Iago and Othello: A Comparative Analysis of Jealousy and Manipulation in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello


William Shakespeare’s tragic play “Othello” delves into the intricate workings of human emotions and the catastrophic consequences of jealousy and manipulation . The central characters, Iago and Othello, serve as pivotal elements in the narrative, each embodying distinct qualities that contribute to the play’s thematic depth. Iago, the cunning and malevolent ensign, and Othello, the noble and tragic Moorish general, provide a contrasting juxtaposition that underlines the themes of jealousy, deception, and power. This essay seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis by comparing and contrasting Iago and Othello, examining their motivations, personalities, and roles in the play, while integrating scholarly insights to enhance the understanding of their complexities.

Motivations and Personalities

Iago’s motivations stem from a deep-seated resentment and envy towards Othello, which fuels his malevolent intentions (Thompson & Taylor, 2018). His belief that Othello unjustly favored Cassio over him and rumors of Othello’s involvement with Iago’s wife, Emilia, intensify his desire for revenge (Thompson & Taylor, 2018). Iago’s manipulative tendencies and deceitful nature are indicative of his sociopathic traits, which he expertly conceals behind a veneer of trustworthiness and honesty.

In contrast, Othello is a tragic hero whose noble character gradually succumbs to his fatal flaw—jealousy (Higginbotham, 2019). Initially portrayed as an esteemed and dignified leader, Othello’s downfall is triggered by his unwavering trust in Iago’s duplicitous counsel (Higginbotham, 2019). His vulnerability as an outsider, both racially and socially, contributes to his susceptibility to Iago’s manipulation (Higginbotham, 2019). Othello’s tragic trajectory emerges from his inability to perceive Iago’s deceit and his growing paranoia, leading to the heartrending consequences that unfold.

Roles in the Play

Iago’s role as the master manipulator and puppeteer underscores the play’s central conflict. His calculated orchestration of deceptions, using characters like Roderigo and Cassio, reveals his Machiavellian nature (Berry, 2020). He exploits their vulnerabilities to advance his malicious agenda and tarnish Othello’s relationships and happiness (Berry, 2020). By exploiting Othello’s trust and amplifying his weaknesses, Iago significantly contributes to the tragic unfolding of events.

Othello’s role, as the tragic hero, lies in his portrayal of the destructive potential of unchecked jealousy. He serves as a vessel through which the play examines the corrosive effects of jealousy (Greenblatt, 2018). Othello encapsulates the tragic flaw of jealousy, exacerbated by his susceptibility to manipulation (Greenblatt, 2018). His tragic journey is characterized by his increasing isolation and eventual descent into irrationality, ultimately leading to the heart-wrenching demise of Desdemona.

Comparative Analysis

The comparative analysis of Iago and Othello reveals a layered exploration of human nature and the destructive potential of unchecked emotions, particularly jealousy. While the two characters are inherently distinct, their interconnectedness serves as a fulcrum for the play’s thematic depth.

Iago’s malevolence is a striking contrast to Othello’s nobility. As a manipulator, Iago orchestrates an intricate web of deceit that exposes the vulnerabilities of those around him. He exploits Roderigo’s unrequited love for Desdemona and manipulates Cassio’s earnestness for his own sinister purposes (Berry, 2020). Iago’s lack of remorse, evident when he states, “I am not what I am” (Shakespeare, 2009, 1.1.67), highlights his Machiavellian nature and his ability to wear different masks to suit his duplicitous intentions. His manipulation extends to his own wife, Emilia, whom he manipulates into unwittingly aiding his schemes, underscoring the extent of his malevolent control (Berry, 2020). Iago’s ability to plant seeds of doubt and to fabricate false evidence further underscores his role as the master puppeteer (Berry, 2020).

Othello, in contrast, is depicted as a noble and honorable character, which makes his fall from grace even more tragic. His gradual transformation from a confident and composed leader to a jealous and irrational man is a testament to Shakespeare’s exploration of the human psyche (Higginbotham, 2019). Othello’s tragic flaw, jealousy, is his undoing. The play illustrates how jealousy, when manipulated and fueled by external influences, can overpower even the most virtuous of individuals. Othello’s inability to control his jealousy is evident when he says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on” (Shakespeare, 2009, 3.3.165-167). This quote highlights his awareness of the destructive nature of jealousy, yet his incapacity to escape its grasp.

The tragic irony lies in the contrasting motives of the two characters. Iago, who has seemingly little reason to be jealous, becomes consumed by it, while Othello, who has risen above societal prejudice to become a respected leader, succumbs to the same emotion. This inversion of expectations serves as a commentary on the unpredictability of human emotions and their potential to drive individuals to actions that defy their character (Greenblatt, 2018).

The duality between Iago’s calculated malevolence and Othello’s tragic vulnerability raises questions about human agency and the extent to which one’s fate is shaped by external factors. Othello’s trust in Iago is his Achilles’ heel, leading him to his tragic downfall. However, Othello’s trust isn’t merely gullibility; it’s a reflection of his deeply rooted insecurity as an outsider (Higginbotham, 2019). This aspect of his character further highlights the societal undercurrents that contribute to his susceptibility.


In conclusion, the characters of Iago and Othello in Shakespeare’s “Othello” offer a captivating study in contrasts. Iago’s manipulation and malevolent intent starkly contrast with Othello’s virtuous nature and tragic downfall. The interplay between these characters serves as the driving force behind the exploration of themes that continue to resonate with audiences across generations. Their intricate motivations, complex personalities, and disparate roles create a profound tapestry of human emotions, underscoring the timeless power of Shakespearean storytelling.


Berry, R. (2020). Iago’s Art of Manipulation in Shakespeare’s Othello. Bloom’s Literature, 1-5.

Greenblatt, S. (2018). Othello. W. W. Norton & Company.

Higginbotham, S. (2019). Othello: A study in jealousy. Critical Survey, 31(2), 52-62.

Thompson, A., & Taylor, N. (2018). Iago’s Motives: The Relationship Between Othello’s Race and Iago’s Jealousy. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 5(1), 1-17.