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William Shakespeare


Act 5, Scene 1
lines 1 - 129
Iago prepares to kill Cassio & Roderigo!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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This is an action scene. Iago needs both Cassio and Roderigo dead, and so he sets one against the other. In the ensuing fight, Cassio is wounded whereas Roderigo is killed.


Roderigo always makes his appearance in the company of Iago. Always he is Iago's puppet, is always willing to do Iago's dirty work and all for the promise of a few impossible crumbs. And he is always paying Iago for something. What is going on here?

If you have not yet read the note on Elizabethan courting rituals and gifts, then please do so now. What follows is based on it. [Click here to see it: refer to the left column of the linked worksheet.]

Courtship rituals were complicated, involving gifts which were taken to the woman by a Go-Between. In Roderigo's case, the woman is Desdemona, while the supposed Go-Between is Iago.

When the play opens, we find that Roderigo is already using Iago as his Go-Between for his hoped-for courting of Desdemona. He appears to have already paid lots of money.

In a real courtship ritual, the gifts did not usually involve money. No, indeed. We know that Othello gave Desdemona an intricately embroidered handkerchief whereas most men gave an embroidered garter for the woman to wear.

Why then was Roderigo making cash payments and jewels? Well, because Iago was ripping him off! Indeed, he was making no approach at all to Desdemona but was merely pocketing the gifts himself. What would Iago have done with a lady's handkerchief or a lace garter?

When Desdemona married Othello, however, one would have thought that Roderigo would have given up on his quest. She could, after all, not get divorced. What therefore did Roderigo hope to achieve by continuing?

The answer, it would seem, lay in Roderigo's entrapment to Iago's voiced opinions. All Venetian women, Iago claimed, were happy to have extra-marital affairs. Marriage was therefore not the end of the courting game.

In Valmont, the classic 1989 movie set in 18th century France, the manipulating Merteuil tells her naive protege, Cecile, that one did not marry the person one loved: one made him a lover.

The reason was simple: society marriages were arranged affairs, organised for either political or financial ends. People almost never married for love. If the woman had a real lover, therefore, there would be plenty of time after the wedding to meet with him clandestinely.

Iago claimed that this was almost universal in Venetian marriages. Cassio, he told Othello, was Desdemona's clandestine lover. It would seem, therefore, that he convinced Roderigo that he could become Desdemona's lover, and Iago personally would bring that about by acting as Go-Between.

The courtship to become a lover would have been identical as a marital courtship, involving gifts. And so Roderigo was convinced to "Put money in thy purse" -- and he continued to put money and jewels in Iago's pocket in the belief that Iago would take them to Desdemona.

Roderigo was, therefore, probably not plotting to marry Desdemona. Indeed, that was impossible. Nevertheless, Iago had convinced him that he could still become Desdemona's lover, for which he needed to pay dearly by way of monetary gifts and jewellery.

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

"Here, stand behind this bulk; straight will he come:
Wear thy good rapier bare, and put it home:
Quick, quick; fear nothing; I'll be at thy elbow."
  • Why does Iago want Roderigo to ambush Cassio? (6)

[Need help?]

  • Will Iago really be at Roderigo's elbow? (4)

[Need help?]

"I have no great devotion to the deed;
And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons."
  • What "satisfying reasons" has Iago given for Roderigo's killing Cassio? (4)

[Need help?]

"I have rubb'd this young quat almost to the sense,
And he grows angry. Now, whether he kill Cassio,
Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other,
Every way makes my gain."
  • What is a "young quat"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why is Roderigo growing angry? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why is Iago not concerned about who kills whom? (4)

[Need help?]

  • In the ensuing fight, who is it who actually wounds whom? (3)

[Need help?]

  • What effect does the fight have on Othello? (2)

[Need help?]

"Gentlemen all, I do suspect this trash
To be a party in this injury."
  • To whom is Iago referring when he speaks of "this trash"? Why does he suspect her to be "a party in this injury"? (4)

[Need help?]

"This is the fruit of whoring."
  • What on earth does Iago mean by that? (4)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
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