Shakespeare’s Othello provides a clear depiction of the wickedness of the human soul, and how people can commit evils against their fellow men. The character Iago seeks from the very beginning of the show to cause Othello as much pain as possible and eventually brings about the destruction of his person and soul. Much of the play shows how Iago uses people as pawns in his plans to undo Othello. The closest thing to Othello’s heart is Desdemona, his newly-minted wife. Iago is committed above all else to destroy Desdemona because she is the closest and most powerful pressure point to Othello’s heart and mind.
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From the beginning of the play, Iago lays out his plan to destroy and undermine Othello. For example, at the end of Act I, he lays out his plan to the audience: “to abuse Othello’s ear/ That he is too familiar with his wife./ He hath a person and a smooth dispose of / To be suspected, framed to make women false” (1.3). In other words, Iago intends to use Desdemona as a pressure point to wound Othello by making him believe that she has been unfaithful to him. His other schemes are merely methods of achieving that goal. Desdemona is the closest avenue to getting to the Moor’s heart. Iago comments to Roderigo that he follow him to serve my turn upon him (1.1)” In other words, Iago is still following Othello in order to do him eventual harm.
There also seems to be some vague desire on Iago’s behalf to own the Moor, possibly even romantically. For example, Iago comments to the audience that he wants to “Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me. For making him egregiously an ass (2.1)” Indeed, some commentators believe that one of Iago’s prime motivations is that he desires Othello for himself, and therefore needs to eliminate his competition (clicknotes.com). If Iago does desire Othello sexually or romantically, then one of his prime motivations to destroy Desdemona is not only to hurt Othello but also to eliminate one of the obstacles towards the satiation of his desires.
Iago argues that hurting a man’s physical being or taking his possessions is not enough to totally undermine him. To that end, he tells Othello “who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed (3.1).” In other words, it wasn’t enough for Iago to kill Othello or to rob him of his possessions, but rather to take from him the thing that was most dear to him: his love for Desdemona. By tainting that pride, Iago successfully ruins him much more than he would be able to if he didn’t completely destroy Desdemona. In other words, Iago uses Desdemona as a way to get at the very essence of Othello.
Iago uses Desdemona to feed Othello’s jealousy which finally drives him to the point of wanting to kill the one that he loves. Directly to Othello “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on (3.3).” Desdemona becomes that green-eyed monster for Othello after Iago taints his opinion of her.
By manipulating the circumstances in his favor, Iago has successfully turned the object of desire into the object of torment. This end could have only been achieved by destroying Desdemona. By channeling jealousy, Iago is not only satiating his desire to wound Othello, but he is also bringing to fruition his own prophecy about jealousy consuming the previously impenetrable man.
Another reason that Iago wants to destroy Desdemona is to prove his point about the wickedness of womankind. Bloomfield suggests that Iago’s own notion of the impurity of the female sex is one of the reasons that he works so hard to bring that conclusion to Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. In fact, it seems that Iago implies Othello has had his way with his own wife, further serving to rationalize his hatred of women: “The only reason for his actions which Iago gives in his soliloquies is a vague rumor that Othello has slept with his wife” (Bloomfield).
In essence, Iago was venting his own anger towards women while at the same time encouraging his vengeance against Othello. Another facet to consider would be the perceived sexual inequality that could be at play. If Iago considers Othello a threat to his sexual dominance over his wife, it gives him even more inspiration to bring about his demise. This also furthers the stereotype of the African male as sexually dominant to the white male.
Desdemona is the node at which all the machinations of Iago’s plan collide. Since Othello is surrounded by people who could desire Desdemona and Othello is worried about having a wife that is not the same race as him, to begin with, Iago has chosen the perfect way to get to Othello’s heart. Iago chooses to commence the destruction of Desdemona to strike the most severe blow possible against Othello. By bringing about the destruction of Othello, he works on the most powerful pressure point that he knows about and is able to seek his vengeance. Furthermore, Iago is able to bring about his own vengeance against the female sex. Overall, Iago can use Desdemona as a vehicle for his wrath and ends up successfully destroying him to his very core.
“Othello Navigator: Themes: Romantic Love.” Shakespeare Navigators. 2009. Web.
“Iago’s Motivation: The Reasons Behind the Villain in Shakespeare’s Othello.” Suite101. 2009. Web.