Character and Iago

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The Balance of Iago and Desdemona’s Characters in Othello

In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello the balance of good versus evil is seen in Desdemona and Iago. “Every character is […] balanced by another similar or contrasting character”(Kernan 877). We see this balance in Desdemona’s “innocence” and Iago’s corrupting hatred (877). The effects both Iago and Desdemona have on the main character Othello throughout the play only help to show this balance. Othello becomes the tragic work of art due to the balancing of Iago’s hatred and Desdemona’s loyalty throughout the play.

At the beginning of the play, Iago’s hatred is evident through his desire to have revenge on Othello. As he speaks to Roderigo, he discusses this hatred for Othello. “These fellows have some soul, / And such a one do I profess myself. / It is as sure as you are Roderigo, / Were I the Moor I would not be Iago. / In following him, I follow but myself- / Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, / But seeming so for my peculiar end. ” (Shakespeare 1. 1. 56-62). From this Iago begins his plot to overtake Othello by manipulating others to do his bidding which only adds to the extremity of his character.

With his plot in motion, Iago, according to Amy Clark, uses a special technique to trick Othello by “cleverly [appearing] to be reluctant to speak ill against others. ” This technique “makes Othello not suspect Iago of any dishonest behavior” (Clark). This is where Othello believes his so called friend over his wife. This method that Clark speaks of shows Iago’s deceit towards Othello. Iago says to Othello, “Cassio:/ In sleep I heard him say “Sweet Desdemona,/ Let us be wary, let us hide our loves”;/ And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand,/ Cry “O sweet creature! and then kiss me hard,/ then laid his leg/ Over my thigh, and sigh’d, and kiss’d; and/ Cried “Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moor! ” (Shakespeare 3. 3. 418-426) Iago is also willing to do almost anything to get his revenge. This is proven again at the denouement of the play, when Iago kills his own wife, as she tells Othello that Desdemona was in fact innocent. Iago tries to shut Emilia up from stating the truth by saying, “Zounds, hold your piece” (Shakespeare 5. 2. 231), “Be wise, and get you home” (Shakespeare 5. 2. 236), “Villainous whore! (Shakespeare 5. 2. 243) and “Filth, thou liest! ” (Shakespeare 5. 2. 246). Iago isn’t successful in shutting Emilia up until he stabs her and she dies. Iago manipulates and twists many actions within this play to help him succeed in his revenge against Othello; however, in the end of the play it is not only Othello but also Iago who creates his own demise. Desdemona in turn balances out Iago’s pure hatred with the love and devotion she has towards her husband. Desdemona says to Othello, “For ‘twas that hand that gave away my heart” (Shakespeare 3. . 43) proving that her love and devotion was for Othello, and Othello only. William Long says that this is shown in Desdemona’s “exposition of the reasons she loves Othello [and this helps to define] her essential character as a woman of loyalty and fidelity to him” (Long). This can also be seen when Desdemona is questioned about leaving Venice to follow Othello to Cyprus. She says, “The rites for why I love him are bereft me,/ And I a heavy interim shall support / By his dear absence.

Let me go with him” (Shakespeare 1. 3. 258-60). As the play comes to its climax, we can see the effect that Desdemona has on her husband. Overcome with a jealous rage, due to the fact that he thinks Desdemona is cheating on him, and thanks to Iago’s hatred, Othello ends up killing her despite her pleas. Although, Desdemona is completely innocent of this act, she remains faithful to her husband in her last breath as she declares to Emilia that “nobody” did this to her except herself (Shakespeare 5. 2. 128).

Othello has been called one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, and throughout the entire play, Alvin Kerman’s theory of each character having another character that is “similar or contrasting” to create balance is shown directly through the characters Iago and Desdemona (877). Othello’s corruptive behavior is caused by Iago’s hatred and is balanced by her innocence as well as her love and devotion for her husband. The balances they create make Othello the tragedy it is known as today.

Works Cited

Clark, Amy. “Analyze The Techniques Iago Uses to Plant Suspicion In Othello’s Mind. Coursework. Info. Web. 03 Apr. 2012
Kernan, Alvin. “The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare. ” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kenndy and Dana Gioia. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2012. 877. Print. 03 Apr. 2012
Long, William R. “Desdemona’s Love and Othello. ” Dr. William Long and Dr. Bill Long. 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. Shakespeare, William. Othello, The Moor of Venice.
Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kenndy and Dana Gioia. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2012. 762-875. Print. 03 Apr. 2012

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