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To truly understand Othello, or any play for that matter, you have to think about what happened before the play that brought about the situations you read. You have to think about the relationships that existed betweeen all the characters. You have to imagine Roderigos passion for Desdemona, picture Brabantios contempt for Othello, envision the jealousy and distrust that existed between Desdemona and Othello before Iago arrived on the scene. All of those factors were there before Iago put his scheme into action, he didnÕt create the natural tension between all the players. He merely made all of those already dangerous relationships fatal. IÕm not saying that Iago was not at fault in Othello, IÕm just saying that he didnÕt create the scenario, he just ignited it.
One of the main factors in Othello is Roderigo, Iagos half witted right hand man. Roderigo is the person who supplies Iago with money, and is also the person who at the end of the book tries to murder Cassio. The reason that he tries to murder Cassio is because Iago convinces him that Cassio is Desdemonas adulterous lover. The reason this angers Roderigo to the point of murder is because he is in love with Desdemona. His desperate and imagined passion for Othellos wife is what ultimately drives him to kill another human being. It may seem at first that Iago made him act how he acted, but his motivation was actually his love for Desdemona. Iago did not ceate Roderigos love for Desdemona, he merely channeled it.
You learn of Roderigos love for Desdemona in the first act of the first scene, when Brabantio(Desdemonas father) sees Roderigo outside of his window.
The worser welcome.
I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors.
In honest plainness thou hast heard me say
My daughter is not for thee.
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Brabantios words indicate that he has a not so pleasant past with Roderigo. He is telling him in modern words that he has told him before to stay away from his house and his daughter. Roderigos having to be told more then once shows that his love for Desdemona was more then just a passing fancy for a regular girl. Using historyas a precedent, you can draw the conclusion that a crazy love will bring about crazy, and many times violent, situations(O.J. and Nicole Simpson, Joe Buttafuco and Amy Fischer). Another pre-existing situation that Iago helps to manipulate is the relationship between Brabantio and Othello. Before Brabantio knew of Othellos love affair with his daughter, he was actaully good friends with him. Othello went over to his house to have dinner on seperate occasions. After Brabantio finds out about his lying friend and daughter though, his opinion of Othello changes drastically. As soon as Iago tells him, he calls Othello racist names and obscenities. Did Brabantio think of these things as soon as Iago told him? Very unlikely. Brabantio, even while he was having Othello over for dinner, was thinking those same thoughts of contempt. Iago did not create those ideas, he merely manipulated and chanelled them. Othello describes Brabantios additude and friendliness towards him in this quote.
Her father loved me, oft invited me,
Still questioned me the story of my life
From year to year-- the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed. (1.3, ln 149-152)
Brabantio enjoyed having Othelo over to talk. He liked the stories, and he obviously acted like he liked Othello, or Othello would not have gotten the impression that he Ôloved him.Õ As soon as Brabantio learns about Othellos secret he is outraged. His anger may have something to do with how Iago puts it to him, but the seeds of hate were already planted, Iago merely watered them. Here is how Iago tells him the dreadful news.
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your
Daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with
Two backs. (1.1, ln 129-131)
Iago makes his daughters intimate consumation with Othello sound disgusting and outrageous, and that certainly adds to Brabantios already brewing dislike towards Othello, but, Iago does not create that dislike, he only sets it off. When Brabantio reveals his true feelings, it doesnÕt sound very much like a man who loves Othello.
O, thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my
Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation. (1.2, ln 80-82, 86-87)
Instead of considering that Othello might have actually won his daughter over fairly, he immediately assumes that the marriage was a result of witchcraft and devilry. He asks Othello why, when Desdemona had the pick of any of the great men of Venice, would she have chosen a lowly Moor. Thoughts like that do not appear out of nowhere, they must fester and boil before coming to the light.
Another dangerous situation that Iago did not create was the one which spurred his anger: His betrayal by Othello. Iago was Othellos friend and confident, probably his closest ally. As we can tell from the book, Othello often went to Iago for advice and help in the most dire of situations. This indicates that they were very close before all the fireworks happened. Friendship aside, Iago was also a very good officer in the army. Although all we have to go on are Iagos own words, he canÕt be totally lying. Iago, although not trained in school, was an old hand on the battle field. His eyes had seen much bloodshed and he had killed many men not unlike himself in the name of Venice. Here is Iago describing his battle expertise:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds
Christened and Heathened, must be beleed and
Calmed. (1.1., ln 29-32)
So despite the great friendship, despite the battle experience, and despite the principles involved, Othello still chose Micheal Cassio, an inexperienced Prima Donna fresh out of the academy. Iago did not make that disastrous choice, Othello did, therefore Iago did not make the situation, he just made it dangerous.
Was Iago truly at fault for stumbling upon a very precarious situation and then taking advantage of it? Yes. He definitely had evil intentions throughout the play. But, was Iago completely responsible? No. The contempt between Brabantio and Othello still existed, the jealousy and mistrust between Desdemona and Othello was still there, and the dangerous background of Desdemona and Roderigo was in the works long before Iago was on the scene. Othello, Desdemona, Brabantio and Cassio were the gunpowder, Roderigo was the fuse, Iago was just the match that made it all explode.