The Dramatic Impact of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello

Iago is one of the most Machiavellian and interesting of Shakespeare’s villains, but how crucial was he to the plot of Othello?

‘Othello’ was written by William Shakespeare around 1603 and is of the Tragedy genre. It is set in Venice and is about the tragic downfall of a noble black Venetian general, due to a resentment harboured by his second lieutenant, Iago, who is revengeful for a number of reasons, the most prominent being anger at Othello and Michael Cassio (the man who Othello promoted), jealousy at Othello and Desdemona’s (Othello’s wife) for their happy relationship and racism against Othello as he is a black man in a white man’s world.

The play starts with Iago and Roderigo (an easily led Venetian gentleman, in love with Desdemona) outside Brabantio’s (Desdemona’s father) house, antagonising him in an attempt to wreck Desdemona’s and Othello’s secret relationship, unfortunately for Iago, Othello gives a heartfelt speech and convinces that his love for Desdemona is pure.

Iago then goes about manipulating the other characters, he gets Cassio stripped of his ranks, plants the seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind about Desdemona’s fidelity with Cassio. He offers proof in the way of Othello’s handkerchief that end up in Cassio’s hands and an overheard conversation manipulated to look like Cassio is involved with Desdemona, when he is in fact talking about a courtesan named Bianca.

Othello is consumed with rage, and this is noticeable in his speech and demeanour, he decides to kill Desdemona and smothers her. When Emelia (Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid) suspects something and walks in on the murder, she tells Othello that Desdemona’s infidelity was an invention of Iago’s. Iago kills Emelia before she can reveal too much in the presence of Venetian noblemen. Othello attacks Iago but does not kill him, and then kills himself. Iago then realises he is finished and resigns himself to his punishment.

The title “Othello” is a misleading one, as Iago, actually has more lines than the namesake of the play. Othello and Iago have a protagonist and antagonist relationship (meaning that Othello is the hero of the story, while Iago drives him to desperation) and Iago is the catalyst for the whole plot. Without Iago’s sense of revenge to drive the plot forward, there would probably be no “Othello”.

Iago appeals to a modern audience because he is a character we can all relate to. While the noble warrior, or the fair maiden do not exist in modern society, I think everyone can name one sneaky and manipulative person whose morals do not go beyond their own needs. A true Machiavellian villain, Iago’s character is still one that exists today.

To discuss Iago’s dramatic impact in “Othello” we must consider the following aspects:

  • Iago’s relationship with other characters
  • The language Iago employs
  • The impact he has on the plot
  • The historical context of his actions

We are first introduced to Iago in the opening scene, and learn that he is a very vengeful character, trying to wreck his superior’s relationship for the following possible reasons:

  • The fact that Cassio, an “arithmetician” and who “never set a squadron in the field” was promoted over him
  • Racism, Othello was living in a world of prejudice, but still made a worthy general and Iago is disgusted at “a black ram tupping a white ewe”
  • The suspicions that Emelia may have been unfaithful to him are revealed in a later soliloquy, though this is never confirmed
  • Jealousy of Othello’s and Desdemona’s happy relationship

All these could be the reasoning behind Iago’s manipulation of the people around him to ensnare Othello.

From these reasons, we see that Iago is a very jealous man. We also learn that Iago is a very eloquent character, using language to affect others in ways he sees fit (see below). We can also see how manipulative he is, as he uses Roderigo to do his dirty work.

The opening scene of Othello is probably my favourite out of all the Shakespeare I’ve read. It starts off in the dark backstreets of Venice, outside Brabantio’s apartment. We learn about Iago’s motives for revenge, drawing us into the plot and then Iago and Roderigo proceed to wake Brabantio up, shouting about thieves.

“Awake, what ho, Brabantio! Thieves, thieves thieves”

This confuses the audience and then draws us in again when we realise Iago is talking about Othello “stealing” Desdemona away. A lot of shouting and sexual and racist imagery combine for one of Shakespeare’s most dramatic openings.

Iago’s language is one of the main tributes of his character; see how he rouses Brabantio immediately into a state of panic.

“Signor is all your family within”

“Are your doors locked?

By firing rapid fire questions, he easily confuses him and makes him suspect the worst.

In this scene he demonstrates how easy it is for him to rouse an emotion from Brabantio using emotive language, and racist and sexual imagery.

“You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you”

This is said to panic and enrage Brabantio into seeking retribution against Othello.

Iago also uses his superior intellect and language to manipulate Roderigo, a young Venetian gentleman into doing whatever he tells him to benefit himself. He tells Roderigo some of his motives in a way that makes Roderigo emphasise with him:

“By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman”.

The opening scene is a perfect example of Iago’s attitude; the audience go away with the impression of Iago as he is. We need no soliloquies to shine a light on Iago’s inner workings, as he has laid out his reasons to Roderigo and we see the beginning of an intricate plan.

The way he manipulates Roderigo into helping him, and puts Brabantio into the desired state of mind so easily using language is admirable.

We go away with an impression of a resentful, deceitful and manipulative man. A true Machiavellian villain who will stop at nothing to avenge some personal desire, and yet I myself thought that Iago was an extremely clever person, a true schemer and though I disagree with the way he does things, and even the things he does, but he does them with style.

Othello is a tragedy involving a great person whose downfall is caused by a character flaw or conflict with a higher power. Othello is a great and noble man, but his jealousy and his trust in Iago lead him to a tragic end, his “hubris” if you will, he murders Desdemona and would have been executed if he had not killed himself.

Othello is also not entirely at blame for his actions, he is at the end of Iago’s strings, being manipulated and is led to his downfall by forces outside his control.

If one wishes, one can track Othello’s path to his downfall through his speech. In Act 1, Scene 3, where Othello is accused of stealing Desdemona from her father with “spells and medicines bought of mountebanks” and witchcraft, we see him defending himself with a poetic and eloquent speech.

“And bade me, if I had a friend who loved her,

I should but teach him how to tell my story,

And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:

She loved me, that she did pity them.

This only is the witchcraft I have used.

Here comes the lady: let her witness it”.

Othello refers to Brabantio’s claims and speaks in a poetic manner, he protests that his love for Desdemona is natural and mutual.

This Othello is a far different one from the Othello we see in Act 3 Scene 3. He is a man at the end of his tether after Iago has besmirched his love’s name.

Othello vents on Iago about his wife’s deceit, his language starts off poetic and flagrant:

“Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!

Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars

That make ambition virtue-O, farewell!”

He speaks of his love of a tranquil mind and the virtue the army has given him, but then the tone of language descends downhill.

“Her name that was as fresh

As Dian’s visage is now begrimed and black”

The words used are more hate filled, but this does not stop him using a poetic simile, then it all goes out the window:

“If there be cords or knives,

Poison or fire or suffocating streams,

I’ll not endure it. Would I were satisfied!”

And then we truly know Othello has gone mad with anger:

“I’ll tear her all to pieces!”.

If we have to put Iago into a category, it would be that of the Machiavellian villain. This term was coined by political theorist, Niccolo Machiavelli, and was extremely popular in Jacobean dramas.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a book called “The Prince”, and laid out the ways one could be a good leader, and from there lies the basis of a Machiavellian villain, a person who has no ideals and speaks cynically. They have malicious intent, and glorify in revealing their evil nature to the audience, manipulative and two faced, Iago is a prime example of a Machiavellian villain, seeming to have the sense of revenge to drive him to almost insane methods retribution.

I am going to analyse one paragraph for Iago’s Machiavellian tendencies, as it contains one of the most important lines in the tragedy (about Iago, at least).

“O, sir, content you.

I follow him to serve my turn upon him:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters

Cannot be truly followed. You shall mark

Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,

That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,

Wears out his time, much like his master’s ass,

For nought but provender, and when he’s old,

Cashier’d.

Whip me such honest knaves! Others there are

Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty,

Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,

And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,

Do well thrive by them; and when they have lined

their coats

Do themselves homage. These fellows have some

soul.

And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir,

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.

For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In compliment extern, “tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.”

This verse is chock full of Machiavellian qualities, firstly:

“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”

We can literally translate this as “I work for him to my own advantage”, a truly Machiavellian manipulation of people.

“We cannot all be masters, not all masters cannot be truly followed”

Iago puts forward this cynical idea of leadership, much like Niccolo Machiavelli himself.

“[………………………….] Others there are

Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty,

Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,

And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,

Do well thrive by them; and when they have lined

their coats”

Iago is basically saying that others who only show the outward forms of loyalty but think of their own needs do better than those “honest knaves”. This again similar to Machiavelli”s “The Prince” where he says that one need only “appear” to have the qualities of a good leader

“A prince need not necessarily have all the good qualities… but he should certainly appear to have them.”

“In following him, I follow but myself.”

Iago reveals to Roderigo that he only serves Othello for his own benefit, another Machiavellian quality.

And of course, one of the most important lines of the play:

“I am not what I am”.

Iago goes all the way and tells Roderigo that he is a two faced deceiver.

To put it bluntly, Iago is a shape shifter. He plays on people’s weaknesses and tendencies to be trusting and moulds his character into what they want him to be. Roderigo is a fine example of this. We know Iago is a rotten character, but to Roderigo, there is no one more kind and helpful than good old Iago. There is almost a master – servant relationship, with Iago holding the promise of Desdemona over Roderigo’s head, making him do his bidding (helping him with the opening scene, attacking Cassio etc) and Iago does this with the power of words.

In Act 1, Scene 3, Roderigo is on the brink of suicide after despairing that he will never win Desdemona’s heart.

“I will incontinently drown myself”.

Now Iago responds with some emotional blackmail.

“If you do I shall never love you after”.

This puts Roderigo in an uncomfortable position; he does not want to make his friend sad, does he?

Iago continues his tirade against the cowardice of suicide, using some nice language techniques.

“Ere I would say I would drown myself for the love of a guinea hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon.”

He uses animals to reinforce his point, and uses some harsh (for those days) language, saying that he would never drown himself for a whore.

Using animals again, Iago put forward this very moving sentence:

“Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies”.

By using the most pathetic animals he can think of, Iago compares Roderigo to them, making him feel pathetic for even thinking of drowning himself.

Iago is very good at using scornful language, while still being Iago’s friend.

“Virtue? A fig!”

and

“Come, be a man”

These make Roderigo a bit embarrassed that his friend Iago is scorning him.

Even by making a joke, Iago is making his friend feel stupid for his suicidal notion:

“If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than drowning”..

Iago implies that he doesn’t think Roderigo will do the deed, and this assures Roderigo that he should, using (’damn thyself’ are powerful words, implying that he will be sent to hell for killing himself).

Iago uses an extended metaphor to make sure that Roderigo understands the point.

“Our bodies are our gardens, to the which

our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant

nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up

thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or

distract it with many, either to have it sterile

with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the

power and corrigible authority of this lies in our

wills.”

Iago says that Roderigo is in control of his own emotions, and should not kill himself.

Of course, Iago has an ulterior motive for keeping Roderigo alive: He wants his money.

He tells him all sorts of lies to make sure he stays alive and makes money for Desdemona:

“I could never better stead thee than now”

And he tries to convince him that Desdemona will be finishing up with Othello for all sorts of ridiculous reasons.

“It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love for the moor”.

Reasons such as:

“These moors are changeable in their wills”

And comparing Desdemona to food Othello will tire of:

“The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as acerbe as coloquintida”.

Telling Roderigo that Desdemona is finishing with Othello, Iago employs the age old tactic of repetition, telling Roderigo to make money

“[.........................................................] I could never

better stead thee than now. Put money in thy

purse; follow thou the wars; defeat thy favour with

an usurped beard; I say, put money in thy purse. It

cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her

love to the Moor,– put money in thy purse,–nor he

his to her: it was a violent commencement, and thou

shalt see an answerable sequestration:–put but

money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in

their wills: fill thy purse with money:–the food

that to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall be

to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida. She must

change for youth: when she is sated with his body,

she will find the error of her choice: she must

have change, she must: therefore put money in thy

purse. If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a

more delicate way than drowning. Make all the money

thou canst: if sanctimony and a frail vow betwixt

an erring barbarian and a supersubtle Venetian not

too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell, thou

shalt enjoy her; therefore make money.”

In this short paragraph, Iago tells Roderigo to make money 8 times! Drumming into him again and again the importance of making money “for Desdemona”. For a weak willed person such as Roderigo, repetition may be the best form of persuasion Iago can use.

Michael Cassio was given the position of Lieutenant over Iago, and this is one of the reasons why Iago wishes revenge upon him, another (and this is a bit of inference) is that, while Iago has no need for women, treating Emilia with disdain and describing women to Desdemona as:

“pictures out of doors,

Bells in your parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens,

Saints m your injuries, devils being offended,

Players in your housewifery, and housewives’ in your beds.”

However, Cassio has a great love for the female form, and I think Iago sees this as a sign of weakness and despises him for it, but he can also use this weakness to his advantage, as well as Cassio’s love of drink and a good time.

Iago takes his revenge upon Cassio for daring to be promoted by engineering an incident in which Cassio strikes Roderigo and is stripped of his rank

But how will Iago exploit Cassio? To a master planner such as Iago, the answer is easy: Use Cassio’s promiscuity and charm to make him seem like he and Desdemona are secret lovers. This will drive Othello into despair, and put Cassio’s life in danger, clever.

When dealing with Cassio, Iago assumes the role of friend, fellow partygoer and just a decent chap who you can banter with. This helps him gain Cassio’s confidence and ply him with more wine in Act 2 Scene 3.

It is the night of Othello’s marriage, and the scene is set for Cassio’s downfall. Iago starts to talk, and gets Cassio talking about the exquisiteness of Desdemona’s beauty and the happiness that Desdemona and Othello must have, being finally married.

“She is indeed perfection.”

Making Cassio feel glad for the newlywed couple, and putting him in a joyous mood, because love is still well and truly alive, Iago slips a toast into his speech.

“Well, happiness to their sheets! Come, lieutenant, I

have a stoup of wine”

Iago makes Cassio feel that he should be celebrating, and when Cassio protests, Iago makes Cassio feel that he has to, so that he doesn’t let down his friends.

“Oh, but they are out friends! But one cup; I’ll drink for

you.”

Even going so far as to tell Cassio that he will drink more to distract attention from Cassio, when the real problem is that Cassio gets uncontrollable when drunk, not that he’s not allowed to drink.

At which point, Cassio gives in, and the first barrier falls, leaving Iago with the challenge of how to make sure Cassio keeps drinking.

Iago again switches character, we already knew that he is a master wordsmith, but here he starts to sing.

“Some wine, ho!

Sings

And let me the canakin clink, clink;

And let me the canakin clink

A soldier’s a man;

A life’s but a span;

Why, then, let a soldier drink.

Some wine, boys!”

This creates a jovial and merry atmosphere in which it is safe to get drunk.

Now, a man such as Cassio has a soft spot for banter and friendly rivalry, so Iago starts to tell all how experienced the English are at drinking, making it feel as if Cassio has to drink, for the “team”.

“I learned it in England, where, indeed, they are

most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and

your swag-bellied Hollander–Drink, ho!–are nothing

to your English.”

And at the end of Iago’s “exquisite” songs, Cassio is well and truly drunk. Iago sends Roderigo off to bait Cassio, and when Cassio fights both Roderigo and Montano, Othello arrives.

Here Iago must be careful, he must make sure Cassio is demoted, but must make sure that Cassio does not suspect foul play.

He emphasises that the group had been “friends all but now, even now” and is extremely reluctant to tell Othello of the guilty party, or at least that is what it looks like:

“Touch me not so near”

Iago seems almost desperate not to tell on Cassio.

“I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth

That it should do offence to Michael Cassio”

That in itself is a bit overdramatic, having his tongue cut out shows everyone how reluctant Iago is to speak ill of Cassio.

He then goes on to spill the beans, but recaps it with a sympathetic plea that Cassio didn’t really mean it:

“More of this matter cannot I report:

But men are men; the best sometimes forget:

Though Cassio did some little wrong to him,

As men in rage strike those that wish them best,

Yet surely Cassio, I believe, received

From him that fled some strange indignity,

Which patience could not pass.”

The literal translation of this is, “Boys will be boys”, but Iago is trying to gloss over a favoured lieutenant striking and wounding two decent men, this is dramatic in itself.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, Iago is like a shapeshifter, never staying in one guise for too long. Here we see him making sure Brabantio knows of Othello’s and Desdemona’s secret relationship:

“’Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on

your gown;

Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;”

But here he is openly praising Desdemona:

“What an eye she has! methinks it sounds a parley of

provocation.”.

This keeps the audience interested, because, as much as we profess that we don’t, everyone likes a villain. Iago is the embodiment of effortless cool and we admire his skill at being whoever he wants. Iago keeps the plot from getting stale by showing it from different angles as different people.

Iago is a misogynist, which begs the question, why did he get married? Was it because that is what all Venetian men do, and have to do to become a respected member of society? It cannot be that he actually likes Emilia, as he kills her off at the end of the play with no qualms. He views women as two faced and scheming, so maybe Iago wants no competition.

“You are pictures out of doors,

bells in your parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens, saints

in your injuries, devils being offended, players in your

housewifery and housewives in your beds”

While this is said in a joking manner to Desdemona and Emilia, there are very real opinions behind it.

He views Emilia as useless and subservient, to be brushed off and made fun of. Unfortunately, Emilia loves him and would do anything for him, even obtaining her mistress’s handkerchief, in Act 3 Scene 3, and “pleasing his fantasy”

Iago enters, and is immediately suspicious of Emilia.

“How now? What do you her alone?”

He does not trust Emilia, and perhaps does not trust women as a whole.

Emilia ignores this comment and professes that she has a “thing’ for Iago, which Iago takes as an opportunity to put Emilia down by using the word “thing” as the Elizabethan term for the female sexual organ and saying “it is a very common thing”, calling her a prostitute. Different to the sharp tongued charming wit that he uses on Desdemona.

Emilia must be used to comments like that, and brushes it off, while Iago persists in calling her a fool.

Emilia then reveals that she has “found” Desdemona’s handkerchief:

“A good wench!”

This is the extent of Iago’s praise, calling her good, like one may praise a dog, and the word “wench” is derogatory, being a term for a female servant or working girl.

Herein lies a key difference to the way that Iago treats Emilia to those around him.

When manipulating Roderigo, he fills him in on his plans, in Act 1 Scene 1 he tells him his method and motive! Whereas when Emilia enquires of his plans with the handkerchief, Iago snatches the article and says “Why, what is that to you”.

He then bids her away.

Another key difference is the shortness and abruptness of Iago’s sentences, perhaps implying that she is not worth the thought that he puts into his little witty and inspiring speeches.

This is especially true when Othello has smothered Desdemona, and Emilia bursts in and accuses Iago of being the cause of all this pain.

“Oh are come, Iago? You have done well,

That men must lay their murders on your neck”.

“You told a lie, an odious, damned lie:

Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie!
She false with Cassio! Did you say with Cassio”

In which Iago abandons all subtlety, and simply says “shut up”.

“Go to, charm your tongue”

This shows both his contempt for Emilia and the desperation of the situation, we would expect Iago to come up with a top notch, eloquent and long winded defence speech, but perhaps by paying her little attention, he hopes the gentlemen who are witnessing his downfall will believe him.

This continues with even more short, sharp answers:

“What, are you mad? I charge you get you home”

There is no trace of Iago left, and this continues with “Be wise and get you home” and perhaps the point where we know the last of Iago’s wit and eloquence have left him:

“Villainous whore!”

Upon which he stabs Emilia. This is a shocking point in the play, as we have come to expect from Iago a certain refinement. Such a fine speaker would surely not resort to violence? Maybe Iago as finally realised that in some cases, the pen (or tongue) is not mightier than the sword.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, Iago is like a shapeshifter, never staying in one guise for too long. Here we see him making sure Brabantio knows of Othello’s and Desdemona’s secret relationship:

“’Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on

your gown;

Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;”

But here he is openly praising Desdemona:

“What an eye she has! methinks it sounds a parley of

provocation.”.

This keeps the audience interested, because, as much as we profess that we don’t, everyone likes a villain. Iago is the embodiment of effortless cool and we admire his skill at being whoever he wants. Iago keeps the plot from getting stale by showing it from different angles as different people.

If Iago were to act the same to all his acquaintances, the storyline would soon stop advancing, as the fact that Iago changes his character so often to suit his needs changes and makes the play fresh and interesting.

In its simplest terms, Iago controls the play. He does not help to give the play pace, he paces it himself.

Shakespeare wants us to know about Iago’s plans from Scene 1 because he wants us to genuinely care about the fate of Othello. He wants us to emphasise with him, to feel for him, and feel genuinely sad when he comes to a tragic end. For this he uses Dramatic Irony, where only we, the audience, know the full extent of Iago’s schemes, we can see the downfall of Othello and we can do nothing about it.

Dramatic Irony is implemented using Iago’s revelations to Roderigo (which gives us the basis of our knowledge of Iago) and his asides and soliloquies.

His soliloquies develop a close relationship between Iago and the audience because we feel privileged to gain such a close insight into the character of Iago and are hungry to learn anything more about him that we can.

While reading the play, I was supporting Iago, yes I thought he was a terrible man, but he is the most interesting character in the play, and I can do nothing but admire such a conman and smooth operator. The audience’s emotions will conflict, we admire Iago, and wish him some form of success, but the nagging of morals and decency will prevent us from wishing Iago success with all our heart.

At the end of the play, Iago is taken away. We do not know whether he is executed or imprisoned, but we know he leaves the tragedy a broken man. I myself was disappointed because I want to know what became of such a talented man, but my main feeling was one of waste. In today’s society, such a man would have made a huge difference to the world, whether it was good or bad. He was an eloquent and inspiring speaker, a clever manipulator, and I think the majority of people’s feelings are those of waste as well.

Iago’s soliloquy in Act 2 Scene 1 is in verse, which reveals his playful and poetic side to the audience. He uses similes “like a poisonous mineral” to seem conversational and he shows us that he knows Othello (almost too much) by knowing that he’ll prove to Desdemona a “most dear husband” and he knows that Othello is noble and true.

Iago does not trust women, full stop. He suspects Othello of sleeping with Emilia

“the lusty Moor,

hath leapt into my seat”

This shows him in a bitter light, and he talks at length about his revenge, revealing his aggressive and obsessive nature.

“If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trace

For his quick hunting, stand the putting on,

I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,

Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb–

For I fear Cassio with my night-cap too–

Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me.

For making him egregiously an ass”

Referring to his kinsfolk as “trash”, implying that he is better than them, and he is also bitter at the fact that Cassio might have slept with Emilia. He clearly takes great joy in manipulating Othello, emphasising that Othello will have no idea what Iago is really doing.

To conclude, I do not feel Iago enriches the play, I feel Iago makes the play. He is a character who effortlessly controls every aspect of the tragedy to his own liking, and the way he does it is astounding.

Using words and words alone, Iago has power over everyone. Consider Roderigo, not such a bright young man, but Iago was able to send him to his death against Michael Cassio without a protest on Roderigo’s behalf. Consider how he convinces Cassio to drink and drink, all the while having an ulterior motive for forcing wine upon him. Consider, most importantly, how he drives Othello to kill his own wife, having convinced him with only a handkerchief, and the power of words.

Iago leaves his mark upon every significant character in the play:

Othello- Driven to despair and suicide, after being convinced by Iago that his wife has been unfaithful.

Desdemona- Killed by Othello, all the while protesting her innocence.

Emilia- Killed by Iago, this is unlike him, but Iago at that point was realising his schemes were coming to an end.

Roderigo- Killed by Cassio, after being sent to his death by Iago.

Cassio- Not mentioned at the end of the play after killing Roderigo, but has been stripped of rank and his reputation left in ruins.

So as you can see, Iago masterminds the murder of 4 people and ruins the live of another.

If Iago was not a prominent character, and merely a background character who for some reason decides to wreck lives, he would not be the fascinating character that he is. Why? Because he advances and develops the plot, the old metaphor of a puppet master comes to mind, but that is exactly what Iago is. What he says goes, and he is in control of every aspect of the play.

I think the most common emotion experienced by the audience of this play is confliction. On one hand, we know Iago is performing evil deeds, but on the other, it is exciting to watch a master at work, not unlike watching a film such as Ocean’s 11, or Catch Me If You Can. Where rooting for the bad guy is the cool thing to do, though you’re conflicted as you know what they’re doing is wrong.

I think Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most popular creations because he is such a complex individual, a really out of the ordinary character with depth. As I’ve said before, you get the noble knight (Othello) and the fair maiden (Desdemona) in pretty much any of Shakespeare’s plays, but what he has done which is so out of the ordinary is put the villain in the limelight and given him more control of the plot than anyone else. Shakespeare has made us support Iago against our own will, and as Iago makes the plot develop, we start to actually like Iago for his scheming that only he can do so well.

Iago – The Machiavellian Villain we love to hate and hate to love.

12
Liked it
Liked this? Share it!
Tweet this! StumbleUpon Reddit Digg This! Bookmark on Delicious Share on Facebook
11 Comments
  1. Posted April 7, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    cassio is mentioned after he killed roderigo. he is given the rule of cyprus, the post formerly held by othello. otherwise, great article. see act 5, scene 2, line 328.

  2. kiri
    Posted May 22, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    im pretty sure that Iago believed Othello to have slept with his wife and was jealous of him, not Cassio.

  3. talia
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Iago believed that Othello and Cassio may have had an affair with Emilia (his wife).
    kktyvmbai

  4. kl
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    u guys suck

  5. watevaaa
    Posted November 27, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    u r all pathetic!!

  6. wow
    Posted December 7, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    honestly this paper is terrible. hubris killed othello? not quite lol

  7. Anon
    Posted January 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    @wow, do you even know what hubris is? it’s not a person.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubris

  8. Angela
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Contrary to what that person posted up there Cassio is not actually put in Othello’s position. That is just one of the lies that Iago tells Roderigo to get him to go after Cassio.

    Overall this is a great analysis of Iago’s character throughout the play. Really well done!

  9. anon
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    iago kills roderigo after cassio and roderigo fight, not cassio. Apart from that, it was a great piece

  10. jio
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Nice. I’m gonna use this as my essay…;)

  11. Billy Shakes
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:54 am

    You clearly haven’t read Machiavelli’s “book” where he “coins the term Machiavellian villain” and many of your sentences are nonsensical. For example: “A true Machiavellian villain who will stop at nothing to avenge some personal desire, and yet I myself thought that Iago was an extremely clever person, a true schemer and though I disagree with the way he does things, and even the things he does, but he does them with style.”

    Nice try, but try harder next time!

Leave a Reply
comments powered by Disqus