Context of the Monologue
Alone, Iago reveals to the audience his plot to get even with Othello using Roderigo and Michael Cassio.
Prior to this, we learn Iago is Othello’s confidant and ensign, or standard bearer. He has followed Othello, who as a general in the Venetian army, was sent to Cyprus to defend the colony from the threat of Turkish invasion.
In Cyprus, out from under the eye of the Venetian state, Iago puts in place his plan to exact revenge upon Othello and Michael Cassio. Both whom Iago believes have slept with his wife Emilia and furthermore because Michael Cassio has overleapt him in rank. To do this Iago enlists the help of one Roderigo. A somewhat wealthy and foolish man who is in love with Othello’s recently married wife, Desdemona.
Language & Thought Breakdown
In this monologue, Iago speaks in verse; iambic pentameter. Just prior to him being left alone, Iago was speaking with Roderigo in pros. Pros was more commonly spoken by fools and lower status characters. So, lower class speech with Roderigo but when left alone, he swaps to the intelligent and graceful verse in which he speaks with the audience. What do you think this could reveal to us about the character?
Where there is an internal full stop in the iambic line, I’ve made a clear distinction by breaking the speech up into separate paragraphs. This is so you can see more clearly the thought change or change in subject matter.
Something worth looking at is the rhythm of the speech. This speech is in iambic pentameter, however you’ll notice many lines with ‘feminine endings’. So where you see an (F) at the end of a line, it is there to indicate an extra beat in the rhythm. Perhaps this is a signpost to the actor that Iago is taking his time to consider what he is thinking and what he reveals. When Iago falls back into a natural rhythm of ten beats per line, it feels to me as if he is really getting a roll on in his thoughts.
Let’s break down the language to get a clearer idea of the thought and beat changes of the character.
Beat Change: Space
Thought Change: /
(F): Feminine ending
That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it; / (F)
That she loves him, ’tis apt and of great credit. / (F)
The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not, /
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature, / (F)
And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona (F)
A most dear husband. /
Now, I do love her too; / (F)
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure (F)
I stand accountant for as great a sin, /
But partly led to diet my revenge, /
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap’d into my seat; / the thought whereof /
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards; / (F)
And nothing can or shall content my soul /
Till I am even’d with him, wife for wife, /
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure. /
Which thing to do: /
If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trace
For his quick hunting, stand the putting on, /
I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip, /
Abuse him to the Moor in the right garb— /
For I fear Cassio with my night-cap too— /
Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me (F)
For making him egregiously an ass /
And practising upon his peace and quiet (F)
Even to madness. /
’Tis here, but yet confused: (F)
Knavery’s plain face is never seen till used.
I truly believe that Cassio is in love with Desdemona,
And that she loves him, is likely and highly believable.
Othello, although I can’t stand him,
Is loyal, loving, and honourable
And I think he will prove to be, for Desdemona,
A very beloved and faithful husband.
Now I also love Desdemona,
Not entirely out of lust, although perhaps
I am guilty of that also.
But also because I want to feed my revenge,
As I suspect the lascivious Moor
Has slept with my wife, which just thinking about,
Like poison, chews up my insides,
And there is nothing that can or will satisfy me
Until I am even with him, wife for wife,
Or if I can’t do that, at the very least I’ll make Othello
Fall into jealousy so deep,
That no good judgment can cure it.
Which thing to do:
If this Venetian trash, Roderigo,
Who like a hunting dog, does what I tell him,
I’ll have Michael Cassio right where I want him,
Speak abuse about him to Othello, which I’ll plan –
(Because I’m afraid that Cassio has slept with my wife also -)
And the Moor will thank me, love me and reward me
Although I’m making him look like an absolute fool,
And destroying his peace of mind,
Sending him crazy.
All the pieces of the puzzle are here but muddled up,
Villainous plans are seen until they’re finished.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Credit: Holds great value/possibility.
Moor: One from North-Western Africa, of mixed Berber and Arab Descent.
Dear: Beloved, precious.
Peradventure: Probably/ perhaps.
Leapt into my seat: Mounted sexually, or seat could refer to ‘one’s official place of office’. Essentially that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia.
On the hip: At a disadvantage.
Right garb: The way I plan, the most effective course of action.
Night-cap: Wife’s Vagina. In other words, Iago also suspect’s Cassio of sleeping with Emilia.
Egregiously: Monstrously, absolutely, shamefully.
Practicing upon: Plotting against.
Tis here, but yet confused: In other words, the plan is in my head.
Knavery: Villainy, dishonesty.
Iago is a wonderfully complex character. His resentment and poisonousness hatred combined with his ability to charm and appear genuine make for a brilliant role to play.
This monologue shows Iago confiding in the audience, letting them in on his darkest thoughts and plans. Even though we understand Iago to be the antagonist of the play, he is given the opportunity to reveal himself to the audience in the same way that a hero would, like Hamlet or Juliet.
The challenge for an actor therefore is how to negotiate this character who is intelligent and charming but ultimately puts into motion events that will result in the murder of an innocent woman, the suicide of a gullible man, as well as murdering his own wife.
Known throughout the play to be ‘honest Iago’, some view this to be purely a dramatically ironic name. I beg to differ. I think this name is true on one level – with the audience.
To everyone else in the play he is constantly playing a part. The part of the ensign, the soldier, the friend, the husband, the confidant. He is a master of masks and he knows how pit people against one another perfectly. However, when no other characters are around, he seems to relish the opportunity to be honest – revealing potentially very vulnerable thoughts and fears, not to mention his admittedly villainous plot.
Part of his desire to take revenge is borne out of his own jealousy. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that Iago’s wife Emilia has been unfaithful to him. So whether his belief is founded on fact or pure imagination, Iago projects this jealous fear onto those around him. A hypocritical jealousy, in fact, as he himself practically admits to lusting after Desdemona! I think psychologically these are brilliant and complex traits which serve as a gift to any actor.