Iago from Othello: Character Analysis, Lesson & Quiz

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Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Iago is the antagonist in the play 'Othello' by William Shakespeare. His jealousy and envy causes him to destroy the lives of his boss Othello and his boss's wife, Desdemona. Learn more about Iago's character and test your knowledge with a quiz.

We also recommend watching Jane Eyre: Summary, Characters and Analysis and Pride and Prejudice: Plot and Character Analysis


When we work hard to achieve our goals, it can be difficult to watch others who are less accomplished than we are achieve what we've wanted without as much work. This type of situation can cause us to feel envious and jealous of the other person. Some people might use this type of situation to challenge themselves to reach their goals, while others might decide to destroy the person they believe stands in their way.

In William Shakespeare's play Othello, Iago is a soldier with hopes of being promoted to lieutenant. He becomes angry and vengeful when he is passed over for promotion. A less experienced soldier, Cassio, is promoted to lieutenant instead of Iago. This action triggers anger in Iago, and he takes out his anger on his boss Othello. Iago desires to destroy Othello's life and marriage even if others are harmed in the process.

Character Analysis

Iago explains that he wants to destroy Othello because he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant; however, he offers other motives for his hatred of Othello throughout the course of the play. He mentions he believes Othello is having an affair with his wife, Emilia. He states, 'it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets, he has done my office' (Act I Scene III, lines 369-370). He also mentions having a desire for Desdemona because he wants to seek revenge on Othello, 'wife for wife' (Act II, Scene II, lines 286). Eventually it becomes clear that Iago has no real motives for hurting Othello and his character appears to be a vice figure, a stock character who personifies immoral behavior by tempting others.


Iago is confident in his ability to manipulate others. He uses a man he has been working for, Roderigo, to plot his plan against Othello. When he speaks to Roderigo, he explains his own skillfulness. In Act I, Scene I, line 65 he states, 'I am not what I am'.

Iago is a manipulative villain who serves as an antagonist, or an enemy to the protagonist, and develops a plan to destroy the lives of Cassio, Othello and Desdemona. Iago seems to enjoy ruining the lives of others. As he becomes more deeply invested in his plot, the lives of others besides his initial victims are destroyed as well. Iago kills his own wife, Emilia, when she stands in the way of him accomplishing his goal.

Iago uses his knowledge of people and the intimate ways he knows others to hurt them. He grows closer to Othello as he plots against him. He is able to convince Othello that his wife has been cheating on him with his new lieutenant Cassio by using his knowledge of Othello's insecurities against him. Once Iago plants the seed of doubt in Othello's mind, he plants Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's possession to confirm the affair, and Othello spirals out of control.

Lesson Summary

Iago is the antagonist in the play Othello by William Shakespeare. He is a manipulative man who develops a plan to destroy the lives of those he feels have wronged him. Iago is upset about not being promoted and seeks revenge on his boss, Othello, and the man who took the job he wanted, Cassio. Iago is able to get others to behave in the way he wants them to and many lives, including the life of his wife when she gets in the way, are lost in the process.

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