Iago – The Perfect Villain
William Shakespeare`s Othello is a tragedy based on the retaliation between two characters, Iago and Othello. Othello, the protagonist of the play, is a widely respected general of the armies of Venice and Iago is Othello`s ensign who pretends to care.
Iago is Shakespeare’s most interesting and complex villain; he not only deceives people or steals from them, he also kills to get what he wants. The most striking aspects about his character is his complete lack of remorse for the pain he inflicts on others and the complex manner in which he justifies his actions; he comes across as someone who takes pleasure in the chaos he creates.
The Root of His Evil
Shakespeare gives Iago`s character depth, which makes him an utterly compelling and intriguing character – he becomes the villain that readers love to hate. To fulfil the plot of the tragedy, Shakespeare depicts Iago as the epitome of evil; he accomplishes this by highlighting Iago`s peculiar character traits, his split personality, and his deceitful nature through his soliloquies.
At the beginning of Act 1, Iago tells Roderigo that he hates Othello because he appointed Cassio instead of him as lieutenant. His first soliloquy appears in Act 1 Scene 1, line 149. Here Iago does not justify why he is plotting against Othello; he only mentions that he hates him even though his current situation requires that he pretend to care for him.
At the end of Act 1, Iago justifies his actions against Othello. He first says that he would not spend time with Roderigo “But for my sport and profit”(Act 1.3, line 387). This highlights that he sees his manipulation of people as some kind of game from which he may benefit something. He goes on to explain his other reason for hating Othello.
“I hate the Moor; And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true; But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety”.Othello, Act 1 Scene 3, line 387
He uses the rumors about Othello having slept with his wife as an excuse for hating Othello; however, his suspicion of Othello sleeping with his wife is simply an afterthought that he uses to justify the hatred that already exists.
In his third soliloquy, Iago once again comes up with other reasons for destroying Othello. He now says in Act 2 Scene 1, line 292 that he too loves Desdemona, not totally out of lust, but partly because he would love to get revenge on Othello because he suspects that he has been sleeping with his wife, Emilia.
Though he does not have concrete evidence, the idea that Othello might have slept with his wife “Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my innards”(Act 2.1, line 298) makes him want to punish Othello who he said is of a “free and open nature” (Act 1.3, line 400). Iago wants Othello to feel the same jealousy and paranoia that he feels. Iago also tries to justify his effort to bring Cassio down, saying that he suspects that he too might have slept with his wife. Perhaps it would be believable that Othello had slept with Emilia, but Iago then casually suggests that Cassio may have also slept with her, again being suspicious without concrete evidence.
The Villain in Him
At the end of Act 2, Iago begins his soliloquy by casually stating that he is not a villain; the sarcasm reveals much about his character. “When devils will the blackest sins put on, They do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now.” (Act 2.3, line 345). Until this point, Iago had been pretending that he believed he was acting justly. In this soliloquy, readers can clearly see that Iago is taking pleasure in his deceitful plans. Iago’s utters his final soliloquy while Roderigo is trying to kill Cassio. He gives another reason for wanting Cassio dead; he says, “If Cassio do remain, He hath a daily beauty in his life That makes me ugly.”(Act 5.1, line 18) Here, he mentions that Cassio`s kind nature is the reason he wants him dead because it makes him (Iago) look bad.
In his final two soliloquies, he acknowledges that he is a villain, and in the end, he shows no remorse for this. Though throughout the play, he mentions numerous reasons for his villainy, he seems to be taking pleasure in being deceitful first and only concerning himself with reasons afterwards.
Iago is cruel, subversive, and aggressive. He is manipulative, he kills, steals, and he even plays tricks on people in order to trap them. The soliloquies help Iago to buy sympathy from readers. Shakespeare uses the soliloquies an instrument to engage readers – he makes the audience fall in love with Iago before shaping him into an evil person. Shakespeare turns Iago into a “perfect villain”, unlike other Shakespearean villains who are a one-dimensional character throughout the play. Iago is mysterious and unpredictable; for every wrongdoing, he finds a way of justifying it. In some instances, the reader might even believe that he is actually the victim who is rightfully defending himself.
The character of Iago has many layers; one could delve significantly deeper into his nuances and personality. However, it is undeniable that Iago plays the main role Othello. Iago is a villain that has fascinated audiences for centuries. At the end readers are left without fully understanding the reasons behind the tragic conclusion. They are left unsatisfied yet intrigued by Iago, a being who remains enigmatic for eternity.
Dealing with The Villain
Iago has a shrewd two-dimensional character; his goal throughout the play is to bring down the Moor. Iago shows how far an individual will go in order to disrupt the happiness and success of their enemy. He pursues his attacks on his victims through covert ways and despite being able to differentiate between right and wrong, Iago still chooses the latter. Throughout Othello, his (Iago) evil plans go unnoticed; this makes it evident that humanity is prone to evil, regardless of an individual`s environment.
Iago is the epitome of evil; therefore, understanding how he operated can help readers/the audience to identify villains in their own lives and protect themselves from suffering the same fate as Othello, Emilia, Cassio, Roderigo, and Desdemona. Humanity has always been powerless against tactically devious individuals such as Iago; therefore, we have to keep in mind that for as long as power hungry narcissists such as him exist there will always be a tug of war between good and bad – we just need to know how to deal with such situations.
As M. Scott Peck once said,
“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual – for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”
What do you think? Leave a comment.