Assess Iago's diabolical and manipulative role in Shakespeare's 'Othello'

Essay by patboxHigh School, 11th gradeA+, March 2007

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The Shakespearean play ‘Othello’, like other tragedies, is essentially concerned with the decay and downfall of the tragic hero. Othello is this central protagonist whose ruin is ensured from the beginning, however it is in the antagonist Iago that we find the most interesting character. Although Iago may appear to be an “honest fellow” to the other characters, Shakespeare shows us his true nature. What we see is a manipulative, diabolical, licentious individual who shamelessly attends to his own desires by sowing the downfall of others. This is solidified in the responder’s mind through Shakespeare’s careful cultivation of imagery, structure and language.

Throughout ‘Othello’ we see how Iago manipulates, manoeuvres, and molds the other characters to attend his desires through Shakespeare’s use of web or net imagery. Iago refers to his plan to “ensnare as great a fly as Cassio” with the “web” of his “own courtship”. This simile of Cassio as a fly suggests that Iago is the scheming spider, pulling strings here and there to catch his prey.

We also see Iago’s arrogance in that he sees himself as an Ubermensch or superior being, and others as mere prey in his devious plot. Iago’s use of this “little” web also strengthens his character as a master tactician. The web acts as a reference to Iago’s devious methods of lies, half-truths, and insinuations in his vast plan to cause the ultimate downfall of those around him. Shakespeare also uses this net imagery to establish Iago’s evil and deceptive nature, as seen in his exploitation of the virtue and “goodness” of others to “make the net / That shall enmesh them all” (II, iii, 338-339).

Shakespeare further emphasises the devious and deceptive nature of Iago through the use of poison as imagery. Iago uses poisonous words to manipulate the minds...