"I Am Not What I am": Iago's Rhetoric of Identity and Anxiety

Document Type


Publication Date



In Shakespeare?s "Othello," Iago manages to manipulate the characters and the plot of the play in order to create his narrative. He uses the anxieties and themes of the English Renaissance, animating the fears of his opponents. He embodies the Renaissance ideal of ?self-fashioning,? a way of re-creating one?s identity to become anything desired. Because of the shifting society, the people of the Renaissance were growing insecure about the stability of identity. The revival of classic rhetorical practices also allowed for the linguistic construction of identity, masking and representing the entity behind it. These ambiguities about identity led to questioning of the ability to truly know anyone. The nature of rhetoric means that all things and people are knowable through language and words alone. Iago can be seen as a modern ?Proteus? figure, a ?Renaissance man? who can shift his identity according to his situation and surroundings. Iago?s skilled recognition of his culture?s anxieties allows him to perform upon his opponents? fears and manipulate them into carrying out his plot. He uses his rhetorical artistry to recreate his identity multiple times, becoming a different person to different people. He uses the instable identities of Othello and Cassio by animating their anxieties to them and bringing forth their fears about their rhetorically constructed personas. He convinces them of his version of the truth, manipulates their actions, and carries out his plot of "Othello."


Michael Near




Ford Research Endowment

This document is currently not available here.