Student Question

Describe how Iago's jealousy unfolds chronologically in Othello.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Iago starts off the play revealing his jealous side. In act 1, scene 1, Iago tells Rodergio (and the reader) that Othello has promoted Michael Cassio over him:

I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war;
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, "Certes," says he,
"I have already chose my officer."
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the toged consuls can propose
As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee'd and calm'd
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship's ancient. (1.1)

Iago explains that while Cassio lacks experience in battle, Iago has lots of experience. Iago is also older than Othello, so he takes offense at Cassio choosing this young man over him. This prompts Iago to spend the rest of the play trying to take revenge on both Cassio and Othello.

His first attempt is to make Brabantio think that his daughter, Desdemona, was kidnapped by Othello—but Desdemona's testimony in scene 2 shows how she willingly married Othello out of love for him. Iago must try a new plan:

... I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if't be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well;
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio's a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery—How, how? Let's see:—
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light. (1.2)

In this speech, he decides to make Othello think that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. Iago also reveals in this monologue that there is a rumor that Othello has slept with Emilia, Iago's wife ("that 'twixt my sheets / He has done my office"), showing how Iago has reason to be jealous of Othello there.

In act 2, scene 1, Cassio makes mention of Iago's jealousy:

Cassio: [To EMILIA]
Welcome, mistress.
Let it not gall your patience, good Iago,
That I extend my manners; 'tis my breeding
That gives me this bold show of courtesy.

[Kissing her]

Iago: Sir, would she give you so much of her lips
As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,
You'll have enough.

Desdemona: Alas, she has no speech.

Iago: In faith, too much;
I find it still, when I have list to sleep:
Marry, before your ladyship, I grant,
She puts her tongue a little in her heart,
And chides with thinking.

In Cassio's interactions with Desdemona, it seems like Iago's plan is coming along. Iago will feed Othello's jealousy:

That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it;
That she loves him, 'tis apt and of great credit:
The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not,
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature,
And I dare think he'll prove to Desdemona
A most dear husband. Now, I do love her too;
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin,
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap'd into my seat; the thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards;
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am even'd with him, wife for wife,
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure. (2.1)

Iago keeps referencing Othello's jealous nature while revealing his own. However, we should note that aside from the opening scene when Iago first involves Roderigo in his plan, he does not really reveal his jealousy to other characters. Iago has multiple soliloquies, which are speeches that the audience hears but no other characters on stage do. Iago hides his jealous side in order to trick those around him. He manipulates them, and even warns Othello of jealousy:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. (3.3)

As Iago's plans unfold, Othello starts to become jealous and reveal this to others. At the end of act 3, scene 3, Iago plants the seeds of suspicion. In act 4, scene 1, Othello confronts Desdemona and strikes her in front of Lodovico and Iago. In scene 2, he asks Emilia if she has any proof of the affair and confronts Desdemona again. Unfortunately, he does not believe his wife, instead falling for Iago's tricks, and shows the world his jealousy by killing his wife at the end of the play.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial