Iago, in Shakespeare’s Othello, is a deceiving character because he tells lies in order to get what he wants. He interacts with people only to manipulate them, but most importantly he never reveals his true feelings or motives. Iago might say things that suggest what his motive is, but he soon contradicts himself with another suggestion making it extremely difficult to understand him. Although Iago’s true motives cannot be determined, some motives could be jealousy, the enjoyment of seeing people suffer, or power.
Iago’s jealous of Othello and Cassio because he thinks that both of them slept with his wife, Emilia. In Iago’s first soliloquy at the end of act 1, Iago says that Othello might have slept with his wife and even though this is a rumor, he says that he will believe it. Then in his second soliloquy at the end of act 2, scene 1, Iago reiterates and once again says that Othello slept with his wife, the only difference is that now he thinks Cassio has slept with his wife too because he believes that Cassio is a “proper man” and a playboy.
So, this seems to be a driving force for Iago to ruin Othello and Cassio. Iago’s jealousy towards Othello quickly turns into a jealousy toward Cassio too because Othello appointed Cassio as lieutenant instead of Iago. Iago believes that he should be lieutenant because he has fought by Othello’s side in battles and because he has actual war experience, whereas Cassio learned all of his tactics from books. So, he is jealous because he didn’t get the job, but he is angry because he thinks that Othello made Cassio his lieutenant because Cassio helped Othello marry Desdemona.
Iago doesn’t know anything about proportion, meaning that if he has been wronged he will bring justice to himself by giving the culprit a punishment that doesn’t match the crime. In this case, Iago wasn’t appointed as lieutenant; therefore, he wants to torture Othello and Cassio mentally and then kill them. This could be the result of his hatred and jealousy. Another motive that might cause Iago’s behavior is that he is a sadist; he just likes to enjoy watching other people suffer.
Iago is a very clever person and he enjoys seeing how idiots make fools of themselves. One of these idiots is Iago’s “buddy,” Roderigo. Roderigo is a typical wealthy, Venetian aristocrat who is madly in love with Desdemona and he has given Iago the task of helping him woo her. Iago uses this to his advantage, even though Iago uses Roderigo to ruin Cassio and Othello, he gets some amusement by watching Roderigo prance around and go nuts over Desdemona. Iago also finds it funny when Roderigo wants to go kill himself after he finds out that Desdemona married Othello.
There are multiple times throughout the play where Roderigo should have known that Iago was just using him for money and some laughs and since Roderigo doesn’t pick up on this, Iago can use Roderigo to his advantage. Power is probably the most important motive. Iago is very conniving and clever and he can use this to manipulate people. It is clearly seen that Iago thrives for power because he loves manipulating people so that they doe exactly what he says. He does this to Roderigo many times, like when Iago tells Roderigo to give him all of his money and when he convinces Roderigo to kill Cassio.
He even controls Othello to the point that Othello suspects his wife and decides to kill her. Iago’s thirst for power is also seen when Cassio is appointed to be Othello’s lieutenant because this was, supposedly, the basis for his revenge. He really wanted to be lieutenant because it is a very high position and with it comes a lot of power and Iago proves that he would do anything to get that sort of power. Therefore, one of Iago’s motives could be that he has a tremendous thirst for power.
In conclusion, many believe that Iago is just a psychopath, which is true to some extent; however, he is also very smart and clever. If he wasn’t clever he would not be able to carry out his revenge because he wouldn’t be able to manipulate anyone. The probable motives – power, sadism, jealousy and anger are some reasons for why Iago is psychotic, but it is nearly impossible to figure out his true motives from the text. Even though this may be true, Iago does suggest these motives and all of them are supported by the text, but even this could be one of Iago’s ploys because nobody can truly understand Iago.