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How does Iago manipulate Othello?

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Being the most dangerous Shakespeare’s villain, Iago, hurts a lot of characters. The most vulnerable Iago’s victim is Othello. Seeking revenge, the villain plots an evil plan against the Moor. Taking advantage of Othello’s naivety, Iago convinces him of his wife’s betrayal. To make his position stronger, the villain presents physical evidence – Desdemona’s handkerchief.

Detailed answer:

Iago plays the role of the ultimate villain of Shakespeare’s play Othello. Why? Because his skillful persuasion techniques help him in tricking people around him. Ultimately, Iago’s manipulation serves as the main reason for Desdemona’s tragic death. Iago’s evil plan against Cassio pushes overly trusting Othello to murder his innocent wife.

The first tool Iago uses is verbal manipulation. Throughout the plot development, the villain detects Othello’s weak sides and pushes them. Using Othello’s fatal flaw of naivety, Iago persuades the Moor that Desdemona is cheating with Cassio. However, Iago does not express his concerns straightforwardly. Instead, he voices his idea of the betrayal hesitantly and then withdraws from it by saying:

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
it is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!”
(Act 3, scene 1)

Iago does not directly imply Desdemona’s connection with Cassio. It makes Othello assume that there is a secret romantic involvement. However, the Moor does not suspect any ill intent from Iago’s side. As a result, Othello’s jealousy triggered by Iago escalates the plot.

The second crucial element of Iago’s plan is physical evidence. The villain improves his crafted scenario of Desdemona’s betrayal by exploiting the symbol of Othello’s love, the handkerchief. The Moor tells about the accessory’s background:

“That handkerchief
Did an Egyptian to my mother give;
She was a charmer, and could almost read
The thoughts of people: she told her, while
she kept it,
[…]
And bid me, when my fate would have me wive,
To give it her. I did so: and take heed on’t;
Make it a darling like your precious eye;
To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition
As nothing else could match.”
(Act 3, scene 4)

For Desdemona, this handkerchief is essential. Being concerned about its disappearance, the woman proclaims:

“I ne’er saw this before.
Sure, there’s some wonder in this handkerchief:
I am most unhappy in the loss of it.”
(Act 3, scene 4)

In act 4, Iago steals the handkerchief and hides it in Cassio’s belongings. Eventually, Othello finds his love token at Cassio. As a result, his belief in Desdemona’s betrayal strengthens. Innocent Desdemona is desperately trying to persuade Othello in her loyalty:

“I never did
Offend you in my life; never loved Cassio
But with such general warranty of heaven
As I might love: I never gave him token.”
(Act 5. scene 1)

Nevertheless, Othello is blinded by his jealousy. He mercilessly kills his wife without even realizing his fatal mistake.

Overall, the main tools of Iago’s manipulation are:

  • Physical evidence of a handkerchief
  • Verbal manipulation
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