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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1
lines 1 - 33
Iago and Manipulation!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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We are introduced to the primary characters of the play. Iago feels slighted because Othello has overlooked him for promotion in favour of Michael Cassio, while Roderigo believes that Othello is standing in the way of his marriage to Desdemona. Together they plot their revenge.


The scene opens with an introduction to all the primary characters: Iago, Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Michael Cassio and Brabantio.

The fact that the scene is dominated by Iago should give us the idea that it is he who is the main character in this play, and not Othello. It is therefore the story of an antihero. Certainly Iago is introduced as a very powerful character, and also as an arch-manipulator.

Indeed, by the end of this scene, we already witness his ongoing manipulation of Roderigo, and how he very easily twists such a powerful patrician as Brabantio to his plans. Later, Iago will work his magic on both Othello and Cassio.

We are therefore introduced to the theme of MANIPULATION. Iago is the master puppeteer, pulling the strings which control Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Brabantio, as well as some of the other lesser characters. Indeed, there is almost no-one who is not under his control.

We are also given a brief introduction into another of the great themes: SORCERY and MAGIC. Brabantio hints at this when he says, "Is there not charms by which the property of youth and maidhood may be abused. Have you not read, Roderigo, of such thing?"

In the next scene, this theme of sorcery will be expanded when we find that Desdemona has been ensnared by Othello's spells. Iago himself will become more than just a puppet master: his sorcery was so potent that he was able to make Othello act in totally unexpected ways.

In this scene, Iago feels himself slighted by Othello who has overlooked him for the position of Lieutenant in favour of Michael Cassio, whom Iago despises. One can understand Iago's resentment because he is a powerful leader whereas Cassio is in reality a weakling who cannot even control his own drinking habits.

Roderigo, on the other hand, feels himself crossed by Othello for the love of Desdemona, whom Roderigo has been desperately attempting to secure as his own wife.

Iago puts into practice a plan for both of them to gain their revenge. They awaken Brabantio, a wealthy merchant and Desdemona's father, telling him that his daughter has eloped with Othello.

They hope, of course, that Brabantio will find Othello in an illicit love-tryst with Desdemona because then Brabantio will be perfectly justified in having Othello thrown into prison, and thereupon rewarding Roderigo by giving him Desdemona's hand in marriage, while Iago could perhaps score handsomely in terms of promotion.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Tush," says Roderigo.
" 'Sblood," says Iago.
  • Comment on the use of these two invectives as an introduction to the characters of Roderigo and Iago. (4)

[Need help?]

Tush, never tell me; I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.
  • What does Roderigo mean when he says "never tell me"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • In what way could Iago be said to have Roderigo's purse "as if the strings were thine"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the implication of Iago's pulling the purse-strings? (4)

[Need help?]

'Sblood, but you will not hear me:
If ever I did dream of such a matter,
Abhor me.
  • Why does Iago exclaim, "You will not hear me"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What does Iago mean when he says "If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me"? (4)

[Need help?]

Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp'd to him.
  • What does Iago mean by the "three great ones of the city"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • To whom does the personal pronoun "his" refer? In other words, whose lieutenant did Iago wish to become? (1)

[Need help?]

  • What does Iago mean when he says that the three great ones "off-capp'd to him"? (3)

[Need help?]

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