Just having talked about this and watching James Earl Jones’ brilliant reading of Othello’s speech in the first act of the play, it seems appropriate to talk about how emotions are manipulated within the play, both by Othello himself and by the magnificent bastard, Iago. Before Othello’s appeal to the council, we are introduced to Iago and Roderigo, Roderigo being a gentleman of Venice, and Iago being Othello’s number three in the military. Very quickly Iago’s dissatisfaction with his current position is brought to the forefront as well as his hatred for Othello and admitting “I follow him [Othello] to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot truly be followed” (1.1. 41-44). Iago sees no problem with admitting to Roderigo that he is only serving Othello just to meet the end goal that he has for himself, which at this point is to tarnish Othello’s good name and reputation. To begin his plan, Iago and Roderigo decide to alert the senator, Brabanzio, that his daughter, Desdamona has married Othello in secret with Iago very quickly and smartly appealing to Brabanzio’s emotions and fears saying such inflammatory things as “Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul. Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (1.1. 87-89). While initially aggravated at being disturbed at night and skeptical to Iago’s words, with repeated and similar words from Roderigo, Brabanzio decides to investigate and indeed finds that Desdamona is not at home and becomes terrified by the scenarios that Iago has planted in his head, immediately rounding up whomever he can to try and find Othello and to make him pay for having “enchanted her” (1.2. 64). This only falls in line with Iago’s plans however and makes Brabanzio seem like a puppet that Iago is playing with especially when he is only telling lies and half truths that allow his claims to attract that much more emotional investment.
Compared to Iago who uses words to manipulate to meet his own goals and means to an end, Othello seems to be doing the same thing, only with more innocent or “moral” goals. While Iago also lies and plays both sides against another, Othello comes off as incredibly honest and sincere in telling of his story of how he won Desadamona’s affections. “I did consent, and often did beguile her of her tears when I did speak of some distressful stroke that my youth suffered. My story being done, she gave me for my pains a world of kisses” (1.3. 154-158). As a military general, especially one who suffers prejudice from his superiors, Othello has no reason to tell of a story that depicts him as both vulnerable and emotional, but this appeal to emotion allows his story to hold much more weight and allows him to easily convince the council that Desdamona’s feelings for him are genuine, especially when the Duke himself admits, “I think this tale would win my daughter too (1.3. 170). Despite all this, I still find Othello’s speech to rely heavily on the manipulation of emotions and his convenience at being an effective general on the brink of war to be what ultimately saves him from being charged. Perhaps like Iago, Othello knows what words to use for the occasion that allows for what he wants.