Iago as the cunning villain of the play Othello

Iago is one of the most complex and interesting characters in this play. He is in the Venetian army and is General Othello’s trusted aide. He is married to Emilia, who is Desdemona’s’ (Othello’s’ wife) care taker. Iago is well acquainted with Othello, Rodrigo Cassio and Desdemona, and hence all these puppets are infected by his evil manipulations. Iago uses several linguistic and psychological techniques to achieve his ends. Now I shall discuss Shakespeare’s portrayal of Iago, his manipulating techniques, and how the audiences respond to his portrayal.

The time, in which this play is set in, the Venetian society is racist against coloured people. The role of women of Desdemona’s status was not equal to that of the men. They were the properties of their fathers, to be sold into marriage, and interracial relationships were considered disrespect to the family. They were meant to be innocent virginal, saintly souls. Many themes are introduced into the play Othello, which mostly compare the contrasts in life. There is Darkness and Reality, Appearance and reality, Love jealousy and hatred.

Iago has white skin colour, but has a dark black and merciless heart, where as Othello has black skin, and has a noble and honorable heart, a white heart. Iago is portrayed, as the symbolism of evil but is still only a human in reality. Iago is jealous of Cassio and yet understands acknowledges it. Othello loves Desdemona, yet when poisoned by Iago he starts to become jealous and later on hates her, which is proved from his attempt to murder her. Iago is a very cunning villain of the play.

He does not attack the characters physically, but he seems to be gifted with a demon like power of evil intelligence, which allows him to judge a persons character quickly, and hence allow him to, manipulate them into down a continuously narrower path, to their demise. He uses carefully thought up vulgar, brash and words, which shock his listeners and the audience to be enraptured into his thoughts. All this makes Iago possibly the most interesting character of the play, which one would think unlikely since Othello is the hero, and Iago is the villain.

Iago is portrayed by Shakespeare as a racist character, and since there is only one coloured man, his racism is hence focused with full force onto Othello. Also since he is cunning, and does not resort to physical violence to destroy Othello, he uses the fact that Othello is black to help accomplish his goals, by using brash, disgusting, and crude language when discussing about the sexual conquest of Brabantio’s white daughter by the black Othello.

Brabantio was hence horrified to hear from Iago that a ‘barbary horse’ (Othello) was ‘making the beast with two backs’ with Desdemona. Here Iago is saying that Othello is having sex with Desdemona, but notice the language he uses to shock all the people around him, and since his main goal in the play is to destroy Othello, these words aid him, by first disrespecting Othello, and reminding everyone he is a black man, and hence has the barbaric manners that were thought typical in the society those days.

The audiences response to this racist man would not have seemed different because in those days slavery and racism were very real and it was abnormal not to be racist, as a Moor would have been associated with brutality, ignorance evil, and sexual immortality. Iago hates Othello and is looking to seek his revenge, because Othello gave Cassio the job that he thinks he deserves. He uses racist words such as ‘the moor’ and insults him behind his back by making fun of his ‘thick lips’. Shakespeare has also made Iago admit ‘I hate the Moor’ many a time throughout the play.

Although Iago does not dare speak these vile descriptions near Othello, since it would not be a cunning card to play as it would make all the crystal plates delicately spinning upon his fingers to waver and crash to the floor. He uses insults such as ‘old black ram’ when talking to Brabantio against Othello to rouse him against Othello, and possibly have him hanged for ‘making the beast with two backs’ with Desdemona. We can see by this that Iago is using these racist words to make other characters hate Othello, which is very cunning, because it brings down his reputation as an honest and noble man.

Also the audience would have probably shared these prejudiced thoughts by Iago, and hence approved of the villain, which is rare for Shakespeare’s range of stories, where he usually makes the hero approved by the audience. Iago is an expert judge of character, which gives him an advantage. One example where he utilizes this example is with Roderigo where he knows how madly in love he is for Desdemona, and acts as if he is helping her in making Desdemona his, when he is actually fooling him into giving him money for a job he is not doing.

Cunningly Iago says even says that ‘thus do I ever make my fool my purse’ where Roderigo is the fool, and by manipulating this fool he is making money to add to his purse. Iago is portrayed by Shakespeare as an opportunist. One example would be when Cassio is asking for Desdemona’s help for reuniting him with Othello, but then when Iago and Othello come, he walks off to avoid confrontation. Iago, knowing Othello’s greatest weakness to be Desdemona. He undermines Othello’s faith in her by saying ‘Ha! I like not that.

This is extremely cunning and dastardly of Iago, to have used this opportunity of what seems like Cassio sneaking away after having a romantic talk with Desdemona, to destroy Othello, by making him doubt his faith, in love. But what makes Othello trust Iago so much in the first place the audiences might wonder. It is because Iago is portrayed by Shakespeare as ‘honest Iago’ and Iago repeatedly says these words in a humble manner, to act as propaganda, so that people do think him as an honest and faithful man.

Though this is not true at all, this is just another of Iago’s cunning techniques in manipulating people, he manipulates their judgment of his character. Iago is the ultimate deceiver, during the play, excluding the end; rarely does anyone question Iago’s true motives. This is because through his cunning techniques, of putting up false, yet believable fronts, he does not allow them too. He uses Roderigo; by deceiving him with lies of how Desdemona is close to being his, and fools him and keeps on mining money out of him.

Though Roderigo later begins to question Iago. I think it is getting a bit scurvy and begin to find himself stuck in it’ and he also says that Iago is beginning to get stuck in his intricate web. Iago, realizing the danger, with his quick mind, and a immortal like intelligence he quickly tries to prove that he is faithful to Roderigo by promoting and agreeing to murder Cassio to aid Roderigo aim of getting Desdemona, since Cassio is his competitor for Desdemona. Roderigo agrees at once, and he himself becomes stuck in Iago’s web. This example shows us how cunning Iago is, and what a good improviser he is, at such evil deeds. Iago uses characters weak points to destroy them.

Othello’s weak point is Desdemona, and his faith in her love, as he says ‘my life upon her faith’ Hence Iago targets this. He undermines Othello’s faith in her by feeding him lies, about her having sex with Cassio, and how he Cassio later dreams of those encounters. This throws Othello into such a jealous rage he goes crazy, and then when he encounters Desdemona, he does not believer her, because he is caught up in the imagery given by Iago of her in bed with Cassio. Iago’s linguistic power is something of amazement, and this proves he is the most cunning and evil character of the play.

Iago has no guilt, none at all. He destroys relationships, leads characters down paths with a terrible end, and even steals from his own friends. He is like a devil, and he has so many superficial motives, it is clear, he truly has none at all, and is just a sadistic demon, who finds pleasure in creating anarchy. Iago’s main aim in the play is to destroy Othello and his relationships. Hence he has to destroy other people too, to achieve the final aim. One of the characters he exploits, other then Roderigo is the gullible Cassio.

He knew that Cassio could not ‘handle his drink’ well, and becomes aggressive when drunk. Hence he persuaded him into drinking, and making him get into a fight, which led him to be fired from his position by Othello. Not only does Iago disgrace Cassio, he also tells Cassio to go to Desdemona to solve his problem, and that she will help because she has a good heart: ‘she holds it a vice in her goodness not to be more than a requested’ Iago later turns the encounter into what seems as a secret affair between Desdemona and Cassio, which does not please Othello at all.

In conclusion Iago is portrayed by Shakespeare as an extremely cunning, jealous, subtle, sadistic racist, motiveless and manipulative devil-like human being. Who jumps at the opportunity to use anything to help him reach his goals, which in to destroy Othello, his relationships, and the friends who surround him. Iago symbolizes evil in everyway, though not the typical evil of brute anarchical strength, but the tactful evil which is much more productive with its method, to psychologically destroy a person through preying on their weaknesses.

The audience’s response to this portrayal ranges from interest, awe, shame and disgust. Iago interests the audience with his plans and how he implements them, he awes the audience with the magic like power he has to manipulate characters to their own destructions, and Iago disgusts the audience by how he revels in his destructive plans, and the anarchy he implements.

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