Wednesday, 19 December 2012

 Psychological Manipulation in Shakespeare's Othello

In Shakespeare's play, Othello, psychological manipulation plays a major role in the events and outcome of the story. Throughout the play, the character of Iago plays to the main character Othello's jealous, self-doubting, and trusting nature to corrupt his mind and influence his actions, making him commit murder and, eventually, suicide.

Iago manipulates Othello by corrupting his thoughts with lies.

The character Iago plays the part of the villain, corrupting the main character by taking advantage of his tragic flaw, in this case Othello's jealousy. He uses Othello's high regard for him to advise him against Desdemona's loyalty, and that Cassio and Desdemona slept together, in order for Othello to relieve Cassio of his command and hand his rank as lieutenant to Iago. Iago cleverly plays with Othello's mind by giving him clues such as Cassio sleep-talking about Desdemona and being found with her handkerchief. However, he never outright tells Othello to take action; he lets Othello come to the conclusion to kill Desdemona on his own. This is an example of a type of psychological manipulation that plants doubts in the victim through lies. Iago is a very good liar; he manages to fool most of the characters in the play until his plot is revealed in the end.

Iago uses the handkerchief to further fuel Othello's jealousy
Iago, being an apt trickster, spends much time building his reputation, to the point where he is known as "Honest Iago". He makes sure that Othello places full trust in him before proceeding to put his plan into action. This is proven when he defended Cassio after the incident at the banquet. At the time, Iago knew that Cassio would be relieved of command no matter what happened, so he took the chance to maintain his supposedly impartial character by defending Cassio. This leads to Othello eventually choosing to believe Iago's word over Desdemona's, choosing to kill her instead of listening to her denial.

Othello was considered lower-class due to his race
Another type of manipulation used by Iago is his exploiting of Othello's self-doubt. Racism was prevalent in Elizabethan England, and Othello had most likely dealt with such racism. His rank in the military greatly differed from his status in the eyes of the general public. Although Othello is known to be courageous, loyal, and noble, he is still affected by the prejudice around him. This is apparent when Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft. This causes him to view Cassio, who is known to be a good-looking man, as a threat to his relationship with Desdemona. He could have already been having doubts about Desdemona’s loyalty because of his own self-doubt, causing him to trust Iago’s confirmation of those doubts. Iago used this to his advantage by choosing Cassio, a well-known ladies man, as the man who would supposedly cheat with Desdemona. This would trigger a threatened reaction in Othello, making him feel inferior because of the way he was seen in comparison to Cassio, making him even more susceptible to Iago's trickery.

Iago's manipulation of Othello through psychological means almost proved successful in causing Othello's downfall if not for his plan being revealed at the end of the play, as it led to Desdemona's murder and Othello's suicide. Iago took advantage of Othello, using his deceitful ways and Othello's own weaknesses, such as his jealousy and his insecurity, to trick him into destroying himself and many others around him. Although, some might argue that Othello’s fate was brought upon by his own decisions, whether or not it was through manipulation or not. Despite his status and reputation, he was still vulnerable to the darker, more destructive side of human nature, which is essentially what defines a tragic hero. However, if it wasn't for Iago exploiting Othello's darker side, the outcome would have been much different.



“Psychological Manipulation.” Globe Theatre. N.p.. Web. 15 Dec 2012                    <>.


"Othello the play by William Shakespeare." William Shakespeare info. N.p., n.d. Web 1 Dec 2012 <>.


"Othello." Sparknotes. Sparknotes, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.                  <http://>.


Shakespeare, William. Othello. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.