• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How does Shakespeare present Iago as a tragic villain in Act 1?

Extracts from this document...


Chad Walker January 15, 2011 How does Shakespeare present Iago as a tragic villain in Act 1? Shakespeare's Iago is the antagonist of Othello but what makes him tragic is an enigma as he is reticent and seems motiveless. However, Shakespeare prints three possible motives into the play that present him as tragic. Iago is a Machiavellian villain as was Macbeth in Macbeth, written two years after Othello, and A.C. Bradley notes how 'Italian villainy was prevalent in Shakespeare's time'1. Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher and political adviser. One of his most famous works is The Prince that outlines how a monarch should gain control by deceiving his opponent as an ally. Iago says he will follow Othello only 'to serve my turn upon him'2 in that he may achieve his revenge. He is also a character built on amorality. A.C. Bradley says that he is a 'psychological impossibility' and 'a product of imperfect observation'3 but if he were to be perceived as amoral then his behaviour and scheming may be explained due to him being psychotic - there was little knowledge of psychotic behaviour in the 16th century and insanity was diagnosed by religious leaders as being influenced by the devil which Iago is realized to be in Act five, scene two by the other characters: 'I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable. If that you be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee.' ...read more.


What is also notable about Iago is that he speaks to Othello in verse but prose to Roderigo, which shows how he is a sycophant but also - as his rhetoric usage is superseded by Othello's - he feels he is forever in Othello's shadow. Another source for his hate. Lastly, and most importantly, Iago's third possible motive for delivering vengeance upon Othello is that Othello made a cuckold of him by sleeping with Emilia. Iago proclaims this in Act one, scene three: 'I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets He's done my office.' He is even unsure of whether it is true but the thought infuriates him so much that he decides that the idea is as worthy of being revenged as if it were true: 'I know not if't be true But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety.' The idea of Emila having an affair with Othello may be what prompted him to assume that Desdemona's interest in him was purely sexual and so we begin to see how Shakespeare has created a tragic villain as he is drawing from his own misfortune and jealousy to fulfil his prophesy of revenge. It may even be a misconception that Emilia and Othello have had an affair as there is no further evidence that this is 'true' and we, the audience, do not know what has stirred this possibility in Iago's mind - another aspect of him ...read more.


Iago's phrase 'defeat thy favour with a usurped beard' means to reinstall manly hood, which may be another means of defining him as tragic as his fragile mind in a patriarchal world leads him to the assumption that maybe this is how he should react, to be a 'man' by domineering the situation: a possible way of Shakespeare illustrating men's true powerlessness from a demanding patriarchy in terms of what makes 'manly' behaviour. From this, we can see that Iago wanted to make Othello suffer the same strength of jealousy as he has done to him. This may not fit Hegel's idea of tragic collision but each character certainly has been 'negating and damaging... [the] power of the other'5. They may not be suffering each other's guilt but they do cause one another to suffer jealousy. Othello's (possible) misdeed negates the power Iago has over his mind and Iago avenges this by reciprocating. Iago is a tragic villain in that he has had to suffer and through his amoral conscience and egoistic nature he has become consumed by the loss of trust in his love. The line 'tis in ourselves' suggests that he accepts who he has become and the line 'permission of the will' validates that he is amoral and that he recognises he is significantly different from others in the way that he thinks: 'I never found a man who knew how to love himself' This implies that he is this man and Aristotle would agree that he is 'true to life and yet more beautiful'6. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Othello section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Othello essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent does Shakespeare present the catastrophe of Othello as inevitable?

    3 star(s)

    When the gentlemen announces that the 'Turkish fleet' has been destroyed by the tempest, there is almost a sense of joy from the audiences view as the danger is seemingly gone - but when Othello arrives safely in 'Cyprus', Shakespeare is reinforcing the point that everyone is safe, however if

  2. Peer reviewed

    In what ways does Shakespeare present Othello as a typical tragic hero?

    3 star(s)

    Others speak highly of him. In 2.1.30, Montano wishes that he returns from his vessel safely, "As to throw out our eyes for brave Othello", Cassio praises him, "Thanks you...That so approve the Moor...let the heavens Give him defence against the elements." That the others appear to think highly of him can only suggest he has heroic qualities.

  1. How does Shakespeare present Iago?

    'They were parted with foul and violent tempest'. This physical separation between Cassio and Othello by the sea is also an emotional one as they become split up by Iago. Iago's storm separates the two friends whilst the plan tries to drown them in a sea of hate.

  2. Free essay

    Do you think this is how Shakespeare wanted to portray or present the character?Samuel ...

    When writing the play it was believed that Shakespeare was influenced by Machiavelli's theories, especially his famous book 'The Prince' where the protagonist (The prince) is explaining how to be a good leader. The character (The prince) consists of similar personality traits as Iago as both characters portray integrity about them, but in fact are deemed to be evil.

  1. Othello Act 5 Scene 2

    Shakespeare is portraying him as tragic as he is becoming more and more like Iago which is not something that will benefit Othello. Emilia even starts to call Othello "The Moor" this is a negative reference and shows she has no respect for him.

  2. To what extent does Shakespeare present Iago as a tragic villain with no redeeming ...

    He seems far too easily convinced by Iago "Now do I see 'tis true", and the viciousness of his language "I'll tear her all to pieces" is further proof of an insecurity that Iago has merely exploited "even to madness".

  1. How effective is Shakespeare in creating Iago as a tragic villain?

    Indeed, the theme of unrelenting violence is common to Greek tragedy and Shakespeare manages to subvert the genre in "Othello". The play is much more psychological. Iago is an insidious villain, as he slowly applies an evil pressure on Othello through trickery (the stealing of the handkerchief)

  2. Othello and Desdemonas love at the beginning of the play is built on mutual ...

    Othello?s arguments for revenge are built on suspicion and impulse ? he has no proof that adultery has been committed, but rather acts merely on suggestion and rationalisation and accepts things at face value. Whilst Iago is clearly evil, as the play progresses Othello appears less good and less innocent than the image of the opening scenes.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work