Iago: Hero or Villain in About Othello by William Shakespeare

Essay by strikewolfHigh School, 11th grade March 2008

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Othello as a text transcends the constraints of time creating a piece of intrinsic and everlasting value. Shakespeare masterfully manipulates the English language to give his characters an enduring power, the concepts that they represent holding significance throughout all societies. The driving force behind the tragedy and characters in Othello is the character of Iago. Like the domineering marionette, Iago manipulates the 'strings' of the characters to incite his desired response. He utilises a combination of deception and the exploitation of the faults of the other characters to achieve his goals. It is through his manipulation that the major component themes come to the fore, that being deception, jealousy and revenge. There is an evident connection between these themes and the nature of the characters, the themes being embodied by them. The embodiment is achieved through the techniques employed by the characters namely allusion and contrast.

Iago manipulates his 'puppets' through a series of deceit and lies which course through the veins of the play.

"I hate the moor," a line which Iago affirms throughout the play to his confidents. This reveals the core of his deception, that being his façade of loyalty to Othello. This unbridled hatred expressed the contextual feeling of an Elizabethan audience towards a moor, a 'black' Muslim. Throughout the play it is shown that Iago holds a general contempt for all other characters and he sees them as nothing more than 'puppets' to be manipulated. Othello is the main recipient of Iago's deception. Iago's concoction of Desdemona's and Cassio's affair is created through Othello, utilising his insecurities against him. Through the allusion it appears as though Othello is the construct of these lies removing the blame from Iago. He speaks of his views of Cassio's honesty stating, "Michael Cassio, I dare be sworn I think he is honest." It is here that through Iago appearing uncertain in his response to Othello's questions that Othello too becomes uncertain. It unnerves Othello and he probes Iago to determine what it was that he was alluding to. The nature of Iago's duplicity is ironically expressed where Iago invokes the name of the Roman two faced god, "By Janus." The religious allegory successfully encapsulates the core of Iago's being. Iago's cool manipulative malignity intrinsically transcends time, his ambitious nature seen throughout history. Iago embodies the deceit giving him an enduring power.

The human emotion of jealousy is exploited throughout Othello, as an excuse and a means to an end. Iago had been passed over for the position of Othello's lieutenant for Cassio. This jealousy incited his quest to avenge his wounded pride. Iago claims, "I know my worth, and I am worth no worse a place." It is Iago's greed and ambition that drives him believing he is worthy of greater things than those allotted to his social class. He expresses deep jealousy at the privileges that Cassio has gained due to his high social level and it is seen in Elizabethan England that a man's supposed worth came from his social status.

It is repeatedly seen that there are many insecurities between the various couples of the text, and from this breeds jealousy. In his search for reasoning behind his deception Iago states, "the lusty Moor hath leaped into my seat," claiming that Othello has bedded his wife. This jealousy enrages Iago and he compares it to a poison, "doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw at my innards." It is this comparative imagery that demonstrates the motives of Iago and his justification behind his actions. The poison is symbolic of jealousy and is an important motif. It is seen that like a poison jealousy courses its way through the characters afflicting each of them.

Othello is a text of enduring power which through its characters has transcended time. Shakespeare masterfully manipulates the English language to give his characters an enduring power, the concepts that they represent holding significance throughout all societies. The themes themselves are embodied by his characters allowing them to have a living and intrinsic quality. The text revolves around the manipulations of the 'marionette' Iago and the subsequent quests for vengeance and justice.