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

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Introduction

Lara Jackman 12AA. Mr. Dunford "Tragic villains do their evilness, reach a high point, and then plummet to their doom." Todd Lidh (Flager College) "Iago is a mysterious creature of unlimited cynicism." "The Wheel of Fire"- G. Wilson Knight From an analysis of the tragedy of "Othello" and with reference to the two interpretations above, how effective is Shakespeare in creating Iago as a tragic villain? Centre No.: 49005 Candidate No.: 7244 In creating Iago, Shakespeare crafts a character that, according to Harold Bloom,"is by merit raised to a bad eminence that seems unsurpassable."1 Undeniably, Iago is one of Shakespeare's most compelling villains; his unfaltering malice, as well as his relentless desire for a revenge supported by feeble motives, are all features that have ensured infinite fascination over Iago's character for the past 400 years. Over the centuries, critics have developed a range of opinions with regards to this character, from a "recognisable type of human being...with passions and frustrations..."2 to "a being next to Devil"3 Indeed, it is impossibly hard to label Iago as any particular stereotype, due to Shakespeare's characterisation. With reference to the first quote, Iago can certainly be nterpreted as a "tragic villain", and his cynical nature is definitely a driving force for the inevitable tragedy in "Othello". However, the term "tragic villain" sparks numerous interpretations and both quotes can be explored from different points of view. ...read more.

Middle

On the other hand, it could be argued that Iago does not "plummet to his doom" at all, because he doesn't die on stage like so many other typical tragic villains in Shakespeare plays, (Edmund in "King Lear" for example). Indeed, the audience is left with no absolute resolution. In a performance of "Othello" by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the final scene ended with Iago's lingering laugh resounding into the darkness. This had the effect of portraying Iago as unrepentant and almost victorious in his own mind. Therefore, this suggests that he does not necessarily hit rock bottom at the end of "Othello", as it all depends on individual interpretation of the play. In this sense, it could be implied that Iago is not a typical tragic villain and perhaps this is the point that Lidh wishes to get across. Shakespeare once again subverts the classical tragedy form through keeping Iago alive at the end of the play; this is quite innovative for the time as most Elizabethan audiences would not expect to have any loose ends to contend with: "Demand of me nothing, what you know you know." This was not the norm and is an element featured more frequently in modern theatre. Taking the second quote into consideration, Iago is certainly a very "mysterious creature." This is partly due to his unclear motives for revenge, as well as his uncanny ability to mask his true thoughts and feelings. ...read more.

Conclusion

Indeed, this interpretation suggests that Iago is a hero for trying to help Othello out of loyalty and love, both of which qualities are convincingly shown when Iago states "Witness that here Iago doth give up the execution of his wit, hands and heart, to wrong'd Othello's service." Although there are numerous viewpoints, undoubtedly Iago possesses many inhuman traits, which further compounds the mystery surrounding him. The fact that Iago revels in his villainy is typical of many antagonists in Shakespeare's tragedies; "Richard III" also features a villain with similar characteristics, in the sense that Richard delights in his treachery too: "I am subtle, false and treacherous...". This is similar to Iago's awareness of his own deceitful nature: ""...but yet confused, knavery's plain face is never seen, till used." The theatrical use of rhyme in the latter quote emphasises the notion that Iago possesses a "gaiety in destruction"7, fitting in with the tragic villain stereotype. Certainly, Iago has been judged "the most perfect evildom..."8 by Swinburne and Harold Bloom considers him a "flawless conception"1; indeed, he is in many ways superior to Shakespeare's more "crude"1 Machiavels, Aaron the Moor for example, due to his refined intellect, his opportunist qualities and his poetic nature. He is not only an effective tragic villain, he is Shakespeare's "radical invention"1 because Iago defies many of the standard elements associated with an Elizabethan antagonist. His complex personality gives way to numerous interpretations, which contribute to his mystery. In Iago's own words: "I am not what I am. ...read more.

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