“I am not what I am”

Corpus-based Analysis of Shakespeare’s Character Iago from Othello, the Moor of Venice


  • Teja Furlan University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Slovenia
  • Monika Kavalir University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Slovenia




characterization, corpus linguistics, keyword analysis, Othello, William Shakespeare, Iago


The paper uses keyword analysis as the empirical basis for the characterization of Shakespeare’s character Iago from Othello, the Moor of Venice. The aim of the paper is to determine how Iago’s manner of speech reflects his deceitful and manipulative nature and how it differs from the speech-styles of non-deceitful prominent characters: Othello, Cassio, Roderigo, Desdemona and Emilia. Keywords for the chosen characters are based on the corpora of character speech and the Sketch Engine tool is used to process the data. The results are then interpreted and discussed on the basis of six interconnected points of discussion: focus, adjectives, use of the expression Moor, references to the handkerchief, poisoning-the-ears technique, and pronouns, all of which confirm that Iago’s manipulative nature is indeed evident in his speech and that there is a clear difference between his speech-style and the speech-styles of other, non-deceitful, prominent characters.


Download data is not yet available.


Altman, Joel B. The Improbability of Othello: Rhetorical Anthropology and Shakespearean Selfhood. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Archer, Dawn, Mathew Gillings. “Depictions of Deception: A Corpus-based Analysis of Five Shakespearean Characters.” Shakespeare’s Language: Styles and meanings via computer, special issue of Language and Literature 29.3 (August 2020): 246–274.

Arenas, Enrique Cámara. “Causal Attribution and the Analysis of Literary Characters: A. C. Bradley’s Study of Iago and Othello.” Journal of Literary Semantics 39.1 (2010): 43–66.

Babcock, Weston. “Iago--An Extraordinary Honest Man.” Shakespeare Quarterly 16.4 (Autumn 1965): 297–301.

Baker, Paul. “Keywords: Signposts to objectivity?” The Corpus Linguistics Discourse: In honour of Wolfgang Teubert. Eds. Anna Čermáková and Michaela Mahlberg. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2018. 77–94.

Bayles, Maggie. “Othello: The ‘Other.’” Confluence, 30 March 2018, confluence.gallatin.nyu.edu/context/interdisciplinary-seminar/othello-the-other. Web. 28 June 2021.

Beier, Benjamin V. “The Art of Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Two Iagos.” Studies in Philology 111.1 (2014): 34–64.

Bondi, Marina. “Perspectives on Keywords and Keyness: An Introduction.” Keyness in Texts, special issue of Studies in Corpus Linguistics (SCL) 41 (2010): 1–18.

Bradley, Andrew Cecil. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. London: Macmillan, 1919. Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org/files/16966/16966-h/16966-h.htm. Web. 24 August 2021.

Culpeper, Jonathan. “Computers, Language and Characterisation: An Analysis of Six Characters in Romeo and Juliet.” Conversation in Life and in Literature: Papers from the ASLA Symposium, Association Suedoise de Linguistique Appliquee (ASLA). Eds. U. Melander-Marttala, C. Ostman and Merja Kyto. Uppsala: Universitetstryckeriet, 2002. 11–30.

Culpeper, Jonathan. “Keyness: Words, Parts-of-speech and Semantic Categories in the Character-talk of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14.1 (2009): 29–59.

Dachslager, Earl L. “The Villainy of Iago: ‘What you know, you know.’” CEA Critic 38.3 (1976): 4–10.

Draper, John W. “Honest Iago.” PMLA 46.3 (1931): 724–737.

Frost, Robert. “Talk, Small Talk and Silence in Othello: Robert Frost Applies Techniques Adopted from Discourse Analysis to the Way Characters Speak in Othello.” The English Review 14.1 (2003): 28–30.

Gonzalez, Alexander G. “The Infection and Spread of Evil: Some Major Patterns of Imagery and Language in ‘Othello.’” South Atlantic Review 50. 4 (1985): 35–49.

Jacobsen, Ken. “Iago’s Art of War: The ‘Machiavellian Moment’ in Othello.” Modern Philology 106.3 (2009): 497–529.

Murphy, Sean, Dawn Archer, Jane Demmen. “Mapping the Links between Gender, Status and Genre in Shakespeare’s Plays.” Shakespeare’s Language: Styles and meanings via computer, special issue of Language and Literature 29.3 (August 2020): 223–245.

Rosenberg, Marvin. “In Defense of Iago.” Shakespeare Quarterly 6.2 (1955): 145–158.

Shakespeare, William. Othello, the Moor of Venice. Eds. E. A. J. Honigman and T. Nelson, 1996, shakespeare.mit.edu/othello/full.html. Web. 22 April 2021.

Vickers, Brian. “The Power of Persuasion: Images of the Orator, Elyot to Shakespeare.” Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric. Ed. James J. Murphy. Berkeley-London: University of California Press, 1983. 411–35.

West, Fred. “Iago the Psychopath.” South Atlantic Bulletin 43.2 (1978): 27–35.




How to Cite

Furlan, T., & Kavalir, M. (2021). “I am not what I am”: Corpus-based Analysis of Shakespeare’s Character Iago from Othello, the Moor of Venice. Acta Neophilologica, 54(1-2), 69–86. https://doi.org/10.4312/an.54.1-2.69-86