Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The character Roderigo in William Shakespeare's play Othello is often ignored by critics. Discussion of his role, both in scholarly study and stage portrayal is extremely limited. His lines are spoken almost entirely in dialogue with Iago; he appears to be a mere tool in Iago's evil designs on Cassio and Othello. Yet his conversations with Iago form a subplot which both clarifies Iago's character and aids our understanding of Othello's reponse to Iago's temptations.

The six conversations between Iago and Roderigo are the subject of this paper. Since the two men are not social equals, it seems particularly useful to examine the politeness indicators of their conversations to determine who has power and how their relationship changes from scene to scene. The politeness theories of Brown and Levinson and an examination of the pronouns of direct address demonstrate how Iago gradually gains power over his social superior in the first four scenes, then loses ground as Roderigo asserts himself in the fifth scene.

The analysis of their changing relationship illustrates the dramatic development of the subplot; Roderigo becomes important to the entire play, not only as Iago's confidant, but also as an analog of Othello; he is a lesser tragic figure who also loves the fair Desdemona. In addition, the analysis exposes Iago's methods of manipulation: he exploits the politeness strategies to gain and maintain control. Thus, Othello's fall becomes more believable, and Roderigo's role gains in importance as it helps inform the main action of the play.