Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
Iago from the tragedy of Othello proves himself to be one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating yet perplexing characters: he is narcissistic and manipulative and seems to have no valid motive for creating chaos. The attempt to understand Iago is no simple task; just as with any of Shakespeare’s characters, Iago is complex and multifaceted: not quite Satanic, yet not quite human. Iago is a deeply insecure and unhappy man, and struggles to prove his worth and masculinity through superficial characteristics such as social status and profession. His desire for respect and his jealousy of other honorable men motivate him to spread chaos throughout Cyprus, and this yearning for power forces Iago to use his innate strength—his cunning mastery of human psychology and the weaknesses of others—to boost his self-esteem and prove his power, even if only to himself.
Iago’s deep-seated jealousy of nearly every man stems from his insecurities about his own status and worth, and in turn, manhood. In Shakespearean times, a strong man was characterized by action, power, honor, and respect. As a mere ensign, Iago lacks both honor and power, and has only the will to act. Iago is envious of men of more reputable statuses because they command power and respect, and thus very insecure about his own worth and masculinity because he does not possess those characteristics. Iago greatly resents the fact that even Othello, “the Moor” who is “[h]orribly stuffed with epithets of war” (I.i.15), holds more power and military respect than he does. The audience can sense Iago’s jealousy from his language in the very first scene of the play, as he goes on and on about the accomplishments of both Othello and Cassio. Iago believes he deserves the role of lieutenant as he says, “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place” (I.i.11-12). He is angry with Othello for not choosing him as lieutenant, and thus refers to Othello using racial and ethnic slurs such as “Moor” and “Turk” as often as possible to both degrade Othello and build himself up. Although Iago seems to think himself superior to Othello, he is still extremely insecure and suspects Othello has slept with his wife. Iago says:
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped 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 evened 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.
Iago seems unconcerned about his wife’s infidelity, but rather he is more troubled that Othello has taken his place with Emilia, thus corrupting Iago’s only true yet fragile position of power as her husband. He only cares about getting revenge on Othello because he believes Othello has interfered with his manhood and power, and that act “gnaws [his]...