What are Iago’s motivations in his actions toward Othello, Cassio, and Roderigo? What is his philosophy? How does his technique in handling Roderigo differ from his technique in handling Othello...
What are Iago’s motivations in his actions toward Othello, Cassio, and Roderigo? What is his philosophy?
How does his technique in handling Roderigo differ from his technique in handling Othello and Cassio? Why?
At the end of the play, when Othello demands that someone ask "this demi-devil," Iago, why he has done what he has done, Iago says:
Demand me nothing: what you know, you know.
To a great extent, this is the answer to your question. Scholars have spent centuries trying to ascertain what Iago's motivations are for his behavior, simply because what textual evidence there is comes only from Iago himself, and it seems generally lacking as an explanation for such elaborate and sustained manipulation. Iago tells us in the first scene, "I am not what I am," and this may be one of his only true statements in the play. He is impossible to decipher.
Iago states on several occasions that he suspects the Moor of having "done my office" or "leapt into my seat"--that is, slept with his wife. But the comment seems almost an aside. The claim in the early part of the play that he hates Othello for having promoted Cassio over him holds slightly more weight; Iago is resentful of Othello's position as well as the fact that Othello has the power to promote Michael Cassio, "who never set a squadron in the field," above Iago, who must now be content to be "his Moorship's ancient." This seems to be the reason he hates Cassio as well, and he utilizes Cassio in his plan to destroy Othello. But all of Iago's actions are directed ultimately toward destroying Othello. The fact that he involves Cassio and Roderigo in orchestrating Othello's downfall is simply more evidence that Iago may, in fact, be an actively evil character.
Roderigo in particular seems little more than a pawn in Iago's game. Iago never gives any indication of why he is so content to use Roderigo, and Roderigo's love for Desdemona, to work against Othello, especially as they are often presented as conspirators, and it seems that Roderigo knows more of Iago's mental landscape than anyone else. Indeed, Roderigo, unlike Cassio, knows what Iago is planning: he goes along with it because he believes that Iago will eventually ensure that he will "enjoy" Desdemona. But, in the end, Iago has no intention of providing this for Roderigo. Roderigo is simply a useful means to an end.
Why, then, does Iago do what he does? Many have speculated. Is he in love with Desdemona himself—is this why he is forced into action by the Moor's marriage to her? Is he in love with Othello? We can certainly speculate, as centuries of scholars have, but the Iago of the play's text gives very little away.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's belief that all efforts to discover the impetus behind Iago's actions were 'the motive hunting of a motiveless malignity'. In other words, sometimes there is no complete explanation. There are many factors which MIGHT motivate Iago. He might be displeased at having been passed over for promotion by Cassio, who he dismisses as having 'mere prattle without practice. He might be inherently racist, as many Venetians were. Indeed, Iago seems to delight in shocking Brabantio with his statement that even now, having eloped with Desdamona, 'an old black ram is tupping [his] white ewe'. Iago might believe that Othello has been having an affair with his wife, Emilia, although he admits, 'I know not if it is true' but 'for mere suspicion' could use this information to his own advantage. His interest in Roderigo is entirely mercenary. This is seen over and over again when he tells the audience that 'now do I ever make my fool [Roderigo], my purse'. However, when Hannah Arendt, journalist at the Nuremburg trials talks of 'the banality of evil' to describe Eichmann's motivations, she could just as easily be speaking of Iago. The latter of course, even under threat of torture, has the last word, even ironically, as he proclaims his silence, when he says 'Demand me nothing. What you know you know. From this time forth, I never will speak word.
In Othello, the character of Iago is a frightening, unique villain because his motives for what he does to Othello, Cassio and Roderigo are all different suggesting that Iago is simply evil. With Othello, he is jealous of the Moor's ability to woo the young and beautiful Desdemona. So when an opportunity arises to ruin Othello's happiness, Iago is eager to plot and plan Othello's misery.
With Cassio, Iago is resentful when Othello promotes him over himself. His actions toward Roderigo stem from the fact that Iago knows that Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and uses this information and exploits him for personal gain.