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Although Iago verbally abuses women in this scene—presumably because it is safe for him to do so—his real resentment seems to be against those characters who have a higher social class than he has, including Cassio and Desdemona. Iago resents Cassio for being promoted ahead of him, and Cassio’s promotion is likely due to his higher class status. At the beginning of the play, Iago argued that he ought to have been promoted based upon his worth as a soldier, and he expressed bitterness that “[p]referment goes by letter and affection, / And not by old gradation” (I.i.35–36). In Act II, scene i, Cassio contributes to Iago’s anger by taunting the ensign about his inferior status: “Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, / That I extend my manners. ’Tis my breeding / That gives me this bold show of courtesy” (II.i.100–102). Not long afterward, Iago makes fun of Roderigo for being “base” (meaning lower class), even though the play does not indicate that Roderigo is, in fact, of lower status than Iago (II.i.212).
In the soliloquy that concludes Act II, scene i, Iago once again explains quite clearly what he intends to do, despite his comment that his plan is “yet confused” (II.i.298). At the same time, his statements about what motivates him are hazy and confusing. Is he motivated by lust for Desdemona, envy of Cassio, or jealousy over his wife’s supposed affair with Othello? He even throws in a bizarre parenthetical suspicion that Cassio might also have slept with his wife (II.i.294). It is as though Iago mocks the audience for attempting to determine his motives; he treats the audience as he does Othello and Roderigo, leading his listeners “by th’ nose / As asses are [led]” (I.iii.383–384). For each of Iago’s actions, he creates a momentary and unimportant justification.
This is perhaps one of Shakespeare's more interesting plays, if you will. In comparison to Macbeth it isn't quite the walk in the park.
I think conceptually it enables the reader to see that characters can influence characters to such a degree that the original traits are masked and changed. Tragedy in this play is definitely a main component - and a great emphasis that perhaps the villain doesn't always find their true defeat. In a way, wasn't the "villain" successful? He lied to everyone and pretty much killed whomever got in his way.
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Just a theory
The role of Emelia in Othello.
Before I begin expounding on this thought, let me first say that I am not a Shakespearean “Scholar”. I am just a teacher who loves teaching Shakespeare on the off-chance that one of my students will get bitten by the bug and want to study and read more of the man than just the set works that he or she has to cover for exam purposes.
Having taught Othello to matric classes for the past 4 years, I have developed a few theories of my own about Shakespeare’s “bit” actors,... Read more→
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Othello was the final play in my effort to read all of Shakespeare before his 450th. It was a great time reading them all, and Othello was one of the most difficult and darkest (so often pitting light against darkness).
While racism in Elizabethan England wasn't the same as that of the 21st century, it certainly was a backdrop to the play, and Shakespeare, this time, seemed to challenge it.
If you're interested, see my blog on Othello: