Iago and Roderigo (2.1)
Bolstering Roderigo's Hope
As the plot unfolds, Iago is confronted with two problems that he has to solve. First, he has been offended by Cassio's getting the position of Othello's lieutenant, and he still has aspirations of replacing him and getting the job back (1.3.393). Second, he is under obligation to Roderigo, who is paying him big bucks, to try to steer Desdemona's affections toward him. Roderigo is a typical Shakespeare romantic who cannot win Desdemona's affections because she is wed to another (Othello), and so he wants to "incontinently drown myself (1.3.305)." Iago treats him with a mixture of disdain and tolerance, manipulating him at will but realizing that Roderigo can potentially cause big problems for him if he doesn't "produce" (give some tangible signs that Desdemona is interested in Roderigo). Iago comes up with a plan in 2.1 that will enable him to solve both problems. He explains the plan to Roderigo in 2.1.215-285.
Limning Desdemona's Affections
After revealing the shocking "news" to Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio (2.1.219), Iago explains what one might call the mechanism of Desdemona's affections. The first thing to realize is that her love for the Moor was an act of "violence (2.1.222-- socially unapproved activity)." Desdemona had confessed as much to the Venetian Senate (1.3.249--"my downright violence"), and so Iago is just repeating what he heard directly. Second, in accord with the story Othello told in 1.3., she loved him for his stories. But note the way that Iago characterizes them. They are not noble narratives of adventure but "bragging" and "fantastical lies (2.1.223-224)." Soon she will tire of his "prating."
Actually, it is Othello's "prating" that got her into bed with him, but soon the "blood is made dull with the act of sport," and she will tire of him. Then, she will have to do something else, and that is Iago's third point. "Her eye must be fed (2.1.225)," and therefore she will cast her eye for someone who can "give satiety" to her-- a "fresh appetite, loveliness in favor, sympathy in years, manners and beauties (2.1.228-230)." Othello cannot offer this; he is "defective." Some scholars have noted how vision and the eyes play an important role in this play; Desdemona, according to Iago, will need something new that appeals to her eyes. Later, Othello will require "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity from Iago (3.3.360). In any case, Iago tells Roderigo that she will require new eye candy for herself. In the process of disengaging from "the Moor," she will "begin to heave the gorge [feel nauseated], disrelish and abhor the Moor (2.1.233)."
When Desdemona has cast her eye abroad for a new lover, she will look no farther than Cassio. He is a "knave very voluble; no further conscionable/ than in putting on the mere form of civil and humane/ seeming, for the better compass of his salt and most/ hidden loose affection (2.1.238-241)." Showing his contempt for most things human, Iago continues, "the knave is handsome, young,/ and hath all those requisites in him that folly and/ green minds look after, a pestilent complete knave,/ and the woman hath found him already (2.1.245-248)."
Now, Roderigo, is the Time to Act
Roderigo can't believe Iago's story, but Iago dismisses his amazement with a simple line, "The wine she drinks is/ made of grapes (2.1.251-252)."* Iago himself witnessed the way she paddled
[*This is one of what I call "lines of Iago's cynicism" in the play. It is meant to suggest a "get real!" approach to life that combines cynicism with incredulity. Other examples of this colorful speaking technique are in 1.3.335-336 where he tells Roderigo to "Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies!"; where he baldly tells Cassio, "Well--happiness to their sheets (2.3.29)," when speaking of the sexual activities of Desdemona and Othello; when speaking to Cassio, "Reputation is an idle and most false/ imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without/ deserving (2.3.268-270);" or when he chides Roderigo about his infatuation with Desdemona--"Ere I would say I/ would drown myself for the love of a guinea hen,/ I would change my humanity with a baboon (1.3.314-316)." His cynical outbursts make him one of the play's most engaging characters.]
with the palm of his hand (2.1.254). But all is not lost. Roderigo can displace Cassio's affections by finding an occasion to anger Cassio, "either by speak-/ing too loud, or tainting his discipline, or from what/ other course you please (2.1.267-269)." Because Cassio is "rash and very sudden in choler (2.1.272)," this ought not to be too difficult. If Roderigo does this, "you will have a shorter journey to your deisres." Impediments will be removed that currently hinder his prosperity (2.1.277-280).
Iago has devised a masterful plan. Roderigo will brave Cassio on the watch, to use words from the last scene of the play (5.2.326), and hope thereby to weaken the ties of (supposed) affection between Desdemona and Cassio. Iago then will be in line for the lieutenancy, and then will reveal the story of the discredited Cassio's love for Desdemona to Othello. Such a story, Iago believes, will drive Othello to jealousy, making the way clear for Desdemona to fall in love with Roderigo. The plot will get more complex before it gets simpler; for now Iago is luxuriating in his brilliance and ability to control other human actors. God, he must think, should be so lucky.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long