Return to Table of Contents

(With on line resources)


1. What tactics does Iago use and why?

2. The one fundamental premise upon which Iago's techniques rest should be noted. This premise can be inferred from an analysis of his techniques.

3, What elements of humanity are being dramatized by Shakespeare? (Is Bloom's thesis applicable?)

4. In addition to the questions below, you should check out the general questions and motifs found in Othello found on this site including OTHELLO and RACE. Our scheme will be to complete the following questions based on what motivates Iago. Each question should have text support and a conclusion. (Note-depending on the text you use, there may be some variation in line numbers, and the letters ff after a line means and following)...



1. Look at Iago’s remarks to Roderigo (I ,i,1-80). Herein he expresses a clue to his initial ensnaring technique. What is it? As a hint, note a biblical allusion and his use of derogatory language. What does he already know about Venice?

2. Significantly, he provides this clue after the first demonstration of its workability. See (I ,i ,80 ff), What do you find here that illustrates the concept in question? Does the biblical imagery/motif provided here suggest a clue?

3. As if in validation, Roderigo immediately enacts Iago's plans showing the former to be the first of his many dupes. Consult (I ,i, 85-160). How is the enactment suggested?

4. Look at Iago’s first soliloquy that ends the scene. What theme have we seen in our play thus far that seems to be present here? Evaluate the lines from a tactical perspective. Write an evaluation that ends Act I, scene i.


1. Look at Act I, scene ii. Iago reveals another technique he will use quite often and with great success, especially against Othello. Study the dialogue 1l.1-30 carefully. There are clues that prove evidence for another of his techniques. Explain...

2. Brabantio alludes to a character trait he sees in Othello in I,ii, 66-90. What is it? Although we know he is not fully correct, does it really matter? Why? Note Othello’s line, “Keep up....” (73). How does that line support Brabantio’s assessment? In the mature tragedies, Shakespeare says much in one line. What do we know of Othello so far?

3. Iago’s line, “Come Sir, I am for you,” (70-75) should suggest an important clue to his methods--here dramatized by Shakespeare. What is it?

4. For a good part of the scene, Iago is silent. Why? If you were directing the play, what would you have him do?


1. For act I, scene iii, lines, 65 to 87, what do the following words suggest that Iago’s plan is working: SPELLS, MEDICINES, MOUNTEBANKS, WITCHCRAFT, BEGUILED?

2. lines 87 to 105 are Othello’s first sustained lines in the play. How do they define his personality? Is he rude in speech? What does he say that is absolutely true that Iago knows?

3. In this scene, is Brabantio a racist? What is his objection to Othello’s marrying his daughter? See I,iii,315.

4. Othello in this scene (142 and following) speaks at length regarding his courtship of Desdemona. Compare what he says to the printout regarding Africanus on Moors. Cite a line from him and compare to what Othello says about himself--look especially at the last lines: “She loved me...witnessed it.’ (183-186)

5. Desdemona enters and explains her marriage. What does she say, and does she remind you of another Shakespeare heroine? (198-207 and 270-283) Keep in mind that Iago has witnessed the conversation. What has he learned about Othello? --see especially lines 279 and following. What apparently has not yet happened regarding the newlyweds?

6. As the ‘trial’ portion of the scene ends, there is a word that will be a major motif used to describe Othello. What is it, and why will it be ironic?

7. How will Brabantio’s lines, “Look to her....may thee.” (317 ff.) influence later actions in the play? What is the irony?

8. Prose is used in the play with brutal frankness to reveal Iago's intent. Look at I, iii, 335-400., noting a barely concealed clue to one of Iago's most important motives. Although it is by no means the final answer, missing the clue here would be a significant error. Be sure your answer involves the following:: Iago on how he sees himself (is it true?), and the metaphor of the garden and will. What does it mean?

9. How does the imagery show a keen knowledge of Othello? How did he gain such knowledge? As a parallel, what evidence exists to show that Iago regards Roderigo as especially stupid? Why is this knowledge important? Recall that Iago is using him for two specific purposes.

10. Iago's use of poetic imagery is important since he does not use much of it. What statement does he make in 345, and what kind of imagery does he use? why? How is the imagery an expression of his personality?


1. A soliloquy of Iago ends the act: Shakespeare uses these to show the workings of Iago's mind. How does he think? What kind of mind does he have? Of critical importance here is your ability to sift through his motives--what does he believe, and whom is he addressing in his soliloquies?
As Shakespeare uses soliloquy to show the workings of Iago's mind, don't forget the link on this site for Shakespeare's use of the device.)

a. What can we disbelieve about Iago's motives?

b. Iago shifts his attention to Cassio. Why?

c. Obviously Iago knows what he will do next--at least is outline form; this kind of thinking has a name and is important in understanding what Iago's personality is. How accurate, therefore, is his opinion of Othello?

d. If you look carefully at the soliloquy, you will find the most important clue thus far to Iago's motivation as the first act of the play ends.


1. In Act II, scene one, start with lines 92 and following concerning Iago's dialogue with his wife Emilia and Desdemona. The lines provide an important clue about his attitude toward women:

a. Why is it important that we know his attitude? Compare I,iii, 335-340 to II,i, 135-140. What do the two passages have in common?

b. Between lines 195 and 295, there is a motif that will shape how Iago plans to deceive Othello regarding Desdemona. What is it, and what does it tell you about Iago’s vision of the world to use that kind of language?

c. In this scene is the play’s theme passage, and perhaps the most important passage in the play, giving Iago a valuable clue he needs to ruin Othello and Desdemona. Look at lines 210-234, with Iago listening to Desdemona and Othello greet one another.

2. Importantly, Shakespeare next gives Iago a chance to express his views to Roderigo in a /long prose narrative followed by a soliloquy:

a. Is Iago's assessment (ll. 246 ff.) correct, or is it only for Roderigo's benefit? Note that the play seems to advance on supposition rather than demonstrable fact. Does that matter as far as Iago is concerned?

b. Iago's operations are at their brilliant best in lines 286 ff. What is his plan, and who else will be involved? How does he shape it to serve his own needs while appearing to satisfy Roderigo at the same time.

c. What of course does Iago not reveal?

3. Naturally the soliloquy in ending II,i is important:

a. Is the assessment of Othello correct?

b. Is the whole point really relevant to Iago's design?

c. Notice how supposition is again involved. What does it tell you about Iago’s mind that he is continually given to speculation that may or may not be true. Does it matter? What kind of a world does Iago inhabit? Look at the line (“For I fear...”)--where have we seen this kind of thinking before?

Summary for Part One: Sketch out a profile of how Iago thinks, and what that kind of thinking tells you about him.





1. Note: II, iii, 30 - 57 and 140-160 carefully. What previously mentioned techniques from Part One are at work here? How does Iago behave in the scene regarding Cassio? What does he pretend to do? Note: 207-222. Is Othello’s self- assessment correct? Are the comments lost on Iago? Provide specific details of the trap and its execution.

2. Transition to Othello Phase: What appears to be a successful completion of the Cassio trap is in reality a prelude to a more complex plot--This process is essential to our understanding of Iago's motivation.. What feature of his intelligence is best evidenced in the entrapment of Cassio phase? Check the following:.

a-Iago’s lines “I had rather have this....” (225). What is he capable of doing really well?

b-what motif does Othello (ironically) use in reaction to Iago’s lines?

c-Iago gets what he wants...Othello fires Cassio. Why does Iago want this to happen, both short and long term:

3. Compare II,iii, 269 ff. and III,iii, 182 ff. What does Iago say in each case?

4. One of the most important lines regarding Iago’s motivation is II,iii, 374-375 regarding WIT and WITCHCRAFT. What is the meaning?

5. As Iago and Roderigo again converse, note that Iago seems to focus on what might be an obsession--when he evaluates someone, the focus many times seems to center on what he notes in lines 316 to 335. Hint: he says the same thing in V,i

6. Lines 337 and following is another Iago soliloquy in which he puns on the word most associated with him by others. Explain the context. Why does he use the word ? (Note what advice he gave right before the soliloquy and to whom.). Note the biblical allusion.


1. This phase begins with III, iii, 35-40 ff. These lines are critical, and in the A/B diagram, [See Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy for the diagram; I have applied its specifics to1 Henry IV on this web site.] Placing them correctly would be especially important. The very simplicity of the language (note the tone) and the carefully calculated and understated responses measured precisely to Othello's nature should be studied with great care. What is revealed about Iago's real motives? What previously mentioned techniques are used?

2. for the remainder of scene iii

a. --how does Desdemona seem to play into Iago’s hands--recall a line in Romeo and Juliet in which Friar Laurence speaks of the relationship between virtue and vice: (Act I, scene iii...)

O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

(Note the phrase the Friar uses that Iago picks up on.)

b.--how do we know in this scene that Iago, as he probes Othello’s past, has a very accurate grasp of his weaknesses. Most sociopaths do, and further, they can exploit their weaknesses for personal gain (see lines 100 to 150 and note especially the IRONY).

c--in this scene, JEALOUSY is used more than once, and it is conventional wisdom to note that is the primary emotion involved. Is it? You will need to compare with V,ii . Be careful of how you evaluate jealousy in Othello, and Othello. (lines 190 ff)

d--in this scene, we learn that Othello tends to look at relationships from a somewhat distorted perspective of which Iago is fully aware as he exploits it for his own gain. How does the word PROOF (215 ff) support the perspective?

e--notice in lines 220 ff that Iago again returns to favorite theme when evaluating people. What does he say?

f--Has Othello begun to change? If so, is the change temporary or permanent? Does the phrase 'objective; yet subjectively calculating' fit? How is the paradox resolved

g--note the connotative meaning of the following words--what do they in the context of the play mean in terms of character development:

--243: Othello: I AM BOUND TO THEE...
--298: Othello: HAPLY FOR I AM BLACK (and recall a line in the trial scene in act one)
--405: Othello : OCULAR PROOF

3. Note the importance of accidents in advancing Iago's plot. See line 326 (stage directions). What ability does Iago have?

4. Iago has another soliloquy in III,iii, 363-372. How has what he references come to pass? To answer, you need a motif used before in Act I. What does ON THE RACK mean, line 379? Also note lines 390 to 430. What is happening to Othello’s mind? What does he fear the most and why?

5. In this scene, Othello’s temper surfaces, and Iago is in real danger. In the movie, Othello tries to strangle him. How does he recover, and once again gain the upper hand? (420 ff)

6. For the remainder of the scene, Iago becomes more bold with Othello. How? Othello has demanded OCULAR PROOF. How does Iago provide it:

--what he says about Cassio?
--the handkerchief
--patience (advice to Othello)

7. What do the last lines of the scene mean? Reference the handkerchief and what Iago does at the very end.

8. In IV, i, 54-75, explain what the word "medicine" means--consider the lines coming before these.

9. In this scene, which makes more sense when viewed, Iago is at his best. How does he set up Othello, and why does the plan work so well? Lines 85-125 are a kind of thesis statement to the scene. Notice too, lines 160 ff, how the handkerchief will play more and more an important role. What is communicated in Iago’s soliloquy? Check for motifs.

10. Look at lines 210 to 225 ff. Comment on the importance of PITY and POISON and STRANGLE / BED.

11. The action in IV,i, 250 ff. has been considered too brutal to stage. Does Othello achieve here what Iago has intended? Note the exquisite and beautifully tortuous simplicity of: "I have not deserved this." This is Shakespeare at his best.

12. In the opening lines of V, we have a significant clue to Iago's "motivation." What is it? Relate to a motif we have seen that addresses the motivation question.


1. In V,i does Roderigo deserve what he gets?

2. Iago’s aside at the end of scene i contains one of the most important clues to his character. What is it?

3. V, ii’s opening can become almost farce if not done properly. Look at the opening lines of Othello. What is taking so long?

4. Observe the exposure of Iago carefully--What does the repeated use of the interrogative mood tell you? Note who does expose Iago. What does she suggest in a modern context.

5. Do you expect Iago to behave the way he does when being exposed?

6. Between 305 and 315, Othello asks if fate can be controlled? Discuss whether the events Iago unleashed were fated to happen to Othello?

7. Perhaps the coldest lines in the play are in response to Othello's questions in V , ii, 350-51. Lines 352-353 by Iago should be noted carefully. Do you believe him? How do they provide a clue to his character?

8. Read Othello’s last lines in the play before he_______. There is one line in the passage that may well be the key to the play. What is it and why? Relate this to a motif we have examined early.


Complete the following with text support.

1. What tactics does Iago use, and why do the work so well?

2. The one fundamental premise upon which Iago's techniques rest should be noted. This premise can be inferred from an analysis of his techniques.

3. What elements of humanity are being dramatized by Shakespeare? Evaluate the virtues and vices of Othello, Desdemona and Iago. Consider whether the marriage was bound to fail even if Iago had not intervened.

4. Aristotle said that a character to be tragic must have a defect in his otherwise noble character that brings about his demise. This so called flaw has to be a judgment flaw, an intellectual mistake, and not a moral one, so Macbeth, committing murder would not qualify. Apply this to Othello since he too kills someone.

5. What was a possible intention of Shakespeare in creating Iago? Is it only the 'motiveless malignancy" as Coleridge suggested?

On line Resources:

1. This paragraph from my analysis of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, relates to the current investigation in that one of the novel's protagonists, Teabing might parallel Iago. (Interestingly enough, actor Ian McKellen played both Teabing and Richard III.):

With Teabing, Brown created a master psychopath much as Iago or Richard III. Dr. Tom O'Connor's Antisocial Personality, Sociopathy, and Psychopathy contains descriptions that if applied to Teabing's behavior would identify him as a charismatic psychopath. "Charismatic Psychopaths are charming, attractive liars. They are usually gifted at some talent or another, and they use it to their advantage in manipulating others. They are usually fast-talkers, and possess an almost demonic ability to persuade others out of everything they own, even their lives. Leaders of religious sects or cults, for example, might be psychopaths if they lead their followers to their deaths. This subtype often comes to believe in their own fictions. They are irresistible." Certainly this could be Teabing's resume which goes a long way in explaining his behaviour. As with Iago, Teabing masterfully creates a reality that contains a core of truth, but is 'spun' with such sophistication that the 'true believers' ( including Langdon) are more than willing to accept. Iago thus is able to manipulate others to the degree that they seek his advice to escape the harmful effects for scenarios he himself created, so Cassio is dismissed from Othello's service, and he subsequently believes Desdemona (the sacred feminine) a whore. So the 'errors' in history Teabing has been accused of perpetrating from the Council of Nicaea to Leonardo's codes to the Priory's keeping the blood line of Jesus secret may contain core truths as these pages have suggested, but in the main are spun to entrap. Why? The motivation of Iago has often defied analysis.

This page offers a possibility, but his anger over not being promoted has often been taken as a starting point, but probably not the real reason.