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Discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of Iago in the first two acts of the play.

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Introduction

Katie E Payne English Literature Discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of Iago in the first two acts of the play. So what motivates Iago? Iago is an urbane villain. He resembles the characteristics of a typical Shakespearean villain; presented with a felon who is adept at quick - witted improvisation. Professional jealousy is Iago's initial motive for disgracing Cassio; but he also admits that he is personally envious of the "daily beauty" in the lieutenant's life. Iago revels in his ability to dissemble and destroy. And although to some extent he enjoys having an audience (Roderigo) and outlines his plots clearly, Iago is also rather mysterious and profound. Shakespeare allows Iago to refer to himself as the 'devil', but to say that he is immoral plainly because he is immoral, does not explain why he repeatedly explains himself to himself. Throughout both Acts, "Honesty" means both faithfulness and sincerity. You "honest friend" is one who is always there for you and who will always tell you the truth. Shakespeare purposely tolerates Iago a status of honesty, ironically using this for dishonest purposes. At the end of Act I, Iago is formulating his plan against Othello, he comments "The Moor is of a free and open nature, / That thinks men honest, but seem to be so, / And will as tenderly be led by the nose / As asses are". ...read more.

Middle

Mere prattle, without practise, Is all his soldiership. The phrase 'by the faith of man,' is a variation on the colloquialism 'in faith,' which was used as we now employ "to tell the truth". Iago follows this with an ironically understated self-evaluation: 'I know my price, I am worth no worse a place'. He means that he deserves (at the very least) to be Othello's lieutenant. He then scoffs at those who are supposedly better than he is (Othello and Cassio). Othello, says Iago, speaks with 'a bombast circumstance / Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war'. "Bombast" was a word for the cotton used to stuff the quilted men's fashions of Shakespeare's time. "Circumstance" in short means Othello is a stuffed shirt, full of hot air. As for Cassio, he's a "great arithmetician", a "Florentine," who doesn't know any more about war then a "spinster". In modern parlance, he's a bean counter from coo-koo land, who knows no more about war then a little old lady. When Desdemona, Iago and his wife, Emilia, arrive in Cyprus, Act II, Scene I, Cassio welcomes Emilia with a kiss, then says to Iago, "Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, / That I extend my manners; 'tis my breeding / That gives me this bold show of courtesy". ...read more.

Conclusion

Still grateful, Cassio bids Iago goodnight by saying, "Good night, honest Iago". As soon as Cassio is gone the audience is left thinking , what a hypocritical fool, he then asks sarcastically, "And what's he than that says I play the villain? / When this advice is free I give and honest". Shakespeare established Iago as successful character because he can play a number of roles convincingly, and is able to adapt his tone and style to suit any occasion. He enjoys his ability others to delude others into believing he is honest. With Cassio he is bluff, coarse and genial. He also offers the lieutenant plausible practical advice; he adopts a similar sympathetic approach when he deals with Desdemona. With Montano he makes a point of stressing that he has Othello's and the Venetian states best interests at heart. There seems to be an absence of ego in all his dealings with these characters, who are socially and professionally superior to him. But Shakespeare does this deliberately ; with his inferiors, Iago can afford to be less cautious and selfless. Although we know Iago needs to persuade the foolish Roderigo that he has good reason to be frustrated, there is not that much difference between the Iago who speaks alone in soliloquies and the Iago who gulls Roderigo. Both sum-up Iago's overall persona; dismissive, mean-spirited and boastful. ...read more.

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