Iago in Act I – Othello

Looking at the speech from Iago in Act I, Scene III that starts…

“O villainous! I have looked upon the world for four times seven years…”

In his dialogue we can spot patterns of images

GARDENS – Suggests order

  • “Virtue? a fig!” – a colloquialism for the female sexual organs. Iago is dismissive of women and doesn’t trust him (could be a homosexual?)
  • “Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.” – the man who sows will reap – ambition
  • “So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs” – we can shape nature (Renaissance). God-like creators
  • “have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry – why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills”
  • “baseness of our natures”
  • “sect or scion”

MONEY – Suggests the capitalist society, culture of trade and finance

  • “Put money in thy purse, follow thou the wars, defeat thy favour with an usurped beard; I say, put money in thy purse”
  • “go, make money…provide thy money” – Iago says this after each positive thing, it is a metaphor for saying they have more and more advantages against Othello. More money in the bank.
  • “Thus do I ever make fool my purse”

ANIMALS – Different connotations depending on species

  • “for the love of a guinea-hen” – this is a term which often meant prostitute (meaning Desdemona)
  • “change my humanity with a baboon” – a baboon was considered a simpleton
  • “drown cats and blind puppies”
  • “luscious as locusts” – sweetness

The scene goes back to private after public.

They are talking of base, low topics = this may give reason as to why Shakespeare uses prose. Prose was seen as to lower status or trying to create intimacy with Roderigo.

Shakespeare forces the audience to collude with Iago’s intentions and despite the content of his ideas, there is much to admire. Do you agree?

I do not agree that we are meant to admire Iago because we have our hero Othello who appeared likable and honest. To admire, there must be some sense of positivity yet the language he uses is harsh and seems unnecessary. He has no proof of his motives “But [he] for mere suspicion in that kind/Will do for surety”. He is also not that ‘quick-thinking’ as he comes up with his plan because he doesn’t have one before manipulating Roderigo and has to think until he “have’t, it”.




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