Apparently manipulative, evil, and deceptive Iago seems to be the main cause of Othello’s downfall. But upon closer analysis, it is obvious that many other factors contributed to the downfall of Othello, and Iago was just one that stands out.
Although Iago appears to be the primary reason for Othello’s downfall, it is actually a combination of Othello putting his trust in the wrong person due to male pride, Othello’s lack of confidence in Desdemona’s love for him because of racial insecurities, and his jealousy that was easily conjured through Iago’s tactic of exploiting weaknesses.
Othello’s downfall began when he wholeheartedly trusted the wrong person, Iago. He places more value on the opinions of this man as opposed to honest women, which ends up working out fatally for him.
In the first act, we find out how Othello perceives Iago when he says he is, “A man…of honesty and trust. ” (I, i, 284) Othello does not have one negative thing to say about Iago until he is exposed to the truth about his maliciousness in the final act. Because the audience knows the truth about Iago, who reveals his evil plans in soliloquies, the fact that Othello repeatedly compliments Iago’s honesty emphasizes to the audience how truly oblivious Othello is to Iago’s character. Othello trusts the one person out to get him, when he should have been listening to the women in his life who were being sincere.
Desdemona and Emilia never lie to Othello, but he still chooses to maintain his trust in Iago because they are women. Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. After accusing her of being a whore, she adamantly denies this fallacy. Othello chooses to listen to Iago’s manipulative claims and ignore the truthful claims of his wife, Desdemona. He says to her, “I took you for that cunning whore of Venice/ That married with Othello. ” (IV, , 96-97) No matter how many times she swears otherwise, Othello still believes Desdemona is unfaithful because he trusts Iago more than his wife.
Iago’s wife, Emilia, even defends Desdemona against the claims of unfaithfulness by Othello. Enraged by the accusations, Emilia tells Othello, “I will be hanged if some eternal villain,/ Some busy and insinuating rogue,/ Some cogging, cozening slave/ to get some office,/ Have not devised this slander, I will be hanged else! ” (IV, , 137-140) Emilia swears on her life that someone made up this story in order to rise up in office. This is ironic because she is correct, her husband Iago did in fact devise this story in order to gain office.
Even when these two women are being completely honest with him, Othello refuses to take what they say as true. He ignores the honest women and continues to entirely trust Iago, the most dishonest character in the play. A lack of communication between husband and wife is a reason why Iago’s plans are almost never foiled. Othello lets Iago put the idea of adultery in his head and does not directly approach Desdemona about it until he is about to smother her to death. Othello reaches a point of no return, where no matter what anyone else says, including his wife, he believes she was unfaithful to him.
Othello unwaveringly states, “Even so my bloody thoughts with violent pace/ Shall ne’er look back, ne’er ebb to humble love. ” (I, i, 464-465) The only person he listens to and trusts is Iago, and his manipulation leads Othello to become overwhelmed with rage and jealousy. If Othello had simply spoken to his wife directly about having relations with Cassio, he may not have become so blinded by the deadly emotions that overwhelmed him. He may not have trusted Iago so profoundly. He may not have killed his innocent wife and himself.
Othello’s race is one of his insecurities, and inevitably leads to a chain of jealousy-fueled events, resulting in his tragic downfall. Numerous characters in the play refer to Othello as a Moor. Although it is not clear what race Othello actually is, it is logical to infer that he is different than all of the other characters as far as race is concerned. It is evident that his contrasting race is one of his insecurities. After Iago puts the idea that Desdemona may be cheating on him with Cassio in his head, Othello distraughtly wonders, “Haply, for I am black. (I, i, 267). The first reason that Othello can think of for his wife cheating on him is his race, which proves that it is one of his major insecurities. Iago uses this to put more and more doubt about Desdemona’s love for Othello into his mind and make him build up emotions that blind him to reality and the truth. These emotions of rage and jealousy that entirely take him over are another immense cause of Othello’s downfall. Jealousy within Othello is easily conjured by Iago, who is the master of exploiting people’s weaknesses.
After making Othello suspect that his wife is being unfaithful, Iago does many other things to make rage and jealousy grow within him. Iago is given Desdemona’s handkerchief, which she dropped on the floor. This handkerchief is very significant to Othello because it was his first gift to Desdemona. Iago knows this and, therefore, uses it in his favor. He knows that Othello is becoming jealous, so if he were to find the handkerchief in Cassio’s room, he would consider it solid evidence. Iago explains, “Trifles light as air/ Are to the jealous confirmations strong/ As proofs of holy writ. (I, i, 330-332) Iago’s scheme is successful and Othello becomes convinced of his wife’s infidelity upon discovering her handkerchief in Cassio’s room. Othello should not have let this circumstantial and false evidence cause him to become overwhelmed with rage and jealousy. Iago slyly tells him to calm town after deciding that Desdemona and Cassio undoubtedly had relations, but Othello responds with, “Oh, blood, blood, blood! ” (I, i, 458) He is consumed with thoughts of revenge and jealousy. If Othello had just stayed calm like Iago said, ironically, then his mind would have been more clear and rational.
He could have directly discussed the matter with the people involved, instead of having Cassio killed and stating this as the reason for killing Desdemona moments before committing the act. Mentioned in all of these reasons for Othello’s downfall is the malicious Iago. Upon first glance, he does seem to be the primary cause of the unfortunate events that happen to Othello and the people surrounding him. Iago exploits the weaknesses of other characters to ensure success in all of his evil and self-serving plans.
He plots to destroy Othello and Cassio, takes advantage of Roderigo, and deceives every character he comes in contact with. It is true that without Iago, Othello’s downfall would not have taken place. No one else in the play was angry or jealous enough of Othello to try to bring him down like Iago does. All those things considered, the fact still remains that Othello had choices to make and he made the wrong ones. Othello chose to trust Iago. If he chose to trust Desdemona or Emilia, his downfall would be nonexistent. Othello allowed the emotions of rage and jealousy to take over, causing him to become irrational.
Conversely, if he had allowed his calm nature to rule like he did in the first act, he would have acted more rationally and not jumped to conclusions without directly seeking the truth from those involved. Othello was insecure about his race. If he had been more confident in himself and did not let others manipulate him, he would not have been so easily susceptible to Iago’s tactics of exploiting his weakness. There is no primary cause of Othello’s downfall. Many factors that had to do with Othello himself and the choices he made contributed to his downfall, but no single one was more significant than another.
The combination of many wrong choices by Othello led to his downfall, aided by the manipulation and scheming of Iago. Iago relentlessly tries to destroy Othello and target his weaknesses. This behavior parallels that of the devil, constantly trying to tempt us and cause us to commit sins. No matter how purely we try to act, there will always be temptations and traps of sin waiting for us to fall victim to, but we must be able to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil, and hope that our choices are wiser than that of the tragic Othello.