The Misogynistic Character of Iago in Othello by William Shakespeare

When we need advice, we turn to various people who we believe will play the pan of sympathetic listeners. What we do not want is for these individuals to betray our trust and take advantage of us in our time of need to fulfill their own agenda, Sadly, this is exactly what the supposedly honest Iago does to Othello, the blackamoor protagonist of Shakespeare‘s Othello, which is performed for the first time three years after Queen Elizabeth I’s 1601 proclamation decreeing the expulsion of all blackamoors from England.

However, there is more to this deceitful confidant than meets the eye. In his tragedy, Shakespeare uses the misogynistic Iago as the driving force behind his justification of Queen Elizabeth l‘s mandate. Throughout Othello, Iago, a lower-class white civilian, manipulates the play’s titular blackamoor military leader into killing his own wife and replacing his former lieutenant, Cassio, with Iago.

He does so within the span of an entire day, cleverly placing Othello in situations in which he easily jumps to the conclusion that his wife is cheating on him with his lieutenant.

Othello’s irrationality is fueled by misinterpreting an eavesdropped conversation between Cassio and ago about Cassio‘s mistress, and the mysterious appearance of his wife‘s handkerchief in Cassio’s bedroom, both incidents of which were orchestrated by ago. The success of Iago’s actions evokes annoyance and rage from the audience at the Moor’s naiveté. Shakespeare proposes through the tragedy that blackamoors are universally naive and that commoners of even the lowest class, such as Iago, can easily dupe them for their own self-gain.

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Thus, Queen Elizabeth‘s proclamation is justified in that it was mandated with the safety of both her people and blackamoors in mind.

Iago is the driving force of the tragedy Othello. Besides acting as Othello’s ‘honest’ advisor he also feigns confidence with Othello’s wife. Othello‘s former lieutenant, Cassio; and Roderigo, a wealthy Venetian noble set on winning Desdemona’s heart. With the trust of these four characters in his hands, Iago is in a position to manipulate not only Othello, but the others surrounding him. He gains the ability to shape entire situations. At a whim, he is able to arrange incidents to suit his own agendas, such as planting the idea that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio in Othello‘s head, or increasing his own wealth by pretending to play the middle man between Desdemona and Roderigo, while actually taking the money for himself. Ultimately his orchestrations results in Desdemona‘s suffocation and Roderigo’s death. Had Iago not purposefully set certain events in motion with the intention of personal gain, Othello would have never progressed.

Shakespeare uses Iago to alert the audience to not to underestimate the power of women Iago is a misogynist, and is outspoken in his views of the opposite gender. In a conversation with his wife and Desdemona, he is vocal about his beliefs that women are vixens who cheat on their husbands. He veils his chauvinistic views with humor, thus retaining the trust of, if not his wife Emilia then Desdemona, Othello‘s wife. Ironically, the catalyst to his downfall is none other than Emilia although she played a key role in securing Desdemona’s handkerchief which he later planted as ‘evidence’ that Desdemona was cheating on Othello with Cassio, Iago fails to realize the possibility that Emilia could fully realize and vocalize her husband’s intentions and actions. His inability to recognize the competence of women proves to be the catalyst to his downfall at the end of the tragedy. Othello begins in media res, but Shakespeare utilizes Iago to dispel any confusion and to serve as the audience’s informant for the duration of the tragedy.

He is the one of the tragedy’s beginning characters and provides the audience with the necessary details and exposition to understand the ongoing action. Because of his role as a confidant to several characters, he is able to provide the audience with knowledge (both explicitly and implicitly) about the setting and the characters through his various interactions with them and his soliloquies. However, just as he lies to Othello to fulfill his own agenda, he lies to the audience in order to justify the questionable goals he has. The audience is left to decide what is fact and what is falsehood three years after Queen Elizabeth proclaimed the expulsion of all blackamoors from England Shakespeare‘s Othello was performed for the first time. With the misogynistic character Iago, Shakespeare builds a tragedy through which he justifies his patron‘s controversial and racist 1601 mandate.

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The Misogynistic Character of Iago in Othello by William Shakespeare. (2023, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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