In the play Othello, the character Iago proves to be one of the most interesting and mysterious character of any Shakespearian play. In Othello, Iago attempts to ruin the high ranking military officer, Othello, and Othello's wife through a series of manipulation and cruelty. However, throughout the play, Iago never completely explains his desire to ruin Othello and certainly doesn't provide legitimate cause to put so many of these characters through such torment. This is what makes Iago such an interesting character, providing countless room for discussion and analysis.
In the beginning of the play, we view a conversation between Roderigo, a love-struck chump, and Iago. Roderigo requests that Iago find a way that Desdemona would love Roderigo but Iago sees this as an opportunity to use Roderigo as a cog in Iago's overarching plan. This is the reader's first taste of Iago's talent of manipulation and common acts of helping people for his own selfish purposes.
Following this, we see Iago's first attempt to put Othello in harm's way by telling Brabantio, Desdemona's father, that Othello is having sex with his daughter as they speak. It is clear in this scene that Iago wants to infuriate Brabantio as he uses a vulgar and bare description of "an old black ram is tupping your white ewe". The delicately placed "black" adjective in this description is said in hopes to spark the wide distrust that people have of black people.
One of the most important speeches in the play is Iago's first soliloquy and the reveal of his true intentions. When he says "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse", we see that he is using the ignorant and naïve Roderigo for an easy profit. He then states that he wouldn't be wasting his time and energy with Roderigo if he couldn't use him for his own literal and figurative profit. He then says that he "hate[s] the Moor" and provides what is his first motive: a belief that Othello has slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. However, he does not know if it is true but doesn't care about fact. To Iago, this is just a good enough reason for him to do what he does best: use his manipulative expertise and love of cruelty to ruin someone's life.
One could believe that Iago's only motive is his love of chaos and cruelty. The possibility that Othello slept with Emilia just gives Iago a target for what he considers a sport. Throughout the play, there appears to very little else going on in Iago’s life; tired of his marriage and his career seems to be at an unfulfilling standstill. Rather than wallowing in mediocrity, Iago excels at what he does well to provide his life with what to him, some sort of success. Iago attempts to ruin Othello, Desdemona and Cassio all as part of one grand scheme and one grand test. The only other plausible reason for Iago’s malevolence would be his jealousy towards Cassio’s promotion and outrage of Othello’s decision to promote Cassio. However, these two minor motivations do not provide just reason for such rash, cruel behaviour from Iago.
One of Iago’s most famous philosophies comes in his garden analogy. In this speech he says that “Our bodies are gardens” and that “our wills are gardeners”. This analogy compares gardening to exercising free will and that he is a brilliant garden who can plant seeds of manipulation in other people’s minds. Iago is such a gardener as he is in constant control of what he does, and through his skills of manipulation, control of what others do as well.
This is Iago’s most prominent philosophy in his life: that all decisions and actions in life are caused by human will and conscience decision-making, not inherent attributes or traits. This is best represented in Iago’s line “Virtue? A fig.” This small quote has so much meaning behind it and says so much about Iago’s character and his philosophy. It represents his beliefs that people have no inherent virtues or values, but rather that free will is the basis for all behaviour. Subsequently, this could be another motive for Iago: his testing of his own philosophies and free will. He is interested in his own philosophies and this is why, rather than performing his own cruelty, he manipulates people’s free will to test his skill and test his philosophy.