Study Guide

Othello Manipulation

By William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1

Call up her father,
Rouse him. Make after him, poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,
Plague him with flies. Though that his joy be joy,
Yet throw such changes of vexation on 't
As it may lose some color. (1.1.74-80)

Yikes. When Iago talks about corrupting Brabantio's opinion of his fair daughter, Desdemona, he uses the language of poison and plague, which seems pretty appropriate given the nature of Iago's manipulation. When Iago tattles on Othello and Desdemona for eloping, he capitalizes on Brabantio's xenophobic attitude toward mixed race marriages. Here's what Iago says to get Brabantio riled up against Othello:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say.

Check out "Race" if you want to think about the implications of this.

Act 1, Scene 2

O, thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my
Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t' incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight!
Judge me the world, if 'tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms,
Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weaken motion. I'll have 't disputed on.
'Tis probable and palpable to thinking.
I therefore apprehend and do attach thee
For an abuser of the world, a practicer
Of arts inhibited and out of warrant.— (1.2.80-98)

Brabantio argues that Othello could not have truly won Desdemona's love – it had to be through some kind of trickery or manipulation. Brabantio couldn't be more wrong, of course.

Act 1, Scene 3

The Turkish preparation makes for Rhodes.
So was I bid report here to the state
By Signior Angelo.
Nay, in all confidence, he's not for Rhodes.
Of thirty sail; and now they do restem
Their backward course, bearing with frank
Their purposes toward Cyprus. (1.3.18-20; 37; 43-46)

The deception the Turkish navy attempts – appearing as though they are going to attack Rhodes, when actually they want Cyprus – parallels the sneakier, interpersonal deceptions going on in the play. For more about the relationship between literal war and the psychological battle Iago wages against Othello, check out "Quotes" for warfare.


Virtue? A fig! 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or
thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our
wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles
or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme,
supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it
with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or
manured with industry, why the power and corrigible
authority of this lies in our wills. (1.3.361-368)

When Iago makes an analogy between gardening and exercising free will, we're reminded of the way that Iago is the ultimate master gardener, so to speak. Part of what makes him such a brilliant manipulator of Othello is his ability to plant the seeds of doubt and jealousy in Othello's mind.

But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets
He has done my office. I know not if 't be true,
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. (1.3.429-433)

Iago cites multiple and incompatible motives for wanting to destroy Othello. Earlier, he said he hates Othello because "the Moor" passed him over for a promotion, but here, he tells us he hates "the Moor" because he's heard a rumor that Othello has been hooking up with Iago's wife, Emilia, "twixt [Iago's] sheets." It's just not clear whether or not we, as an audience, can believe anything Iago has to say.


Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.
She has deceived her father, and may thee. (1.3.333-334)

Brabantio suggests that, because Desdemona deceived her father when she eloped with Othello, Desdemona will likely deceive her husband. Desdemona, as we know, is completely faithful to Othello. The problem is that Othello seems to buy into the stereotype that unruly daughters make for unruly and promiscuous wives, which is part of the reason why Iago is able to manipulate him so easily. (Later, in Act 3, Scene 3, when Iago echoes Brabantio's point, Othello agrees.) Shakespeare seems to be critiquing this unfair attitude toward women in the play – Othello's distrust in his wife leads to a terrible tragedy when he murders Desdemona.

Act 2, Scene 3

If I can fasten but one cup upon him
With that which he hath drunk tonight already,
He'll be as full of quarrel and offense
As my young mistress' dog. (2.3.49-52)

Iago schemes to get Cassio drunk because he knows Cassio, who is kind of a mean drunk, will end up getting into a fight. Why? Because he wants Cassio (a soldier) to get in trouble with Othello (Cassio's boss/general) so that Desdemona will try to intervene on Cassio's behalf, which will make Othello jealous and suspicious. If this sounds overly elaborate and unrealistic to you, you're not alone. Literary critics often point out that much of Iago's plotting is, well, pretty implausible.

Act 3, Scene 3

Ha! I like not that.
                             What dost thou say?
Nothing, my lord; or if—I know not what.
Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?
Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guiltylike,
Seeing you coming.
I do believe 'twas he. (3.3.37-44)

Gosh. Iago is an evil genius, don't you think? After watching Desdemona and Cassio chit-chat from afar, Iago suggests that something naughty is going on between Cassio and Othello's wife. He never comes right out and says, "Hey Othello, look at your wife flirt with Cassio," but he implies there's something tawdry happening and then acts all innocent when Othello presses the point.

Act 4, Scene 1

Get me some poison, Iago, this night: I'll not
expostulate with her lest her body and beauty
unprovide my mind again. This night, Iago.
Do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed,
even the bed she hath contaminated.
Good, good. The justice of it pleases. Very
good. (4.1.223-229)

Whoa. We know that Iago is out to destroy Othello, but why is he so intent on destroying Desdemona? After convincing Othello that Desdemona has been cheating, he manipulates Othello into strangling Desdemona "in her bed." What's up with that? More importantly, what's up with Othello thinking that killing his wife in her bed is "just"? By this point in the play, Othello's mind has been completely warped.

Act 5, Scene 2

Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
From this time forth I never will speak word. (5.2.355-356)

This is the last time Iago speaks in the play. After Othello demands to know why Iago set out to destroy him, Iago remains silent. But why? One would think that Iago would want to gloat but he refuses to explain his actions, leaving Othello and the audience pretty clueless about Iago's motives.