Iago's motivations

Discussions of Iago's reasons for his hatred of Othello often begin with the fact that in choosing a lieutenant, Othello passed over Iago in favor of Cassio, but Iago may have hated Othello even before that. Roderigo opens the play by exclaiming to Iago, "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" (1.1.1-3). The "this" is the elopement of Othello and Desdemona. Roderigo has been giving Iago money to help him into Desdemona's favor, and he assumes that Iago knew about the elopement. Iago didn't know, which must have been embarrassing.

Iago tells Roderigo that the elopement was a surprise, and Roderigo replies, "Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate" (1.1.7). Then Iago tells Roderigo about being passed over for promotion. So Iago must have told Roderigo of his hatred for Othello before this, and maybe before he was passed over for promotion. If it was earlier that Iago told Roderigo that he hated Othello, that could have been part of Iago's scam, but it also could have been the truth. [Scene Summary]

After Othello has left for Cyprus, Iago has a soliloquy in which he says that he hates Othello, "And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets / He has done my office" (1.3.387-388). "Abroad" means "everywhere," and Iago's "office" (function) between his sheets is to have sex with his wife. Iago is saying that everyone thinks that Othello is having an affair with Iago's wife. The rest of the play makes it clear that none of this is true; Othello and Iago's wife are not even vaguely interested in one another, and no one thinks otherwise. Iago is lying again, and he knows it, but that doesn't change his attitude towards Othello. He says, "I know not if't be true; / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do as if for surety" (1.3.388-390). He then goes on to hatch his plan for making Othello jealous. [Scene Summary]

Upon the arrival in Cyprus of Iago and Emilia, Iago's wife, Cassio greets Emilia with a kiss, and says to Iago, "Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, / That I extend my manners" (2.1.97-98). Iago shrugs it off by making a joke at Emilia's expense, but alone at the end of the scene he says, "I fear Cassio with my night-cap too" (2.1.307). He also repeats his suspicion that Emilia is sleeping with Othello and says that "the thought whereof / Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards" (2.1.295-296). [Scene Summary]

Towards the end of the scene in which Iago brings about Cassio's downfall, he persuades Cassio to appeal to Desdemona, and plans to make Othello believe that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Then he says, "By the mass, 'tis morning; / Pleasure and action make the hours seem short" (2.3.378-379). In other words, he's been having fun during his busy night, so the time has just flown by. [Scene Summary]

Waiting in the dark for Roderigo to kill Cassio, Iago says, "Now, whether he kill Cassio, / Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other, / Every way makes my gain" (5.1.12-14). If Roderigo lives, Iago says, he'll want those jewels that were supposed to be given to Desdemona, and if Cassio lives, "He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly; and, besides, the Moor / May unfold me to him" (5.1.19-21). At this point, Iago has a practical reason for wanting Cassio dead, but he's also just plain jealous of Cassio. The phrase "daily beauty" suggests that Iago feels that Cassio is much more charming and attractive than he is. [Scene Summary]

In the last scene of the play, after Iago's treachery has been proved, 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). Throughout the play Iago has been more than willing to explain himself to Roderigo, to Othello, and to us, in soliloquies. So why does he shut up now? Maybe he can't think of another lie; maybe he doesn't have a clear idea of why he did what he did; maybe he's just making another power play. [Scene Summary]