What is Iago's plan and purpose in act 1, scene 3 of Othello?

In act 1, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello, Iago's plan is to have Desdemona's father, Brabantio, disgrace Othello in front of the Duke and his council—but it fails. Iago then decides to lead Othello to believe that Desdemona is being unfaithful to Othello with Cassio, Othello's lieutenant. Iago's reasons for wanting to destroy Cassio and Othello are his envy of Cassio, who Othello chose over Iago to be his lieutenant, and his hatred of Othello.

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In act 1, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello, the villainous Iago has already met with a nasty setback in his plan to ruin Othello's reputation. Iago hates Othello and despises serving him in the role of ensign. He is especially angry that Othello has given the position of lieutenant to Cassio instead of him. So Iago is determined to bring Othello down.

When he hears that Othello has married Desdemona, Iago thinks he has just the thing to take care of his enemy once and for all. He denounces Othello to Desdemona's father, Brabanzio, telling the latter that Othello stole his daughter by witchcraft. Iago hopes that the Duke and senate will condemn Othello, but here Iago's plan fails. Othello and Desdemona both plead their case, and the Duke and senate are sympathetic. Even Brabanzio grudgingly gives his blessing.

Iago, however, is not ready to give up. He has another plan in mind, a plan that he shares with the audience at the end of act 1, scene 3. This time Iago schemes to ruin both Othello and his rival Cassio. Iago decides that he will tell Othello that Cassio is being rather too familiar with Desdemona. He will raise suspicions in Othello's mind, leading Othello to dismiss Cassio (or hopefully, more than that) and perhaps ruining Othello's marriage and making him miserable at the same time. This “double knavery,” Iago thinks, will serve him well. He will get his desired place and apply his hatred for Othello.

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In act 1, scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Othello, Iago's initial plan is to have Brabantio, Desdemona's father, denounce and disgrace Othello in front of the Duke and his council of Senators for eloping with Desdemona.

Desdemona's marriage to Othello is upheld by the Duke and the council, partly for political reasons—they need Othello to defend Cyprus from the invading Turks—and partly because of Othello's skill in convincing the Duke and the Senators that his motives and methods in winning Desdemona as his wife were entirely honest, and that he truly loves her.

Iago's plan has failed, but Iago seems to be not the least dismayed or deterred by this turn of events. He simply hatches a new plan to try to destroy Othello.

It's in this scene, after Brabantio reluctantly makes a show of his blessing of Othello and Desdemona's marriage, that Brabantio unknowingly plants a seed in Othello's mind that Iago will nurture and cause to grow into a jealous rage that will ultimately destroy Othello, Desdemona, and Iago himself.

BRABANTIO. Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see;She has deceived her father, and may thee (1.3.313–314).

With these lines and this thought in mind, Iago decides to insinuate to Othello—who will "as tenderly be led by the nose / As asses are" (1.3.411-412)—that Desdemona is being unfaithful to Othello with Cassio, who Othello made his lieutenant instead of Iago and against whom Iago now holds a grudge.

IAGO. Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now: To get...

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his place, and to plume up my willIn double knavery—How, how? —Let's see—After some time, to abuse Othello's earThat he is too familiar with his wife (1.3.402–406).

Iago also suspects that "the lusty Moor / Hath leap'd into my seat," meaning that his wife, Emilia, might be unfaithful to him with Othello.

By suggesting to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair right under Othello's nose, Iago can get revenge against Cassio and Othello.

Regarding Desdemona, the unwitting pawn in Iago's scheme, Iago confides in the next scene, "I do love her, too" (2.1.299), but he loves her only insofar as he can use her to destroy Cassio and Othello.

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Arguably Shakespeare's most heinous villain, the duplicitous Iago plans to avenge himself against Othello for being passed over for promotion. He decides to exploit Cassio in this plan.

In his soliloquy at the end of Act I, Scene 3, Iago decides to use Cassio to hurt Othello. He plans to incite Othello's jealousy by intimating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Because Cassio is good-looking, Iago reasons, Othello will easily believe that Desdemona has been seduced by him. Iago also plans to exploit Othello's ingenuousness:

The Moor is of a free and open natureThat thinks men honest that but seem to be so,And will as tenderly be led by the noseAs asses are. (1.3.379-382)

Interestingly, in his aggressive soliloquy Iago demonstrates the flaw that has caused Othello to not promote him and to give Cassio the position instead. That is, Iago is incapable of being anything but bellicose, while Cassio is diplomatic and is aware of the limits of war. 

According to renowned Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom, in Iago Othello sees a man who cannot stop being at war, and for this reason, Iago could not replace Othello if the general were to be killed or wounded. The skilled warrior Othello understands that there is a time for war and a time for peace. 

Additional Source: Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: the invention of the Human. London: Fourth Estate, 1999. Print.

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Iago expresses his plan and purpose in a soliloquy at the end of Act 1, Scene 3. He plans to get Cassio's position as Othello's lieutenant by making Othello jealous of the handsome, flirtatious younger man, and at the same time he plans to get revenge against Othello by making him jealous of Desdemona. Iago describes his purpose as "double knavery." He can gain a promotion for himself by undermining Cassio's position, while at the same time he can spoil Othello's new marital happiness by making the Moor jealous of his beautiful wife. At this point in the play it is not suggested that Iago is thinking of getting Othello to murder Desdemona or even getting him to divorce her. He simply wants to create jealousy and suspicion. Iago also states in this soliloquy that he intends to get as much money as possible out of Roderigo, who is foolishly infatuated with Desdemona.

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