Othello is a play about a black man in a white man’s world. In Act I we never identify Othello until scene II, when Roderigo says “signor it is the moor.” Our initial perception of Othello is greatly influenced by Iago and his view of the moor. Through Iago, Shakespeare manipulates our perception of Othello until we are in left in amazement at the confidence of the Moor in scene II.
Iago is a public servant with a complex and mysterious private life. Act I begins with Iago and end with an important soliloquy by Iago. In scene I, Iago’s first like is “…If ever I did dream of such a matter abhor me.” Although we are not aware at the time, he refers to the moor, and harbors far from affectionate feelings as an ancient towards his employer; he calls him “thick lips”. As Iago’s speech ends Act I, he clearly professes his hate for Othello. “I hate the moor.”
Iago, the master puppeteer in Act I demonstrates his manipulative characteristics. In scene I he instigates Roderigo to wake Brabantio. At this point of the play, Iago’s sense of practicality is revealed. Iago well aware that having an affair with the senator’s daughter is not strong enough a reason to get the moor dismissed, he conveniently, “show(s) out a flag and sign of love.”(To the moor) Iago proves true to his character and swears by Janus, the Roman two-faced god of beginnings.
Iago’s character cannot forgive or forget. Driven by revenge for not being promoted over a mere mathematician, Iago “follows” the moor to “serve my turn upon him.” At the end of Act I Iago reveals that he has been cuckolded. “It is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets.” This fuels the argument that Iago’s intentions are to get revenge for being humiliated publicly and at home.
Iago also has a very derogatory attitude towards women. He states in a seemingly direct manner that Desdemona shall soon get bored with Othello, as she is young and fickle minded. ” I would drown myself for the love of a guinea – hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon.” This also raises the question of whether Iago hates all women in general or is disillusioned due to the shame suffered at home, or, Does he hate Desdemona in particular or even more interestingly is Iago a homosexual?
One of the more positive characteristics of Iago is that he is man of action, this is brought to light in
Scene III when a depressed and crushed Roderigo turns to Iago for help, once again Roderigo admits to Iago that he is so broken-hearted that he would rather kill himself than to live in internal torment. ” ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus and thus “, Iago states swiftly. Iago’s belief in taking action for what he believes in, the this case what has wronged him, leads to slight feelings of sympathy towards him from the reader (audience).
“Go make money” “put but money in thy purse,” “fill thy purse with money”. Iago tells Roderigo ten times during a single exchange to arrange for money. In Act I scene I Roderigo commences the play with “…Iago, who hast my purse as if the strings were thine…” By the end of Act I the reader is still not fully aware if the reference to purse strings is related to any financial transactions between Roderigo and Iago. Iago being a money hungry ensign in search of a life of wealth and luxury does seem a possibility, but yet there is no concrete proof to support this belief.
“I am not what I am.” Who is Iago? The above statement makes it very difficult to analyze this shrewd, yet very dynamic character. What are his real motives? Is there ever an instance in the play where he doesn’t lie? At the end of Act I, the reader can with confidence believe that Iago does hate the moor. And will get or at least try to get his revenge. Act I arouses a lot of “what if, ” and “maybe”, questions about Iago’s character. As a reader I can state it is the depth and multi dimensional portrayal of Iago’s character by Shakespeare that makes Othello a very intriguing play, and leaves the reader thinking, What next?