Student Question

Why, besides professional jealousy, does Iago hate Cassio in Othello?

Quick answer:

On the surface, Iago hates Othello for overlooking him for a promotion and potentially for the belief that he slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. Underneath, however, Iago reveals he is a twisted and warped person, who is so filled with hate and rage that he is looking for excuses to hurt others.

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I'd add to sagetreib's excellent answer.Cassio certainly has privilege and he gets what he wants without having to work hard to get it (Iago, in contrast, feels he has to scheme and work for everything he gets). He thinks Cassio has a "daily beauty" in him that makes Iago ugly by comparison. This beauty is his status, and also a general quotidian attractiveness or polish that Cassio possesses that Iago thinks he does not.

For all of his bravado, Iago seems to lack self esteem. He speaks so often of not being inferior to Cassio that we think he must surely feel it. He doesn't seem to have any confidence in what he does have, either, and in his mind, he thinks Cassio is the type of person who could steal from him that which he should have. Just as Iago believes the rumours that Othello slept with Emeila (Iago's wife) without having any evidence that it is true, he also believes that Cassio has slept with Emelia (with a similar lack of evidence). As far as Iago is concerned, Cassio has stolen his position, his security, and his wife. And, to top it all off, he's attractive.***

***If you are of the camp that questions Iago's sexuality, then Cassio's attractiveness adds another possible layer to Iago's hatred... 

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Yes, Iago resents Cassio because Iago resents the privilege that Cassio represents, and Iago equates this with a lack of manliness.  We see this in the opening scene when he calls Cassio “bookish” and a “spinster” (1.1.23) while he himself, an experienced soldier, passed over—“And I, God bless the mark, his Moorship’s ancient!”  This is also why his anger seems so excessive when Cassio acts mannerly with Desdemona, patronizing Iago as he does so:  “Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, / That I extend my manners; ‘tis my breeding / That gives me this bold show of courtesy” (2.1.97-99).  Iago cannot stand it. We see this  “class feeling” again in Act 5 when Gratiano and Lodovico have forgotten his name:  “these bloody accidents must excuse my manners / That so neglected you.” (5.1.93-95). Here he apes the “courtesy” that Cassio says Iago lacks (Act 2). Because he wants to be accepted as an equal, he addresses Cassio as “brother” ( 5.1.71).  Therefore, his bitterness at Cassio springs not so much from disappointment over not being promoted on just this one occasion as from his general sense that he is not acceptable as “officer material.”  He compensates for these humiliations, the daily beauty of privilege “that makes me ugly” (5.1.20).

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Why does Othello hate Cassio?

Othello begins the play liking and respecting Cassio. He promotes him to lieutenant, a position Iago believes he deserves. Iago, on the other hand, hates and resents both Othello and Cassio (Iago despises everyone). Iago plots their mutual destruction by manipulating Othello so that he becomes jealous of Cassio. Iago, in this way, kills two birds (Othello and Cassio) with one stone.

Othello only begins to doubt Cassio after Iago fans the flames of his jealousy. Iago knows Othello is insecure about Desdemona's love. He causes Othello to believe that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair and persuades Roderigo to stab Cassio. Iago knows that once Cassio is dead, he can't set Othello straight. Iago would also simply like to see Cassio dead.

Iago's plot works. Othello does turn against Cassio in that he does believe he seduced Desdemona.

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Why does Othello hate Cassio?

In the play, Othello doesn't really hate Cassio until Iago manipulates him into doing so. Essentially, Iago is the one who plants in Othello's mind the idea of Cassio having an affair with Desdemona. Of course, Cassio is innocent, but Othello's jealousy prevents him from thinking clearly.

The play actually begins with Iago complaining to Roderigo about Cassio's promotion to lieutenant. Iago has nothing but contempt for Cassio because he thinks that the latter is an effeminate "arithmetician." He maintains that Cassio knows less about battle than an old spinster.

In Act 2 Scene 1, Iago's jealousy flares up when Cassio kisses Emilia (Iago's wife) in greeting. One can conclude that Cassio is a natural flirt who enjoys the company of beautiful women. He lavishes praise on them and delights in making them smile. However, Cassio's easy ways with women arouses Iago's hatred and jealousy. Using subterfuge and outright fabrications, Iago is able to inspire in Othello the same negative emotions about Cassio that he has. So Othello hates Cassio because he suspects that his lieutenant is bedding Desdemona. However, one can argue that Othello may never have come to despise Cassio if it wasn't for Iago.

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Why did Iago hate Othello?

On the surface, Iago has an explanation for his hatred of Othello. He is angered that Othello has passed him over for promotion, choosing Cassio instead. Iago feels strongly that Othello underestimates his intelligence and is determined to make him pay by outsmarting him. He wants to bring down both Cassio and Othello in revenge for them both, in his opinion, underrating him. Additionally, Iago seems to believe that Othello has slept with Iago's wife, Emilia.

However, critics, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, have called Iago's stated reason for his hatred of Othello a rationalization. Coleridge argues that anger over Cassio's promotion is merely an excuse. Coleridge states that Iago is driven by a "motiveless malignancy," meaning that Iago's very nature is so corroded and evil that he simply wants to hurt people.

There is much evidence of this. Iago seems to have a twisted, ugly view of people that transcends hatred of Othello alone. Iago is racist, and he views all women as inherently unfaithful. He doesn't have any qualms about undermining Desdemona's reputation because he truly believes she would, merely because she is a woman, jump into bed with another man at the first opportunity. Iago also coldly and ruthlessly uses his wife against Desdemona.

Iago often refers to people as animals, showing how little he thinks of the human race. Something seems to have broken and warped Iago long ago on a very deep level, leaving him a compulsion to lash out at and try to destroy the happiness and lives of people around him. He is a portrait of a sociopath.

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What is the reason Iago gives for hating Cassio?

Iago has a very clear understanding in his mind as to what a man should be. And it is fair to say that Cassio comes well short of that ideal in a number of ways. For one, Cassio is of noble blood, and Iago has a bit of a chip on his shoulder concerning his own relatively lowly status. Iago's judgment is brought to a boil by Othello's decision to award the position of lieutenant to Cassio. Iago has lobbied hard for the role, but in truth he never really stood a chance. Othello's snub adds to Iago's jealous rage and sense of injured pride.

What especially rankles with Iago is that Cassio, unlike him, has no experience with the sting of battle:

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 (Act I Scene i).

Iago wonders why should such a man be appointed lieutenant? And why should someone with firsthand experience of soldiering be passed over? Iago feels most aggrieved. He has been snubbed in favor of someone who is little more than a "bookish spinster," someone less than a man, in Iago's opinion.

But Othello's rejection of Iago for the role of lieutenant is important for what it tells us about Iago's character in general. He is fundamentally insecure, not happy in his own skin. So the sight of someone Cassio rising to prominence at his expense—with Cassio's good looks, intellect, and air of aristocratic poise—acts as a provocation that stirs up all of Iago's insufferable pride and self-loathing.

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