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"How Does Shakespeare's Character Iago (Orthello) Conform to the Literary Tradition of a Villain?"

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Amanda Madaras Lealands High School Study of Shakespeare "How Does Shakespeare's Character Iago Conform to the Literary Tradition of a Villain?" In this essay, I am going to explain how Iago conforms to the literary tradition of a villain. Firstly, to answer this question, we must understand what exactly is meant by the term 'villain'. The Collins Plain English Dictionary states that a villain is someone who 'deliberately sets out to harm other people.' It is clear that Iago is clearly someone who has intentions of destroying other people, whether they are his main targets or merely pawns in his game. Shakespeare himself created some of the most memorable villains of all time. The list includes Iago (Othello), Richard III, Cornwall and Edmund (King Lear), Aaron the Moor (Titus Andronicus) and Macbeth. What all these characters share is their willingness to commit the most heinous of crimes in order to acquire what they want. With the exception of Macbeth, none of these characters seem to have a conscience. Macbeth is the only one who shows the slightest hint of remorse over the crimes he has committed. He has terrible nightmares, illusions and eventually turns himself mad with worry over whether or not he will be found out. The rest of the characters are described as ruthless villains by "about.com". Richard III, according to the website, is 'tyrannical and morally vacuous.' 'In a play rife with heinous evildoers, Cornwall towers over them all. ...read more.


It is safe to say that Iago is definitely amoral, as he feels no remorse for what he has done. Ultimately, if Othello hadn't murdered Desdemona, Iago would have destroyed her life, in fact, he managed most of that while she was still alive, ruining her marriage to Othello and destroying the lives of those she cared about, (e.g. Cassio, Emilia). In the 17th century, when this was set, a woman's chastity was vital for her reputation. If other people were to have found out about her 'affair' with Cassio, Iago would have been blackening her character and essentially, killing her anyway. A lot of Iago's characteristics are mirrored in other literary villains. One character I found whilst searching for literary villains was Steerpike from 'Gormenghast Trilogy'. He seems to possess all the villainous traits Iago holds. Novelguide.com calls Steerpike 'cunning, calculating and ambitious.' Steerpike starts off in the story as a mere kitchen boy where he plots to achieve ultimate control of Gormenghast. Like Iago, Steerpike is able to manipulate people so that he can use them to get closer to his target. For example, he plays on Fuchsia's yearning for adventure, exploits the desires of Cara and Clarice and worms his way into the castles daily life. He does all of this by using his gift of manipulation. In time he learns that castles innermost secrets and moves ever closer to gaining control. ...read more.


If he stays, someone will ask him to testify against Othello, and that will be useless, because Othello is not about to lose his job. No matter what he has done with Desdemona, Venice doesn't have anyone besides Othello who is capable of dealing with the war that's about to begin in Cyprus. Iago wants to really hurt Othello. Therefore, Iago returns to Othello and pretend loyalty. However, this does not mean that Iago is going to let the matter drop. To make sure that Desdemona's angry father finds Othello, Iago tells Roderigo to lead Brabantio to the inn. Another example is when he pressures Emilia into stealing Desdemona's handkerchief. While he is asking her to steal it, he is pleasant to her, but once he has what he wants, he reverts back to his usual self, and is rude, sexist and arrogant. Another villainous trait Iago possesses is manipulation. Like any successful manipulator, Iago moves indirectly so that nothing can be traced back to him. He uses Roderigo to get to Cassio, Cassio to Desdemona and Desdemona to Othello. Once the peace has been disrupted and suspicions are high, Iago watches from afar while his plan sets to work. Every one in the play trusts Iago. Emilia is the only one who has doubts about his motives especially when he continually pesters her about stealing Desdemona's handkerchief for him. The other characters have faith in his honesty and therefore have no reason to suspect him of spreading vicious lies in an attempt to destroy Othello. ...read more.

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