Othello

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Iago Character Analysis

Othello's disloyal standard-bearer and the villain of the play. Angry at having been passed over by Othello for promotion to the rank of lieutenant, and also because he seems to enjoy creating mayhem for its own sake, Iago develops an intricate conspiracy to ruin Othello. He is married to Emilia.

Iago Quotes in Othello

The Othello quotes below are all either spoken by Iago or refer to Iago. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Othello published in 2015.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
"When my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.67-71
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago and Roderigo have been arguing over the fact that Roderigo paid Iago to help win the hand of Desdemona, only for Desdemona to elope and marry Othello, a Moorish Venetian general. Iago has assured Roderigo that, although he appears to be devoted to Othello, in reality he hates Othello. In this passage, he explains that his outward behavior does not reflect his inner feelings, saying that this would leave his heart vulnerable "for daws (birds) to peck at." Throughout the play, Iago expresses the view that honesty is a sign and cause of weakness. Although Iago's deception is presented as morally wrong and and dangerous, his statement in this passage comes to be proven correct by Othello and Desdemona, whose earnest, trusting personalities leave them vulnerable to manipulation. 

The famous, ambiguous last phrase in this passage, "I am not what I am," proves just how deep Iago's duplicity really goes. His choice of words suggests his dishonesty is so extreme that he does not even have a stable personality beneath his strategic manipulation of others. 

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Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:

Roderigo has confessed to Iago that he is miserable at the thought that he has lost Desdemona to Othello; Iago has told him not to indulge these sentimental emotions, and has promised to help Roderigo win Desdemona if Roderigo pays him. Alone onstage, Iago reflects on his own hatred of Othello and details his plan to bring about Othello's downfall. In this passage, Iago notes that Othello is an open, trusting person, and that because of this, manipulating him will be easy, like leading a donkey by the nose.

This is one of the many instances in the play in which Othello is compared to an animal. Iago's reference to an ass (donkey) in particular highlights that the racist view of Moors as animalistic is closely entwined with the idea that Moors are naturally subservient and unintelligent. Iago's view that Othello is feebleminded is clearly false; Othello has already demonstrated that he is not only a highly skilled soldier, but also talented in rhetoric. On the other hand, Iago's observation that Othello is overly trusting is correct. Indeed, Othello's readiness to believe in appearances is the fatal flaw that––as Iago predicts––ultimately leads to his downfall.

However, the extent to which this trusting nature is actually a flaw remains ambiguous. Othello's "free and open nature" is contrasted with Iago's duplicitous cunning, and although Shakespeare shows that gullibility is dangerous, it is still presented as morally preferable to selfish scheming and deceitful appearances.

Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"Oh heavy ignorance! Thou praisest the worst best."
Related Characters: Desdemona (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 2.1.158-159
Explanation and Analysis:

Desdemona and Iago have arrived in Cyprus, and while they wait for Othello's ship to join them they engage in flirtatious conversation. Iago has entertained Desdemona by telling riddles about "foul and foolish" women; Desdemona laughingly accuses him of "heavy ignorance" for praising such qualities. To some extent, their exchange confirms Desdemona's sweet and earnest nature, as she rebukes Iago for praising negative characteristics. On the other hand, the decidedly flirtatious element of their conversations suggests that Desdemona is perhaps not entirely morally innocent. At the same time, she might also simply be fulfilling the expectation that women should always behave in a pleasant, agreeable manner, rather than expressing strong opinions. Such ambiguity highlights the difficulty of adhering to the strict, complex, and in some ways contradictory code of behavior demanded of women. 

In any case, the fact that Desdemona is at least mildly flirting with Iago lends a hint of plausibility to Othello's paranoia about her possible infidelity. A further layer of tension emerges from Desdemona's accusation that Iago "praisest the worst best." Although Desdemona is referring to Iago's humorous banter, she has unwittingly made an accurate judgment of Iago's fundamental personality. After all, Iago is a Machiavellian villain who does indeed value the worst qualities––selfishness, duplicity, and ruthlessness––over moral attributes such as fairness and honesty. The fact that Iago can jokingly present himself this way without Desdemona catching on to his true nature demonstrates both Desdemona's trusting innocence and Iago's deceptive charisma.

"Her eye must be fed."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 2.1.246
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio have exited to start celebrating the victory over the Turks, leaving Roderigo and Iago alone onstage. Iago assures Roderigo that Desdemona's feelings for Othello will not last, proclaiming confidently that "her eye must be fed"––meaning she'll want a more handsome lover soon. This assertion conveys the stereotype that women are fickle and shallow, and emphasizes the idea that Desdemona and Othello's union isn't viable. It also reiterates the racist view that Othello is unattractive because he is a Moor. This comment therefore demonstrates the way in which strong racist and sexist prejudices affect Othello and Desdemona as individuals and as a couple, threatening the stability of their marriage. 

"I'll [...] make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.330-331
Explanation and Analysis:

Having established a plan with Roderigo to provoke Cassio into a fight, Iago is once again left alone and delivers another soliloquy about his evil scheme. He has proclaimed that winning Desdemona for himself would be the best possible form of revenge against Othello, but that he will settle for driving Othello mad with jealousy by tricking him into thinking Desdemona has been unfaithful. Iago finishes his speech with the alarming boast that he will make Othello "thank me, love me, and reward me" for making a fool out of him, again using the racist imagery by saying he will turn Othello into an ass (donkey).

This passage is a reminder of Iago's scheming nature––he wants to destroy Othello not only for the pleasure of vengeance, but also for the "reward" of advancing his own career. It also reveals the truly perverse, sadistic extent of his desire for revenge. It is not enough for Iago to ruin Othello; he wants Othello to "thank" and "love" him for it. 

Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.100-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has promised Desdemona he will reinstate Cassio, though he has also seen Cassio sneak away in a seemingly guilty manner, and remains confused and suspicious about what he is really going on. He has asked Desdemona for some time alone, and after she leaves he reflects on his love for her in mixed terms, on the one hand saying that not loving her would mean "chaos," while at the same time calling her "excellent wretch." Note that Othello is speaking to himself in this passage, seemingly unaware that Iago can hear him. This moment thus pertinently represents the way that Iago has successfully manipulated and weakened Othello without Othello realizing it. 

"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, tis his, and has been slave to thousands.
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed"
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.182-190
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has noticed Cassio avoiding him and is suspicious; nonetheless, he has promised Desdemona to reinstate Cassio, but first asks for some time alone. With the other characters gone, Iago asks seemingly innocent questions about Cassio, and gives Othello advice that likewise appears to be well-intentioned, yet is actually designed to increase Othello's suspicions. In this passage Iago emphasizes the importance of reputation, saying that for a person's money to be stolen is ultimately meaningless, yet if his "good name" is ruined that leaves him "poor indeed." This passage shows the power of Iago's cunning strategy of undermining Othello. On the surface, he appears to be helping Othello by providing rational and wise advice; in reality, he is laying the foundation for Othello's coming frenzied paranoia. 

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.195-197
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, having been cautioned by Iago about the importance of reputation, demands to know what Iago is really thinking. Iago evades the question, and instead warns Othello to beware of jealousy, famously likening it to a "green-eyed monster" that mocks the jealous person. As in the rest of this exchange, Iago's words are technically correct, and in a different context would constitute good advice. Indeed, his warning directly prefigures the chaotic impact that jealousy will have on Othello's life, and foreshadows the way in which Othello's irrational jealousy will make a fool out of and destroy him. At the same time, Iago knows that telling Othello not to be jealous will only increase his suspicions. The "green-eyed monster" he describes in fact reflects Iago's own role as an envious, parasitic influence who mocks Othello even as he ruins him.

"This honest creature doubtless
Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.283-284
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has requested that Iago ask Emilia to keep an eye on Desdemona, and has urged Iago to report anything he sees back to him. As Iago leaves, Othello says to himself that Iago is honest and probably knows more than he is letting on. Once again, Othello has made an accurate observation without realizing its true meaning. Iago does know more than what he says, though of course he deliberately conceals and misrepresents information in order to undermine Othello––a far cry from the behavior of an "honest creature." Note that, although Othello thinks he is alone when he makes this statement, immediately afterward Iago briefly returns. Depending on the production, Iago is likely to be shown overhearing Othello, a fact that adds further dramatic irony to Othello's words. 

"This fellow's of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.299-301
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago, returning briefly, has urged Othello  not to think about the matter anymore for the moment, and entrust Iago himself to assess what is going on. Othello has agreed, and with Iago gone again he repeats that Iago is exceedingly honest, with strong insight into how people behave. Once more, Othello's impression of Iago contains elements of truth, yet is nonetheless fundamentally mistaken. It is correct that Iago has "a learned spirit of human dealings"; his keen understanding of human psychology is what allows him to manipulate others so easily. Yet while Othello appears to think that Iago's intelligent nature makes him honest and moral, in reality the opposite is true. 

The question of whether knowledge and ability make a person morally trustworthy is a central question in the play, and relates to a debate about the ethics and power that continues to this day. Both Othello and Iago are highly intelligent and skilled, and yet Iago understands a sphere of human behavior that Othello seemingly does not; namely, people's capacity to be act deceitfully and in the pursuit of their own interests. Although in many ways the audience is encouraged to admire Othello's moral goodness and faith in other people, his misestimation of Iago is notably naïve, and proves fatal. This dilemma provokes the question of who makes the better leader––Othello, who is righteous but gullible, or Iago, whose evil and cynical view of humanity is arguably more accurate. 

"Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 3.3.412
Explanation and Analysis:

Emilia has picked up Desdemona's handkerchief, which Iago had requested she bring to him, and dutifully presented it to her husband. Iago takes the handkerchief with the plan of leaving it in Cassio's room, when Othello suddenly enters in a frantic, enraged state, and demands that Iago show him "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity. The fact that Othello behaves aggressively and threateningly to Iago––whom he has multiple times praised as honest and righteous––shows that Othello has already been driven wild by jealousy and is no longer capable of making rational assessments of the situation. Perhaps because he is aware of this, he insists that Iago show him visual evidence of Desdemona's supposed crime, implying Othello believes "ocular proof" is beyond doubt. 

The fact that Iago is carrying the handkerchief during this interaction, however, reminds the audience that appearances can be just as misleading as rumors. Now that Iago has reduced Othello to a state of paranoid jealousy, it is easy for Iago to manipulate visual evidence to support his false claim that Desdemona is unfaithful. Othello's trust in visual appearances reflects his mistaken trust of Iago––and both will soon bring about his downfall. 

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"Her honor is an essence that's not seen;
They have it very oft that have it not."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 4.1.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago has told Othello that he knows Cassio and Desdemona slept "naked in bed" together, but pretends to still want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Iago has repeatedly referenced the handkerchief, saying that it belongs to Desdemona and that she could therefore give it to whomever she wants; Othello asks if she could likewise give away her honor, and Iago replies that her honor is intangible, and that many seem honorable when they are actually not. Following Othello's obsession with "ocular proof," Iago now fixates on the distinction between visible and invisible evidence, and stresses the unreliability of evaluating Desdemona's "honor" because honor is not visible. 

Note that Iago's statement "they have it very oft that have it not"––meaning many people appear to be honorable but aren't––does not actually apply to Desdemona, but does accurately describe Iago himself. Indeed, the phrasing is reminiscent of Iago's statement earlier in the play, "I am not what I am." Once again, Iago is making wise and astute observations about the nature of human behavior, yet uses these observations to further his deceptive and evil plan. 

Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"I told him what I thought, and told no more
Than what he found himself was apt and true."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 5.2.212-213
Explanation and Analysis:

Emilia has discovered that Othello has murdered Desdemona; Othello has told her that it was her husband, "honest, honest Iago," who made him aware that Desdemona was supposedly having an affair with Cassio. Emilia has begun to understand Iago's plan, when Iago, Montano, and Grazio arrive. Emilia informs them of Desdemona's murder and demands that Iago assure her he did not tell Othello that Desdemona was unfaithful; Iago responds by insisting he only told Othello what he thought, which was also what Othello believed to be true. Although Iago is clearly presenting a veneer of false innocence here, his sly choice of words mean that what he is saying is arguably accurate.

Note that Iago claims to have told Othello only what he "thought" and not what he knew, and mentions that this cohered with Othello's own suspicions. Of course, what Iago doesn't mention is that he skilfully manipulated Othello into these delusional suspicions in the first place. Once again, Iago's cunning influence over the other characters' thoughts and actions blurs the distinction between appearance and reality, and obscures the evidence of what really happened.

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Iago Character Timeline in Othello

The timeline below shows where the character Iago appears in Othello. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
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On a street in Venice, Italy, Roderigo, a nobleman, and Iago are in the middle of an argument. Roderigo has paid Iago a lot of money... (full context)
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Iago assures Roderigo that he hates Othello, and explains that Othello recently passed him over for... (full context)
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Iago then adds that while he currently pretends to serve Othello, he is in fact just... (full context)
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Iago and Roderigo go to the house of Brabantio, a senator and Desdemona's father. They shout... (full context)
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...house for his daughter, worried because he has had a "dream" (1.1.140) anticipating these events. Iago takes the chance to leave in order to keep his plot against Othello secret. (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
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At the inn where Othello is lodging, Iago tells Othello that he wanted to stab Roderigo when he hears the things Roderigo was... (full context)
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Just then, they see a group of men approaching. Iago says it must be Brabantio and advises Othello to go inside. Othello refuses, preferring to... (full context)
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Iago then mentions to Cassio that Othello has married. But before he can say who Othello... (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
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...Cyprus that night, he decides that Desdemona should follow after him in the care of Iago, and asks Iago to have his wife attend Desdemona. Othello and Desdemona then exit to... (full context)
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Iago and Roderigo are left alone. Roderigo, convinced his chances with Desdemona are now hopelessly lost,... (full context)
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Alone, Iago delivers a soliloquy in which he says again that he hates the Moor. He notes... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
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The Venetian ship carrying Desdemona, Iago, Emilia (Iago's wife), and Roderigo is the next to arrive. As soon as they arrive,... (full context)
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As they wait for Othello to arrive, Iago and Desdemona banter. Iago portrays all women, whether beautiful, ugly, smart, or foolish, as generally... (full context)
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Cassio, courteous as always, takes Desdemona's hand and speaks with her privately for a moment. Iago notices, and says that this little courtesy of Cassio taking Desdemona's hand will be enough... (full context)
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...as they age. Othello then thanks the people of Cyprus for their hospitality. He asks Iago to oversee the unloading of his ship, and he, Desdemona, and all but Iago and... (full context)
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Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona is bound to tire of Othello, and want instead someone younger,... (full context)
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In fact, Iago says, Desdemona already loves Cassio, and he asks if Roderigo noticed them touching hands. Roderigo... (full context)
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Alone, Iago delivers his second soliloquy. He says that he thinks it likely that Cassio does indeed... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
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...that the men on guard practice moderation and self-restraint despite the party. Cassio says that Iago knows what to do, but that he will make sure to see to it himself.... (full context)
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When Othello and Desdemona are gone, Iago praises Desdemona's beauty while also slyly suggesting that she might be a seductress. Cassio agrees... (full context)
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Iago then turns the conversation to the revels, and tries to convince Cassio to take a... (full context)
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Alone, Iago addresses the audience: the revelers are Roderigo and three men of Cyrpus, who are all... (full context)
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While Cassio is gone, Iago speaks with Montano, telling him that Cassio is a great soldier, but that he has... (full context)
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...that Cassio is drunk. Cassio is offended, and he and Montano fight. During the fighting, Iago sends Roderigo to raise an alarm. Cassio injures Montano. (full context)
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...immediately puts an end to the fighting, and demands to know how the fighting began. Iago and Cassio say they do not know, while Montano says that he is too injured... (full context)
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Iago speaks, saying that it pains him to cause any harm to Cassio but that he... (full context)
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When Iago finishes his story, Othello says that he can tell that, out of love for Cassio,... (full context)
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...reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial" (2.3.251-3). Iago asks if Cassio knew who he was chasing after, but Cassio says that he can't... (full context)
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Iago delivers another soliloquy, in which he says that his advice to Cassio is actually good... (full context)
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Roderigo enters. He is angry that he has gotten himself beaten by Cassio and given Iago almost all his money, but does not have Desdemona. Iago tells him to be patient,... (full context)
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Roderigo exits. Iago addresses the audience, outlining his plan: he will get his wife to set up a... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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...bring Emilia to him so that he may speak with her. The clown exits and Iago enters. Cassio explains that he sent the clown to get Emilia. Iago says that he... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Othello, Iago, and a gentleman walk together. Othello gives Iago some letters to send to the Venetian... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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...Desdemona assures Cassio that she will help him regain his position. Just then, Othello and Iago enter. Cassio feels so ashamed that he feels unable to talk with Othello, and exits.... (full context)
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Othello and Iago are now alone. Iago starts asking vague but leading questions about Cassio, until Othello finally... (full context)
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Iago again says that his suspicions are likely false. He warns Othello against the dangers of... (full context)
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Iago exits. Othello, alone, now voices worry that perhaps it's unrealistic for him to expect Desdemona... (full context)
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...it since it was the first gift that Othello gave to her, and also that Iago is always asking her to steal it for some reason. She decides to make a... (full context)
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Iago enters. To his delight, Emilia shows him the handkerchief. He grabs it from her hand.... (full context)
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Othello enters, frantic and furious, and says to Iago that he would have been happier to be deceived than to suspect. He shouts farewell... (full context)
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Iago responds that it's probably impossible to actually catch Desdemona and Cassio in the act of... (full context)
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But Iago cautions Othello that it was just Cassio's dream and may not signify anything about Desdemona's... (full context)
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...in aguish, then kneels and vows that he will take revenge on Cassio and Desdemona. Iago kneels and vows as well. Othello makes Iago his new lieutenant. (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Iago and Cassio enter. Cassio asks about his suit, but Desdemona tells him that he must... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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Othello and Iago enter, discussing infidelity. Iago uses the conversation to further enrage Othello, then lets slip that... (full context)
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Cassio enters while Othello is unconscious from his fit. Iago informs Cassio that this is Othello’s second fit in as many days, and though Cassio... (full context)
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Othello’s fit ends after Cassio exits. Iago tells Othello that Cassio passed by during Othello’s fit and will soon return to speak... (full context)
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Alone, Iago explains to the audience that he will actually speak with Cassio about Bianca, who’s doting... (full context)
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...Desdemona. He keeps remembering what a kind, beautiful, talented, and delicate person she is. But Iago convinces him that these qualities make her unfaithfulness all the worse. Othello, at Iago’s prodding,... (full context)
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...can’t believe that Othello, renowned for his unshakable self-control, would act this way. He asks Iago if Othello has gone mad. Iago refuses to answer, but clearly implies that something seems... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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Desdemona asks Emilia to fetch Iago, whom Desdemona then questions about Othello's behavior. Emilia thinks that it must be the doing... (full context)
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...angry that he still does not have Desdemona despite all the jewels he's given to Iago to pass on to her. He says he is ready to give up his effort... (full context)
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Iago responds that he's been working diligently on Roderigo's behalf and can promise that Rodrigo will... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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In the street, Iago and Roderigo wait to ambush Cassio as he emerges from his visit to Bianca. Iago... (full context)
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...Roderigo attacks, but Cassio's armor turns away the thrust. Cassio counterattacks, wounding Roderigo. From behind, Iago darts in and stabs Cassio in the leg, then runs away. From a distance, Othello... (full context)
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...cries of pain from Cassio and Roderigo, but it's so dark they can't see anything. Iago enters, carrying a light, and is recognized by Lodovico and Graziano. He finds Cassio, and... (full context)
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As Iago, Lodovico, and Graziano tend to Cassio's wounds, Bianca enters and cries out when she sees... (full context)
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Cassio is carried offstage and Emilia enters. When Iago explains what has happened Emilia curses Bianca. Bianca responds by saying that she is as... (full context)
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Iago has Bianca arrested, and in an aside to he audience says "This is the night... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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...that Cassio has confessed to sleeping with her and, in punishment, has been killed by Iago. Desdemona begins to weep, which only infuriates Othello since he believes that she is crying... (full context)
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...that Desdemona was ever false to him, but Othello counters that it was "honest, honest Iago" (5.2.156) who showed him the truth. (full context)
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Emilia is dumbfounded as she digests this information, but recovers herself enough to say that Iago was lying and to condemn Othello's actions. Othello threatens Emilia to keep quiet, but Emilia... (full context)
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Montano, Graziano, and Iago enter. Othello admits once more, this time to Graziano, Desdemona's uncle, that he smothered Desdemona.... (full context)
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Realizing that Iago lied to him, Othello attacks Iago, but is disarmed by Montano. In the uproar, Iago... (full context)
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...enters to find Othello armed and mourning Desdemona. Moments later Lodovico and Montano enter with Iago, whom they've captured. Cassio also enters, carried in on a chair. Othello immediately stabs Iago,... (full context)
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Lodovico demands that Iago look upon the destruction he has caused. He notes that Graziano is Othello's heir, and... (full context)