Iago's Anti-Heroic Language

Practically every speech that Iago makes could be used as an example of this characteristic. The following examples were chosen because they show how effectively Iago undermines others.

Roderigo has just pointed out that Iago said that he hated Othello. Iago responds,
Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man,
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war;
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, "Certes," says he,
"I have already chose my officer."
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; unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the toged consuls can propose
As masterly as he. Mere prattle, without practise,
Is all his soldiership.    (1.1.8-27)
The phrase, "by the faith of man," is a variation on the colloquialism "in faith," which was used as we now use "to tell the truth," "it's plain to see," or "everyone knows." Iago follows this with an ironically understated self-evaluation: "I know my price, I am worth no worse a place." He means that he deserves -- at the very least -- to be Othello's lieutenant. He then scoffs at those who are supposedly better than he is, Othello and Cassio. Othello, says Iago, speaks with "with a bombast circumstance / Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war" "Bombast" was a word for the cotton used to stuff the quilted men's fashions of Shakespeare's time. (Sometimes so much bombast was used in the pants that the gentleman couldn't sit; he had to either stand or recline gracefully on cushions.) And "circumstance" is rigmarole, gobbledy-gook. In short, Othello is a stuffed shirt, full of hot air. As for Cassio, he's a "great arithmetician," a "Florentine," who doesn't know any more about war than a "spinster." In modern parlance, he's a bean-counter from la-la land, who knows no more about war than a little old lady in tennis shoes. [Scene Summary]

When Desdemona, Iago, and Iago's wife, Emilia, arrive in Cyprus, Cassio welcomes Emilia with a kiss, then says to Iago, "Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, / That I extend my manners; 'tis my breeding / That gives me this bold show of courtesy" (2.1.97-99). Cassio is making a big point of what a charmer he is, but Iago punctures his balloon with a joke: "Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, / You would have enough" (2.1.100-102). He's saying that if Emilia kissed Cassio as much as she nags Iago, Cassio would have more than enough kissing. This apparently casual devaluation of Emilia and her kisses is a facade; a little later we learn that Iago is intensely jealous and suspects Cassio of having an affair with Emilia. [Scene Summary]

In the scene in which Iago makes Othello jealous, Iago begins his psychological manipulation with a seeming casualness, asking, "Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, / Know of your love?" (3.3.94-95). Othello answers that yes, Cassio knew all along, and wants to know why Iago asked. Iago replies, "But for a satisfaction of my thought; / No further harm" (3.3.98-99). Othello then asks Iago why he was wondering about Cassio, and Iago simply says that he didn't know that Cassio had even known Desdemona. Othello replies "O, yes; and went between us very oft" (3.3.101), whereupon Iago says, with significant emphasis, "Indeed!" At this, Othello says "Indeed! ay, indeed: discern'st thou aught in that? / Is he not honest?" (3.3.102-103). For a moment, Othello had thought that the subject was warm memories of his courtship of Desdemona, and how Cassio carried messages back and forth between them. With a single word, Iago changes Othello's perceptions. [Scene Summary]

After following all of Iago's suggestions, Roderigo still isn't any closer to Desdemona, and he starts to complain to Iago. At first Iago tries to get Roderigo to listen to his explanations, but when Roderigo won't listen, Iago changes tactics. He acts as if he's so bored he's barely listening, saying, "Well; go to; very well" (4.2.191). This makes Roderigo so mad that he says, "'tis not very well: nay, I think it is scurvy, and begin to find myself fopp'd in it" (4.2.192-194). To be "fopp'd" is to be made a fool of. Roderigo then says that he will go to Desdemona personally and promise to quit bothering her if she will return his jewels. If she won't, Roderigo threatens Iago, "assure yourself I will seek satisfaction of you" (4.2.200). However, Roderigo's threat doesn't faze Iago. He says, "You have said now" (4.2.201), as though he could not care less. This further enrages Roderigo, and then Iago takes the opportunity to win him over by shaking his hand and congratulating him on his anger, saying, "Why, now I see there's mettle in thee, and even from this instant to build on thee a better opinion than ever before" (4.2.204-206). This tactic works to perfection. As soon as Iago tosses him a tiny crumb of respect, Roderigo drops his threats and is ready to swallow every lie that Iago feeds him. [Scene Summary]

In the last scene of the play, after Iago's treachery has been revealed, Othello says to Lodovico, "Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil / Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?" (5.2.300-302). Iago's reply is famous. He says, "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know: / From this time forth I never will speak word" (5.2.303-304). Most criminals, when they are cornered and can no longer plead innocent, try to explain themselves so that their sentence will be lighter, but not Iago. If he can't control the game, he won't play. [Scene Summary]