Roderigo – A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.
Roderigo is a rich, unintelligent guy who thinks that if he sends Desdemona enough expensive presents, she’ll fall in love with him. He’s hired Iago to be his wingman, but Iago basically uses him as a walking ATM. Iago takes the jewelry Roderigo thinks he’s giving to Desdemona and sells it for a profit. All Roderigo does in response is to fall for Iago’s smooth talking again and again. In the end, Roderigo dies – stabbed in the back, appropriately enough, by his wingman, Iago.
Roderigo, a sucker
As the play opens, Roderigo is pouting, and exclaims, “Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly / That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this” (1.1.1-3). The “this” is the elopement of Othello and Desdemona. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and has been giving Iago money to act as his go-between. (From what we know of Iago’s character, it seems unlikely that Iago did anything for Roderigo except take his money and make promises.) Of course Roderigo is mightily disappointed to hear that Desdemona has married someone else, and he thinks that Iago should have said or done something about it. Iago persuades him that the elopement was a surprise, and then talks him into creating problems for Othello by shouting out the news of the elopement at the window of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. When Brabantio appears, we learn why Roderigo needed the services of a third party; Brabantio angrily tells him, “I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors: / In honest plainness thou hast heard me say / My daughter is not for thee” (1.1.96-98). [Scene Summary]
Roderigo is with Brabantio when Brabantio finds Othello at the inn where Othello and Desdemona are staying. Roderigo’s only words in the scene, are “Signior, it is the Moor” (1.2.57). A moment later, in order to provoke a brawl, Iago pretends he’s about to attack Roderigo, saying, “You, Roderigo! come, sir, I am for you” (1.2.58). [Scene Summary]
Roderigo accompanies Brabantio to the Senate and is present as Othello and Desdemona refute Brabantio’s charges. He says nothing until he is alone with Iago and then asks, “What will I do, thinkest thou?” (1.3.303). When he’s gotten Iago’s attention, Roderigo declares that he will drown himself out of despair that Desdemona loves someone else. Iago easily talks him out of that plan, and talks him into the belief that he can get Desdemona into bed if only he will disguise himself and come to Cyprus with plenty of money in his purse. [Scene Summary]
Roderigo, in disguise, travels to Cyprus on the same ship with Desdemona and Iago. Lurking on the fringes of the crowd, he witnesses the joyous reunion of Othello and Desdemona. When everyone else has left the scene, Iago calls to Roderigo, saying “Come hither. If thou be’st valiant,– as, they say, base men being in love have then a nobility in their natures more than is native to them–list me” (2.1.214-216). Roderigo does listen to Iago, who tells him that Desdemona is in love with Cassio, so Roderigo needs to be valiant and do something that will anger Cassio and make him lose his job. At first Roderigo is incredulous at the idea that Desdemona could be in love with Cassio, but Iago keeps on talking, and Roderigo agrees to his plan. [Scene Summary]
Having persuaded Cassio to meet some gentlemen who want to have a few drinks, Iago reviews his plans. He’s sure that when Cassio is drunk he’ll get quarrelsome. Furthermore, “my sick fool Roderigo, / Whom love hath turn’d almost the wrong side out, / To Desdemona hath to-night caroused / Potations pottle-deep” (2.3.51-54), so he’s drunk, too. Roderigo will provoke Cassio into doing something rash, and Cassio will lose his job. In the remainder of the scene Iago’s plan plays out much to his satisfaction, but afterwards Roderigo complains that “My money is almost spent; I have been to-night exceedingly well cudgelled; and I think the issue [outcome] will be, I shall have so much experience for my pains, and . . . no money at all and a little more wit” (2.3.364-368). Nevertheless, Iago persuades him that everything will work out if he just has patience. [Scene Summary]
Some time after Iago has used him as a tool to get Cassio dismissed, Roderigo appears and tells Iago that “I do not find that thou dealest justly with me” (4.2.173). He complains, “Every day thou daffest me [put me off] with some device [excuse], Iago” (4.2.175). Roderigo is unhappy that Iago has not given him a chance to spend any time with Desdemona, has not even given him any realistic hope that he’ll ever see her, and he declares that he won’t put up with it anymore. Roderigo also makes a threat that could make all of Iago’s schemes blow up in his face. Roderigo says that he will go to Desdemona personally and promise to quit bothering her if she will return his jewels. If she won’t, Roderigo threatens Iago, “assure yourself I will seek satisfaction of you” (4.2.200).
If this were to happen, Desdemona (who of course has never received any jewels) would learn that honest Iago is not to be trusted. However, Roderigo’s threat doesn’t faze Iago. As soon as Iago tosses him a tiny crumb of respect, Roderigo is ready to swallow every lie that Iago feeds him, and Iago persuades him that he will get to sleep with Desdemona the very next night if he murders Cassio. Roderigo is amazed by this, but too much the fool to resist Iago. All that Roderigo can think of to say is “I will hear further reason for this” (4.2.244), just as though he had enough brain to think clearly about anything. [Scene Summary]
Roderigo, as he waits in the dark to kill Cassio, talks to himself: “I have no great devotion to the deed; / And yet he [Iago] hath given me satisfying reasons: / ‘Tis but a man gone. Forth, my sword: he dies” (5.1.8-10). Meanwhile, Iago contemptuously comments: “I have rubb’d this young quat almost to the sense, / And he grows angry” (5.1.11-12). A “quat” is a pimple or pustule, and to rub it “to the sense,” is to rub it raw. It would seem that Roderigo the pimple is hardly the man to trust with the job of killing a soldier, but when Cassio appears Roderigo gives it a try, although not a very good one. He cuts only Cassio’s coat, whereupon Cassio draws his sword and wounds Roderigo so badly that he cries out, “O, I am slain!” (5.1.26) and curses himself, saying “O, villain that I am!” (5.1.29). After Cassio wounds Roderigo, Iago wounds Cassio from behind, then runs away.
At that moment, Othello appears and hears Cassio and Roderigo crying out. He thinks that Cassio is dead and goes to kill Desdemona. Then Lodovico and Gratiano hear the noise, but are afraid that someone might be trying to lure them into the dark by pretending to need help. Then Iago reappears and goes first to Cassio, who tells him that he has been set upon by villains, and that he thinks that “one of them is hereabout, / And cannot make away” (5.1.56-57). Cassio is referring to Roderigo, whom he has severely wounded. Iago calls out to Lodovico and Gratiano, “What are you there? come in, and give some help” (5.1.59). By this we know that Lodovico and Gratiano are still at some distance from Cassio, and further from Roderigo, who makes the mistake of calling out for help. Iago answers Roderigo’s appeal by rushing over to him, shouting “O murderous slave! O villain!” (5.1.61), and killing him. Roderigo ends his life saying, “O damn’d Iago! O inhuman dog!” (5.1.62).
After Othello smothers Desdemona, Emilia comes with news of murders. She says, “Cassio, my lord, hath kill’d a young Venetian / Call’d Roderigo” (5.2.112-113). Othello answers, “Roderigo kill’d?” / And Cassio kill’d?” (5.2.113-114), but he’s disappointed when Emilia tells him that Cassio is not killed, just Roderigo. “Here is a letter / Found in the pocket of the slain Roderigo” (5.2.308-309), says Lodovico, later in the same scene. A second letter was also found on Roderigo. Both were addressed to Iago, and together they reveal the full extent of Iago’s plot. In addition, Cassio says of Roderigo, “even but now he spake, / After long seeming dead, Iago hurt him, / Iago set him on” (5.2.327-329). Apparently this does not mean that Roderigo lived, only that he revived long enough to say a few words, but no one seems to care about Roderigo’s life, one way or another. [Scene Summary] Character of Roderigo
The character of Roderigo is a minor one within the play but, for such a minor character, it provides the basis for several different interpretations.
First readings of the play give the overwhelming impression that the character of Roderigo is a pathetic, easily manipulated assistant of Iago
complicit in Iago’s heinous crimes through his own stupidity. Roderigo is utterly hopeless as he undertakes any task Iago suggests to him with little persuasion required and seems to have no will of his own. Readers of the text perhaps wonder, as they contemplate how useless Roderigo is, how he can possibly imagine that assaulting a drunken Cassio will bring him and Desdemona closer together.
However, this interpretation does an injustice to the manipulative powers of Iago who orchestrates almost all the characters within the play with his persuasions including many characters of a higher standing in Venice than Roderigo who are manipulated into performing actions even more alien to their natures. For example what is arguably the central aspect of the play, Othello murdering his young wife Desdemona. Roderigo is simply another of Iago’s many victims.
Roderigo is the only character in the play who challenges the truthfulness of Iago and the only one that stands up to the character of Iago. Indeed the play begins with Roderigo challenging Iago over his truthfulness, “Thou told’st me, Thou did’st hold him in thy hate”. Until the revelations of Emilia in the final scene Roderigo is the only one to doubt Iago although Iago quickly manages to dispell these doubts. The capacity of Roderigo to undermine Iago through his challenging him is shown when he threatens to perform an action that could easily unravel Iago’s entire scheme, “I will make my self knowne to Desdemona. If she will return me my jewels, I will give over my suit, and repent my unlawful solicitation”. The final downfall of Iago, when the extent of his crimes are revealed, is due to the discovery of, “a letter found in the pocket of the slaine Roderigo”.
I believe the two above pieces of evidence are compelling enough to erode the idea that Roderigo is a mere tool of Iago’s will.
So what then is the motive of Roderigo? His character can be taken to represent pure love. Even Desdemona, generally regarded as completely innocent within the play, uses her love and closeness to Othello to attempt to have Cassio re-instated as his lieutenant. Roderigo’s whole motive in the play is too have Desdemona reciprocate the love and affection he feels for her and to this ends that he takes the extraordinary step of vowing to, “sell all my land”, so he can continue to pursue Desdemona, nothing is more important to him than his love for her. It is this love that causes his to unquestioningly perform any task that he is told will bring them closer together.
If Roderigo is taken to be a symbol of pure love then the play conveys a dismal view of that love as Roderigo is eventually murdered by Iago without ever being loved by Desdemona.