why Iago continues to serve Othello, in spite of how the general has treated him, Iago replies, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.” (I,i,42) He goes on to give an example of how he intends to serve him, by acting like the perfect servant, while secretly enriching himself, and later says, “In following him, I follow but myself.” (I,i,58)
From this, one might think that he is still fairly straightforward in his plans, that he merely intends to betray Othello at some later date. However, in the third scene, he shows the audience his ability to manipulate people, when he convinces Roderigo to follow him to Cyprus and to bring all of his money, presumably to win back Desdemona. After Roderigo has left to do what Iago has suggested, Iago says, “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” (I,iii,37 y9) Later, in Act IV, we find that Roderigo has been giving jewels to Iago to give to Desdemona, which Iago, it is implied, has sold for his own uses. Thus, it is seen that Iago is merely using Roderigo to further his own ends, just as he said he was only serving Othello to serve himself.