by: William Shakespeare

Point of View

Shakespeare frames much of Othello through the perspective of its antagonist, which amplifies the play’s dramatic tension by giving the audience more information than the main character. Iago is the first character we see onstage, and we initially sympathize with him, as he’s just been passed over for a promotion. Although our sympathy quickly evaporates once we understand the intensity of Iago’s treachery, we see Iago’s side of the story first. Iago is also the only character with substantive asides and soliloquies. He’s often alone onstage, and in scenes with others he addresses his secret thoughts to the audience, establishing a sense of collusion and providing an insider perspective from which to view the unfolding events. By outlining his terrible plans ahead of time, Iago indicates what the audience should expect to happen. The fact that only Iago and the audience know what to expect amplifies the dramatic irony, in which the audience knows more than the characters, of watching Othello and others gradually succumb to Iago’s foul influence.

Iago’s perspective even frames other characters’ points of view, so we understand the play through his eyes even when he is not the principle actor on stage. For example, when Iago stages a meeting with Cassio while Othello looks on from a secret hiding place, our attention is on Othello to see how he’ll react to hearing Cassio talk about Desdemona. However, Othello stands too far away to actually hear what Iago and Cassio are talking about, and so must rely on the men’s expressions and body language to decipher the meaning of their conversation. Before Cassio enters, Iago tells the audience: “Othello shall go mad, / And his unbookish jealousy must construe / Poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures, and light behaviors / Quite in the wrong” (IV.i.). The audience witnesses Iago’s plan coming to fruition through Othello’s asides, in which he misinterprets what he sees, thinking Cassio is talking about Desdemona, not Bianca. Unlike Iago’s asides, which express his own perspective, Othello’s asides simply express what Iago’s manipulations have coerced him into believing. Iago’s point of view prevails.