The power of language in Othello

There is no doubt that it is Iago’s motives and actions that drive the plot of Othello, but most importantly it’s the smooth, persuasive language he uses that truly controls all of the action in this play. Without these beautifully crafted words spoken by Iago, both internally and externally, none of these tragic exploits would have ever happened. This goes to show how powerful and dangerous language can be, especially when employed by a dishonest man who delivers his words so eloquently.

Iago is a master manipulator of words – it is as if he is a puppeteer and all of the other characters are merely his puppets. His deceitful ways mixed with his ever so calm and sincere demeanor makes for a deadly concoction. We see this every single time Iago speaks and interacts with any other character. No matter who he is talking to he is always in control, manipulating the situation with his words. One of the most prominent examples of this is in act 4 scene 2 when Rodrigo is convinced Iago is tricking him saying, “Every day thou daff’st me with some device, Iago, and rather, as it seems to me now, keep’st from me all conveniency than suppliest me with the least advantage of hope. I will indeed no longer endure it, nor am I yet persuaded to put up in peace what already I have foolishly suffered” (180-84).  Here, Rodrigo claims he will no longer stand for Iago’s antics. It finally seems like he is catching on to his evil ways but then once again Iago utilizes the brilliance of his words.  The entire time he is calm, cool and collected, repeatedly answering “very well…you have said now” (198, 203), which contributes greatly to his ability to convince others with such ease. He never thinks “oh shit I might get caught, he’s on to me!”,  going to show how very psychologically equipped he is. These short responses only prove to irk Rodrigo as he does not just walk away and end the conversation after saying he will confront Desdemona about the jewels that Iago never delivered.  He keeps the conversation going, his responses such as “Ay, and said nothing but what I protest intendment of doing” (204-05) seeming to be him trying to convince himself that he will follow through with his actions rather than Iago.

The next passage perfectly depicts the power and influence that Iago’s language holds. He states: “I grant indeed it hath not appeared, and your suspicion is not without wit and judgment. But, Roderigo, if thou hast that in thee indeed, which I have greater reason to believe now than ever—I mean purpose, courage and valor—this night show it.” (212-16). First off, Iago is telling Rodrigo that he is smart for doubting him. He then comments on how he contains great “courage and valor”. Rodrigo is probably not the most confident guy, especially since he is having trouble wooing Desdemona. So what does Iago do? He uses this little fact to his advantage. Praising him in this way helps Iago to remain in control of the situation, while at the same time making Rodrigo feel self-assured and in control. He tells Rodrigo that if he is not with Desdemona by the next night, he has the right to “take me from this world with treachery and devise engines for my life” (217). Saying this to Rodrigo only goes to prove his supposed honesty…I mean if someone told me with such sincerity that they would give up their life if they failed to keep their word, then I would probably believe them too! Iago then goes on to explain to Rodrigo how and why he should kill Cassio stating, “I will show you such a necessity in his death that you shall think yourself bound to put it on him” (238-40). Rodrigo responds by saying he wants to hear more about Iago’s reasoning to which he reply’s “And you shall be satisfied” (243). In this line, Iago is suggesting that he is aware of the fact that he holds all of this power and his ability to know just what to say in order to manipulate Rodrigo.

Overall, the power of language in Othello has a great impact on the conclusion of the play. Othello’s tragic ending is the direct result of Iago’s skillful use of language, for which he was greatly respected and therefore able to gain the trust of others.


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