Iago as Puppet Master of Othello
In act 3, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago works in stages to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, Othello’s right-hand lieutenant. The strategy Iago implements to attain his goal can be compared with a person who is about to undergo a lethal injection. In this instance Iago is the doctor who administers the poison and Othello is the convicted prisoner. However, there is a distinct difference. In the case of death by lethal injection, the administering of the dose usually takes place within a matter of minutes, thus rendering the victim dead. In the case of Othello’s ‘death,’ Iago administers the poison drop by painful drop, until the old Othello is no more and a new one emerges like a phoenix from a fire: Othello is caught by Iago when the handkerchief is introduced as evidence. Nonetheless, this is not to say that the whole plot unfolds in the way Iago initially plans it because this is certainly not the case. But what is clear is that it is Iago who initiates the notion of an ‘affair’ having taken place and who transforms Othello into a puppet of which he is the puppet master.
Iago begins to plant the seed of doubt in Othello’s mind when they return to Othello’s quarters and see Cassio leaving Desdemona. Iago exclaims: “Ha! I like not that” (35). When Othello asks him what he said, Iago plays it off and insists that it was nothing. Then Othello wonders if he indeed saw Cassio leave his wife. Meticulously, Iago defends Cassio by saying he would not be the type to sneak away from Othello’s quarters in such a manner. Iago’s words begin to puts questions in Othello’s mind since Othello made no connection between the way in which Cassio left Desdemona and the possibility of something greater. At this point Othello is more curious about Iago’s opinion of the situation. After a brief conversation with Desdemona, the topic being the time at which Othello will speak with Cassio, Iago seizes the opportunity to infect Othello’s mind.
In an attempt to arouse further discontent within Othello, Iago entices Othello by asking a series of questions without elaborating as to why he asked them in the first place. Iago simply asks, “Did Michael Cassio, / When you wooed my lady, know of you love?” (94). That is, Iago wanted to know if Cassio knew that Othello and Desdemona were courting prior to their marriage. At this point Othello has a feeling that Iago has something on his mind but is not so eager to share it. Since Iago wants Othello to have this suspicion in the first place, he continues to probe Othello even further. Othello maintains his patience until he asks Iago, “What dost thou think?” (between 103 and 104). Iago responds, “Think, my lord?” (104) – Othello becomes annoyed. He asks Iago what is meant by all the insinuations put forth earlier and insists that Iago reply (which will verify that Iago loves him). Iago now knows Othello is going for the bait.