The play is based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro written by Cinthio which was first published in 1565. In this play, Shakespeare immortalized the character of Iago the villain of the tragedy play. The character of Iago is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most complex villains. In any tragedy play, a great villain must have qualities that stand out from others. In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago fulfills all of these qualifications of a ruthless villain who leaves the reader grasping to understand his nature and where he comes from. Iago is characterized as pure evil in the play. The strength and the time he put in trying to take revenge on Othello speak volume about his character. At first glance, he seems to be take pride in his evilness. He is consumed with envy and hatred. Shakespeare adds depth to the character to Iago by making him amoral unlike the typical immoral villains. The character of Iago’s amorality can be seen throughout the play and is illustrated by his thoughts, character and actions.
One of the most interesting character traits of Iago is his smartness. At the same time he is underestimated by others around him. This makes him the perfect villain as he used this weapon to the advantage at the maximum. He is smart and manipulative and he knows it, "...I am not what I am." (Shakespeare). The readers first see his plan unfold early in the story when Othello ignored him and give the position of lieutenant to cassio. Instead of confronting Othello and finding out the reasons as to why he was not given the promotion, he hatch a plan to get even with Othello, “.. I do hate him as I do hell” (Shakespeare). This hatred for Othello makes him blind to everything around him. Throughout the play, Iago seems to enjoy ruining people’s life. He not only ruins others life without any sense of redemption, but he does it with a sense of craftsmanship and appreciating the elegance of his schemes as well as the outcome. It is the unique style of Shakespeare to put his characters in a condition where they tend to show their true nature of their passion and master it efficiently for its fated end. This is exactly what Iago is comprised of, his passion of hatred for Othello and his reasons for revenge made him amoral throughout the play. Iago is artful and he studied human nature deeply. He knows all the torment which afflicts the mind of a man. Because of his understanding of human nature, he is trusted by nearly everyone around him, but on the other hand he does not trust anyone. He manipulates the trust of other people. He has a reputation for honesty, reliability and frankness. In the play Othello and the others often refer to him as "honest Iago." He hides under his reputation and deceive everyone around him. He manages to convince Othello into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with cassio without giving any concrete proof. He puts an idea into Othello’s mind to trick him into believing his wife’s infidelity. When Cassio walks off hurriedly after talking with Desdemona, he takes advantage of the situation and says, "Ha! I like not that" (Shakespeare). This is enough to trigger Othello as he is quite aware of his wife’s beauty and his shortages. With these simple words, Iago manages to make Othello suspicious about his wife’s fidelity. He slowly gains the trust of Othello, "My lord, you know I love you" (Shakespeare). Othello gets trap by Iago words and choose to trust him instead of his wife. He smartly plays Othello by bringing up their marriage, "She did deceive her father, marrying you..." (Shakespeare). Othello is blinded by his love for Desdemona and Iago’s true nature. Iago diabolical prowess “ ...Show more
The Dew That Rusts Them: Iago's character through spoken word
Shakespeare's Iago personifies misanthropy; he is a vicious and spiteful individual who succeeds in ruining Othello and all that he has worked so hard to create. Iago's greatest strength is as a catalyst of insecurities; a psychologist devoted to mental infirmity. Through superb manipulation of spoken word, Iago manages to gain a position of such great trust that he is granted free rein in the thought processes of whichever character he chooses. This position of reverence within Othello's circle provides for a virtually unassailable position of attack. Due to his one dimensional aspirations; however, Iago becomes one of the most human and fallible characters that Shakespeare designs. Iago's main downfall is his lack of true compassion and empathy for those around him; a flaw that leads to his undoing in the play's tragic conclusion. Through Iago's spoken discourse with Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia, Shakespeare provides a depth of character unheard of for such a soulless villain.
Iago's character is quickly displayed in his conversations with Roderigo. In their first meeting, Iago reveals his hatred toward Othello for removing him from his post, as well as his animosity toward Michael Cassio for taking his post. Iago suggests that his only motivation to serve under Othello is to undermine him, by saying that, "In following him, I follow but myself;/ Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty..." (I.i.58-59). Later meetings between Iago and Roderigo reveal the manipulative talent held within Iago. After failing to ruin Othello's relationship, Roderigo confides to Iago that he intends to kill himself. Iago immediately reassures Roderigo of his (Iago's) support and affection for him, showing a supportive and intuitive side that does not fit with Iago's soliloquies. Iago goes to great lengths to console the despairing Roderigo, saying, "I have professed/ me thy friend and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of/ perdurable toughness; I could never better stead thee then now" (I.iii. 330-332). This duality of demeanor is precisely what makes Iago such an effective villain. While harboring such poisonous resentments toward his fellow men, Iago consistently maintains a façade of honesty and good will that guarantees his free access into his victims' inner thoughts. Once Iago convinces Roderigo that they are good friends and share a love that would make suicide unthinkable, Iago convinces the gullible Roderigo to sell his property and collect the money for Iago's benefit (Haim and Da Verona 100-101). Indeed Iago reclaims his role as villain in the final lines of Act I, in which he reveals his true intentions to, "...time expend with such a snipe/ But for my support and profit..." (I.iii.366-367). Through soliloquy, Iago reveals that his only motivation to advise Roderigo is to use him as both a tool and a source of money. The cunning ruthlessness of Shakespeare's villain doesn't stop with Roderigo, as Iago furthers his dastardly plan of revenge.
In his dealings with Othello, Iago is truly a master of manipulation. Iago seeds suspicion within Othello's strong psyche and then affirms the suspicion by denying the charges while allowing Othello to believe that he originated the doubts. This mirroring and magnification of Othello's deep insecurities successfully stall any potential criticism or implication of Iago in the matter (Haim and Da Verona 101). Iago's first move is to pare down Othello's formidable self confidence. As Cassio and Desdemona speak, Iago plants his seed:
Iago: Ha! I like not that. Othello: What dost thou say? Iago: Nothing, my lord: or if- I know not what. Othello: Was not that Cassio departed from my wife? Iago: Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so Guilty-like, Seeing you coming. Othello: I do believe 'twas he
(III. iii.34- 41).
Iago successfully captures Othello's interest by allowing Othello to take on the implied suspicion as if he discovered it alone. The implicit reaffirmation of Cassio's alleged conspiracy coupled with Iago's explicit denial of the claim ensures that Othello will be enslaved by the concept (Haim and Da Verona 101). Iago continues to beckon Othello into suspicion by mirroring Othello's musings on Cassio's character without any personal comment. For example, when Othello questions Cassio's motives, Iago merely asks, "Is he not honest?" (III. iii.103). As Othello desperately searches for some exterior proof that Cassio would not go behind his back; Iago not only fails to provide such proof, but his repetition of Othello's words serve to mirror and amplify the sentiment until Othello cannot construe it as anything less than fact. Then once Othello opens the subject of Desdemona's infidelity, Iago drops his subtle tactics by saying, "In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks/ They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience/ Is not to leave 't undone, but keep 't unknown" (III. iii.203-205). At this point, the floodgate has been opened; and Othello is set forth on a path free from logic or reason to prove Desdemona's infidelity and Cassio's insubordination. Iago's created conflict turns to Othello's undying obsession, and the tragedy of the play soon comes to fruition.
The revelation of Iago's character does not come solely from his talents in manipulation. In dealing with Cassio and Desdemona, Iago displays an ineptitude in compassion and social graces that is unbefitting for his character. Cassio kisses Iago's wife Emilia on the hand, and apologizes condescendingly by saying, "Let it not gall your patience, good Iago,/ That I extend my manners; 'tis my breeding/ That gives me this bold show of courtesy" (II.i.97-99). Implicit in this comment is that Cassio holds a rank above Iago in class, which greatly irritates Shakespeare's villain (Zender 329). Iago responds by shifting the embarrassment from himself to Emilia, saying that, "Sir, would she give you so much of her lips/ As of her tongue she oft bestows on me/ You would have enough" (II.i.100-102). Desdemona comes to Emilia's defense, and the two banter until finally Desdemona asks Iago, "What wouldst thou write of me, if thou shouldst praise me?" (II. i.118). With this comment, Desdemona places Iago in an inescapable situation where he must display kindness towards her. Desdemona's error in assuming that Iago is even capable of being kind for kindness sake displays Iago's true nature, perhaps better than in any other situation of the play (Zender 329). Iago inevitably fails to make any sort of kind remark towards Desdemona, instead choosing to mention that even the ugliest and stupidest of women can, "suckle fools and chronicle small beer" (II.i.160). Enraged by his own failure in communication, Iago promises himself to "gyve thee [Cassio] in thine own courtship" (II.i.168). Iago continues to salvage his own damaged ego by disregarding Cassio's moves as, "playing the sir", which demonstrates Iago's inclination to face his inadequacies with anger and denial (II.i.171; Zender 331). Further demonstrations of Iago's ineptitude in matters of the heart lie in Desdemona's very existence. Iago is a misogynistic individual, who prates on about the ability of a fine woman to do no more than keep the house clean. Desdemona, by contrast, is a lovely woman who expresses true and undying love for her husband, as well as a strength and independence that by its very nature makes Iago's point unjustifiable. Iago, being the observant individual that he is, recognizes Desdemona's existence as a dissonance to his belief system, putting her into the crosshairs of his unquenchable hatred (Zender 332). This hatred fuels Iago's intent to pit Othello against her, as he later impels Othello to, "strangle her in her bed, even the bed she/ hath contaminated" (IV.i.192-193).
Iago's failure to embrace the language of love and affection is further demonstrated in his dealings with Emilia. Emilia is a servile wife to Iago up to the very end of the story, but Iago treats her as if she was a dog, perhaps in an attempt to overcome his personal inadequacies (Zender 335). Even as Emilia unwittingly helps Iago in his plans to end Othello's security, Iago refers to his own marriage as, "...a common thing-...To have a foolish wife" (III.iii.302-304). Iago's abject refusal to acknowledge his wife's merit serves as his undoing in the play's final scene, when Emilia discovers Iago's plan and thwarts his escape from blame. Emilia cries out for authorities once she discovers Iago's wrong doing, claiming that, "'Tis proper I obey him, but not now" (V.ii.196). Rather than attempt to woo his wife from ruining him by a show of kindness (or even respect), Iago chooses to impose husbandly authority over Emilia, which is useless once Emilia recognizes who Iago truly is (Zender 335). As the situation escalates and the authorities arrive, Iago demonstrates his complete breakdown of control by killing his wife and vainly attempting to flee the scene. As he is forced to return, Iago demonstrates his utter failure with language by maintaining his resolve that," From this time forth I never will speak word" (V.ii.304). So passes one of Shakespeare's finest examples of conversational wit; Iago was among the finest in using language to ensnare and defeat the defenses of his enemies, but his ineptitude to use language as an expression of love served as his ultimate undoing.
Shakespeare's Iago is a ruthless villain; however, his strength in the processes of speech gives him unprecedented depth as an individual as well as an antagonist. Through ingenious and subtle manipulation of Roderigo and Othello, Shakespeare presents the image of Iago as a cunning surgeon of wordplay, able to turn his victim's thoughts against them as easily as if they were loaded pistols. This is not, however, the extent of Iago's character. Shakespeare suggests through selected discourse between Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia that Iago is inept and insecure in feelings of affection and warmth. This inability to demonstrate love or affection towards others serves as Iago's downfall as he finds himself red handed at the scene of Desdemona's slaughter with no wordplay or confederate available to save him. Through the tragedy of "Othello", Shakespeare seems to suggest that the one dimensional man, be him good (Othello) or bad (Iago) are weak and subject to destruction at the hands of adversity.
The assignment is to write a research paper about a character from Shakespeare's "Othello", relating his verbal exchanges with other characters/soliloquies to his character while using external sources to set up a synthesis of research.
The paper is set up to be between five and seven pages, and mine arrives right at six. I'm not sure if I should omit some sections of his speaking and work harder at emphasizing other plot points, or if I should merely leave it as is. Any advice would be appreciated.
You write well. Your verb choice and active voice are especially strong in this piece.
I think that you are missing a large part of what makes Iago's machinations so effective--the fact that others in the play, especially Othello, see Iago as being a paragon of honesty. Over and over, Othello professes his belief that Iago is an honest man. "Iago is most honest" (2.3.7), "Honest Iago" (2.3.189), "I know, Iago,/ Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter" (2.3.262-263), "And, for I know thou'rt full of love and honesty,/ And weigh'st thy words before thou givest them breath,/ Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more" (3.3.136-139) and: "Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtless/ Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds" (3.3.283-284) This fellow's of exceeding honesty,/ And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit,/ Of human dealings" (3.3.298-300) just for starters.
The other characters state their belief in Iago's honesty as well: "I never knew/ A Florentine more kind and honest" (Cassio 3.1.43-44).
Iago would not have been able to worm his way into Othello's mind if not for the belief that his intentions were honest.
I have to go to class now! I will come back with more comments later. This is the play that we are working on right now so I have a lot to learn from your discourse and I look forward to perusing your essay later.