How does Iago manage to suggest support and concern for Cassio while also systematically destroying his character? Iago is an insidious and devious villain. There are many examples of this in the play, most noticeably perhaps, is his success in suggesting support and concern for Cassio whilst also systematically degenerating his character. He succeeds in doing this due to his accommodate personality and effective use of language.
Shakespeare presents Iago as a character with the ability to change his manner of speaking according to who his speech is directed. With Cassio he is blunt and genial as shown in Act II Scene three with lines such as ‘Marry, God forbid’ and ‘You have lost no reputation at all’. Whilst with Othello, his language is eloquent and sycophantic, as shown through phrases such as ‘good my lord’ and ‘I do beseech you’.
This ability of Iago’s is key to his success in suggesting support and concern for Cassio whilst also destroying his character as it allows for him to keep up an appearance of ‘honest Iago’ to Cassio and all the other characters whilst slowly poisoning their thoughts, creating ideas in their heads without implicating himself – ‘And what’s he then that says I play the villain, when this advice is free I give, and honest’.
And thus, the characters are unaware of the possibility that Iago could be deceiving them or manipulating them, after all, he is “Honest Iago. ” When Othello breaks up the quarrel in Act II Scene three, Iago is again able to successfully misrepresent himself – ‘Have you forgot all sense of place and duty? ’. This time, he pretends that he is there merely to settle the quarrel, when he is the engineer behind the whole affair.
Later, Iago tells Cassio that he should plea to Desdemona for his position back – ‘Our general’s wife is now the general… confess yourself freely to her’. Cassio believes Iago ‘advises him well’ to do so when in fact this is all part of Iago’s plan to persuade Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Iago is also able to persuade Cassio he is supportive and loyal through his false reluctance to accuse Cassio of being the ‘night-brawler’ who began the drunken fight.
Othello commands an answer from ‘honest Iago’s’ on ‘who began’t’ and Iago shows his apocryphal loyalty by responding with ‘I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offence to Micheal Cassio’. This causes Cassio to trust him, which is needed in order for Cassio to take his advice on reclaiming his position later on in the scene. It is also the most effective way of convincing Othello that his lieutenant has behaved disgracefully as it suggests Cassio’s actions are so shameful Iago does not want to risk his good friend’s reputation and position by revealing what happened.
Iago deliberately wanted Othello to be fully convinced of Cassio’s disgraceful behaviour as he wants Cassio to lose his position so as he can gain it, and also so that Cassio could be encouraged to seek Desdemona’s assistance in regaining his lieutenancy which is ultimately what enables Iago to persuade Othello of the pair’s affair. Therefore, Cassio’s character has been systematically destroyed through the loss of his position, however he does not see Iago as the cause of this, instead seeing him supporting and concerned.
At the beginning of Act II, Scene three, Iago enters into what seems to be an inconsequential conversation with Cassio concerning Desdemona which provokes feelings of trust and loyalty from Cassio towards Iago. Iago is beginning casual conversation with Cassio to encouraging him to think of them as good friends, whilst also attempting to insinuate lust into Cassio’s mind through phrases such as ‘sport for Jove’ and ‘full of game’. Iago’s tone is also highly suggestive, with regards to trying to get Cassio to believe these suggestions that Iago is making causing him to fall into Iago’s plan.
This exchange of comments on Desdemona would encourage Cassio to trust Iago as they are discussing matters on a personal level. Cassio is likely to then feel as though he is able to discuss personal matters with Iago in the future, and have trust in him. This is partly Iago’s intention as he needs Cassio to trust him and open up to him for his plan to be successful. It also plants the idea of Desdemona as an object of lust in Cassio’s mind. This will prove useful for Iago in persuading Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair.
In conclusion, Iago is able to suggest support and concern for Cassio while also systematically destroying his character through his depiction of himself as ‘honest Iago’ – ‘As I am an honest man’ – which encourages Cassio to see him as a loyal and trustworthy friend, allowing Iago to persuade him to seek Desdemona’s assistance causing his destruction. He lures Cassio into a position of trust in order to carry out his plan to degenerate Othello, he does not care that in doing so he destroys Cassio’s character also; he wishes to ‘enmesh them all’.