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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 1
lines 12 - 65
Iago's view of Cassio and Othello!

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:

But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war.
  • What accusations does Iago throw at the absent Othello in these lines? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the image Iago puts forward with the words "bombast" and "stuffed". (4)

[Need help?]

And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster.
  • Iago is derisive of Michael Cassio whom Othello has chosen as his lieutenant. Why does he speak of him as "a great arithmetician"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain the link that Iago appears to make between Michael Cassio's ability to lead an army and marriage. (4)

[Need help?]

And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds,
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee'd and calm'd
By debitor and creditor, this counter-caster.
  • Explain Iago's imagery of his being "be-lee'd and calm'd" by "debitor and creditor, this counter-caster". (4)

[Need help?]

By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.
  • Comment on the irony of this expression by Roderigo. (2)

[Need help?]

"O, sir, content you,
I follow him to serve my turn upon him."
  • Explain how these words sum up Iago's character. (2)

[Need help?]

"It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I will not be Iago.
In following him, I follow but myself."
  • What does Iago mean when he says, "Were I the Moor, I will not be Iago"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the significance of making the leading character (i.e. Othello) a Moor? How would the Shakespearian audience react to the idea of a Moor as the centre of the plot? (6)

[Need help?]

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