How does Shakespeare use Iago's soliloquies to reveal his motivations in Othello?

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To a certain extent, the audience in Othello represents the only confidant Iago really has. The whole point of Iago is that he does not betray his motivations to any of the people around him. He is always playing one person off against another: the things he says to Roderigo...

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To a certain extent, the audience in Othello represents the only confidant Iago really has. The whole point of Iago is that he does not betray his motivations to any of the people around him. He is always playing one person off against another: the things he says to Roderigo about why they are doing what they do cannot be trusted, because ultimately, Iago doesn't care about Roderigo, either. Likewise, the things he tells Othello and Cassio are completely opposed to each other. As such, it is only when he is soliloquizing—talking to himself—that we can see any inkling of Iago's true motivations.

Look at Iago's soliloquy in act 2, scene 1. Here, we find out more about Iago than we do perhaps before or after—he says that he "suspect[s] the lusty Moor" of having "leap'd into [his] seat," or slept with his wife, and that the thought of this gnaws at him. He also says that he believes Othello to be of a noble nature, and that he also admires Desdemona. The idea that Iago thinks of Othello as a beast who has cuckolded him gives some indication as to why he does what he does. However, we cannot take this at face value—remember Iago's statement: "I am not what I am." Even in his soliloquies, it is never clear whether Iago is trying to convince himself of a falsehood, or relaying a truth. This is one explanation for his behavior, but it is not the only one.

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Think of Shakespeare as the George Lucas of the 16th century. He wrote plays in order to have actors tell stories on a stage, much as Lucas wrote the Star Wars scripts to tell stories on film. Shakespeare didn't have cameras and film and special effects, so he had to use other tools.

A soliloquy is one way for the audience to find things out about a character without the rest of the characters knowing. A soliloquy can therefore create suspense and dramatic irony. It can also foreshadow future events.

Using this perspective, think about (1) the things that Iago does and compare them to (2) the things that Iago says when no one is around to listen except the audience.

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