Iago's Self Esteem

In order to prove to Roderigo that he hates Othello, Iago tells the story of how he got passed over for promotion to lieutenant. He comments, "I know my price, I am worth no worse a place" (1.1.11). Later in the same scene, still explaining his hatred of Othello, Iago praises those who serve their masters only for their own purposes. He says that "when they have lin'd their coats," they "Do themselves homage" (1.1.53-54). We would call such persons embezzlers, but Iago sees them in another light: "These fellows have some soul; / And such a one do I profess myself" (1.1.54-55). [Scene Summary]

When Roderigo tells Iago that he will drown himself because he can't have Desdemona, Iago tells him to have some self-respect, and says of himself, "Ere I would say, I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon" (1.3.314-316). A "guinea-hen" is a kind of large, spotted, noisy chicken, and Iago uses the word the way we use "dumb cluck." However, after Roderigo has left, Iago tells us that Roderigo is not entitled to any self-respect, "For I mine own gain'd knowledge should profane, / If I would time expend with such a snipe. / But for my sport and profit" (1.3.384-386). A snipe is a bird notorious for its flightiness and its tendency to run right into traps. Clearly, Iago considers himself vastly superior to Roderigo. [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). It seems that Iago holds himself above everyone else to the bitter end. [Scene Summary]