Essay on Othello and His Tragic Downfall

Through the story of Othello by William Shakespeare comes the developmental analysis on the behavior and characteristics of the number one antagonist throughout the telling of the journey through Othello and his tragic downfall. Iago is filled with narcissistic characteristics that are apparent through his villainous actions. These well-developed actions aid in the recognition of his ruthlessness, and his inability to show loyalty. All of these elements in his character tie together to help in his major role in the downfall of Othello and the tragic story of love, lies, betrayal, and regret. 

Iago has many moments in which his weaknesses become prominent to his character development. Iago puts his so-called “friends” down and throws them under the bus in efforts to better himself. All the lies Iago narrates and his constant deceitfulness are portrayed through dramatic irony when he states, “I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offense to Michael Cassio” (Shakespeare II. III. 198-199). This quotation creates dramatic irony because of the fact that as a reader it is known that Iago is lying and is manipulating his way into Othello's vulnerable mind, and using Othello’s trust against him to gain a higher power. 

Iago is willing to go as far as being so manipulative and lying to not only his friend Cassio and the loyal Moor Othello, but also to his wife, Emilia. He tries to portray himself as a loyal, honest man to each and every person around him while in reality, he is betraying those who trust him. What he continues to do with his lies and his dishonor is not only ruthless but cruel and heartless. He carries a lack of remorse for his actions which leads to a conclusion of cruelty and insecurity as well. The way he puts Cassio down continuously pointing out every little flaw and how he is willing to lie about him and not only have an affect on Cassio and his life but also every single person around him.

One thing can cause an absolute uproar in more lives than just one. Iago is willing to risk everything for a position he just simply did not earn. Following Othello’s decision to choose Cassio as his lieutenant, Iago reacted in an extremely vengeful way. Rather than accepting his rejection in becoming Othello’s lieutenant, he chooses to go a different route of getting what he wants no matter who he takes down while doing so. Even if lying and betrayal of his closest loyal friendships, that is what he will do. And so he did exactly that. 

On the other hand, someone could say that Iago proves how he can control those around him through his actions. His behavior became a piece of him that one could view as determined and passionate resulting in the ultimate acceptance of his actions by the audience because he deserves to be lieutenant; however, he does this the wrong way. While Iago is trying to prove to Othello that he is the better one for the job of his Lieutenant, he goes to lengths that are hard to believe one would go to in order to change the perspective Othello has on the noble Cassio. He makes a claim in which he refers to Cassio’s ability to be a good husband and a man in control when he states, “ Michael Cassio, a Florentine (A fellow almost damned in a fair wife) That never set a squadron in the field” (I. I. 20-23). This here shows in translation how Iago feels as though Cassio has a pretty wife, but he lacks the ability to control her and he uses this to help give support to his claim of Cassio not being fit to overtake the role of lieutenant and be over other people with control if he cannot control his own wife. In retrospect, in the opinion of Iago, Cassio is not as “powerful” or high enough to reign control over others and replace him (Iago). 

Another way Iago shows his betrayal towards everyone around him is the way his deceit towards his wife, Emilia, leads to the exploitation and destruction of her and her own reputation. Her reputation of being a loyal friend is affected when she is unknowingly sticking up for someone who is in the wrong. She has insane amounts of trust for Iago, so much that she allows love and lies to blind her vision of the truth. Iago and his intentions lead Emilia, Desdemona, and Cassio to have a mild exchange in regard to the situation at hand. Emilia states, “Good Madam, do. I warrant it grieves my husband as if the cause were his” (III. III. 3-4). In translation, Emilia feels as though sorry for Iago for his feelings and emotional portrayal of sadness on behalf of Cassio and his predicament. While in reality, Iago is the true villain who is responsible for causing all of this to happen yet he is willing to allow his wife to believe the false claims he so ruthlessly makes throughout his evil scheme of a plot. It is very striking to recognize the extreme lack of remorse portrayed once again in another scenario and how his lies continue to affect others and cause them to lie without knowledge due to his misery and jealousy. 

Iago creates extreme instances in which he lies by omission. He knowingly fails to correct misconceptions in order to make himself look better. He speaks to Othello in a way that seems as though the final conclusion is up in the air and something that Othello can choose to make on his own. In reality, Iago already implanted a hard ground for believing every falsification that he throws at Othello. An example of this occurring is when Iago and Othello have a small consultation on the presence of Cassio with Desdemona. The exchange started when Cassio exited the room with Desdemona followed by a remark made my Iago resulting in Othello questioning Iago regarding the suspicion in their conversation. When Othello asks Iago if the person leaving with Desdemona was Cassio, Iago uses this to his advantage in which he states, “Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so guilty-like, Seeing your coming” (III. III. 37-39). The way in which Iago chose to word his response to Othello is telling of the sarcastic and influential manipulation Iago puts on his words. When he chose to add the fact that Cassio left in a guilty manner he knew that just by slipping those few words into his sentence he could fill Othello’s mind with even more suspicion. While he was messing with Othello’s mind, he was continuing to make himself look like the better person by saying he stands by Cassio and pretending he believes he is loyal.  

Overall, in conclusion to Iago and the lengths in which he went just to gain a position he did not fairly earn included things such as deceitfulness, betrayal, unloyalty, dishonorable behavior, and ruthless decisions with latent lasting effects on everyone. All of these things aid in the development of extreme jealousy and aggression. Iago’s actions result in lifelong consequences and unintended results all because he could not come to terms with the fact that he was not fit for the job of Othello’s lieutenant.  The deeper meaning in the understanding of the decisions made by Iago goes a lot deeper than the surface. Iago turned the story into an unnecessary turn of events filled with love, hate, anger, jealousy, betrayal, loyalty versus unloyalty, dishonor, and inhumanity.

Works Cited 

Shakespeare, William. “‘Othello.’” Arguing about Literature: a Guide and Reader, by John 

Schilb and John Clifford, Bedford/St. Martins, 2017, pp. 573–661.



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