Explain how Iago's opinion of women develops the readers' understanding of his character and the role he plays.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Othello, Iago is a misogynist from the beginning of the play to the end.  Quite simply, he sees women as inferior beings to men, and he has a hand in two of the three female characters' deaths in the play.

In Act I, Iago uses Desdemona to attack Othello.  He demeans Desdemona to her father, saying she is "making the beast with two backs" with Othello.  He uses sexual and animal imagery in describing her, suggesting that Iago believes women to be mere objects.

Once on Cyprus, Iago openly condescends to his wife and Desdemona, saying:

Come on, come on; you are pictures out of doors,
Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens,
Saints m your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and housewives' in your beds.

Again, he uses crude sexual imagery to describe women, even though they may be faithfully married.  His finishes off the exchange with a punch line:

You rise to play and go to bed to work.

This quote indicts Iago as one who believes women to be evil temptresses whose cruel nature is only to lure men into their lairs.  Critic A. C. Bradley agrees:

[Iago] succeeds very often with a mere hint—as, for example, the suggestion that Desdemona can not possibly escape the corruption for which the Venetian women (he implies) are notorious:

In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands.
[III. iii. 202-03]

Iago will use his wife to get to Othello as well.  He urges her to steal the handkerchief.  His plan almost works, but he understimates Emilia's outspokenness.  She calls him a villain after Desdemona is strangled, to which Iago responds, "Get you home!"  Again, he believes a woman's proper place is as a domestic.  When she persists in calling him a villain, Iago calls her a "villainous whore!"  These are the last words he says to her before he stabs her.

So, Iago is responsible for two women's deaths, Desdemona and his own wife's, which show his complete disregard for their kind.