A couple of months ago my parents hired a magician for my little brother’s birthday party. Ivan the Incredible specialized in optical illusions with cards and coin tricks, which was a little hard for the group of eight year olds to grasp but most entertaining for myself and several adults. When I began reading Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago’s antics reminded me of Ivan the Incredible and how someone can trick you to believe something is true when it really isn’t.
Appearance versus reality plays a huge role in Othello, and constantly surfaces as a main theme in Iago’s magnificent ability and experience in deceiving fellow characters causing an extra twist to the plot. Iago is the main manipulator of reality to change the appearance of a situation into something that benefits him. This is seen when Iago tricks Othello into believing Cassio and Othello’s wife, Desdemona are having an affair. Iago tricks Roderigo into killing Casio through his manipulation of reality.
Also, Iago thickens the lie by planting a gift from Othello to Desdemona in Cassio’s house and also pretends to have a conversation about Desdemona with Cassio while Othello look on but cannot hear. Which of course, are all actions needed to be taken for his master plan to work out correctly. Shakespeare’s play, Othello tells the audience the story of a very successful General of Venice, Othello and how has was deceived by someone he believe to be an honest man, Iago, his ensign. The plot speeds up quickly Othello promotes Cassio instead of Iago.
Iago vows revenge and slowly convinces Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity with Cassio, the lieutenant to whom Othello had given the position Iago had sought. Iago also gets Roderigo to help him in his evil plan by telling him that he can have Desdemona if he helps get rid of Cassio. Oblivious to Iago’s master plan Othello is ultimately a victim of his own naivete. It all starts when Iago plants a little seed of suspicion into Othello’s mind about Desdemona. Iago states, I speak not yet of proof.
Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio; Wear your eye thus, not jealous nor secure: I would not have your free and noble nature, out of self-bounty, be abused; look to’t: I know our country disposition well; In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks they dare not show their husbands; their best conscience is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown. (III. iii. 196-204) For the rest of the play all of Othello’s suspicions about innocent Desdemona are built upon this bug Iago has planted in Othello’s ear.
Eventually, Othello confronted Desdemona and Emilia (Desdemona’s companion) about the situation Iago informed him of but it was already too late because his mind was already made up. However, he genuinely believe his ensign would never do such a thing, as he stated, “I think thou dost; and, for I know thou’rt full of love and honesty” (III. iii. 117-118). Instead of Iago just coming to Othello and saying, “Cassio is sleeping with Desdemona, ” he made it more believable by pretending he really didn’t want to tell Othello of his suspicions and acted as if he was trying to protect Othello from jealousy.
Of course, Iago’s actions only increased Othello’s desire to know what Iago thought which worked perfectly for Iago’s plan. Iago knows very well that trust and deceit go together in order for him to complete his master plan. So the whole time he plans Othello’s downfall he is continually trying to get his undoubting trust. Slowly but surely he poisons people’s thoughts, creating ideas in their heads without implicating himself. Iago even says himself that the advice he gives is free and honest which makes people believe him even more! Another one of the main people Iago deceives is Roderigo.
Throughout the play, Iago tells him that he hates Othello and that Roderigo should make some money so he could give gifts to Desdemona, who Roderigo admires from afar. Without even a second thought, Roderigo sells his land and uses all his savings to buy gifts for Desdemona. However, Iago is actually keeping the gifts that Roderigo plans to give Desdemona for himself. Eventually, Roderigo begins to catch on to the act and confronts Iago, but he falls right into Iago’s trap again when he tells him that killing Cassio will help him win over Desdemona because Desdemona is falling more in love with Cassio.
Roderigo is then led to his death by the hands of “Honest Iago” when he draws his sword hoping to kill Roderigo while Roderigo is fighting Cassio. The next incident which furthers Iago’s plan is when Othello sees Cassio walking away very quickly after conversing with Desdemona. To make sure Othello does not get suspicious, Iago whispers, “…I cannot think it, that he would steal away so guilty like. ” (lll,iii,42) Othello then replies, “…I do believe ‘twas he. ” (lll,iii,44) Othello believes what he sees to be the truth even though he didn’t hear what was said.
This instance is only the beginning of the lies that he sees from afar. However, Iago does not stop there because he cannot predict every time the two will meet. Therefore, he decides to manipulate Othello’s feelings for Desdemona again. There are a few people who know of the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona when they began courting. In fact, Cassio was there when she received it and Desdemona promised to never leave it out of her sight. But, that all changed when Othello yelled at her the first time and she dropped it.
Emilia, (her companion and Iago’s wife) picked it up and brought it to her husband which only furthered Iago’s horrible scheme and little does she know, “Emilia is just another pawn in his game” (Polymath). “Iago’s deception depends on the image of the handkerchief in Cassio’s hand, and he achieves this image not only through description, but by directing the actions of Cassio and Bianca by showing that the handkerchief is no longer in Desdemona’s possession” (Smith 33). Once Iago had the handkerchief in his possession he planted it in Cassio’s home hoping Othello would find it or Cassio would use it in front of Othello.
Iago tells Othello he will start a conversation with Cassio about Desdemona and all the proof he will need shall be there. Iago places Othello where he can see but cannot hear. Iago then starts a conversation with Cassio about Bianca. However, it appears to Othello that Cassio is talking in a sexual way about Desdemona. In reality, Iago places Cassio in a position to talk about how he really feels about Bianca. Othello sees this from afar and says in shock, “Crying, ‘O dear Cassio,’ as it were, his gesture imports it. (lll,i,155) Othello believes the appearance of the conversation, which for him is all the evidence he needs. Now, since Othello trusts Iago, he believes everything Iago says to him and trusts his opinions, even though they are in reality, lies.
Iago supports everything he has led Othello to believe and never wavers from his thoughts or offers the benefit of the doubt because he doesn’t want to make Othello doubt him especially after he gained his trust. “Because he wants material proof, he equates love with a handkerchief which in its very aterial certainty is most subject to chance. Thus the plot ironically emphasizes that his desire for certainty renders him most subject to chance, operating on the most trivial levels, as well as to Iago’s malevolent manipulation of it” (Stockholder 256). In the end, Othello kills Desdemona because he couldn’t take the thought of her being with another man and lying to him when she was really truthful. Then Emilia tells Othello the truth behind the handkerchief and how her husband, Iago is evil before she is killed by Iago.
Roderigo also dies from his wounds inflicted while fighting Cassio and unknowingly fighting Iago. Othello then kills himself when the realities of all those appearances are brought to the light. Appearance versus reality is a recurring theme throughout the play. By jumping to conclusions and not getting both sides of the story Othello and Roderigo fall to their own demise. If they would have for one second thought, “Honest Iago” to not be entirely honest the events of the play surely would have been different.
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