I the Moor I would not be Iago.
In following him I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so for my peculiar end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment 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. (I.i.57–65)
In this early speech, Iago explains
his tactics to Roderigo. He follows Othello not out of “love” or
“duty,” but because he feels he can exploit and dupe his master,
thereby revenging himself upon the man he suspects of having slept
with his wife. Iago finds that people who are what they seem are
foolish. The day he decides to demonstrate outwardly what he feels
inwardly, Iago explains, will be the day he makes himself most vulnerable:
“I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at.” His
implication, of course, is that such a day will never come.
This speech exemplifies Iago’s cryptic and elliptical
manner of speaking. Phrases such as “Were I the Moor I would not
be Iago” and “I am not what I am” hide as much as, if not more than,
they reveal. Iago is continually playing a game of deception, even
with Roderigo and the audience. The paradox or riddle that the speech creates
is emblematic of Iago’s power throughout the play: his smallest
sentences (“Think, my lord?” in III.iii.109)
or gestures (beckoning Othello closer in Act IV, scene i) open up
whole worlds of interpretation.